Sunday, March 21, 2021

Recipe of the month: Bubble Tea

My first tryst with bubble tea was many years ago when my local friends introduced me to this delightful drink. I clearly remember thinking how marvellous it was! During a holiday to Taiwan (the undisputed bubble tea capital of the world) with my husband, I lost count of how many cups of bubble tea I greedily slurped 😊

Bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea, bubble milk tea, or boba) is a tea-based drink. Originating in Taichung, Taiwan in the early 1980s, it includes chewy tapioca balls ("boba" or "pearls") made from cassava root, sweet potato and brown sugar or a wide range of other toppings such as popping bubbles, jelly, taro root, red beans, fruit chunks, basil seeds among others. There are dizzying varieties of the drink with a range of exciting flavors. 

Bubble teas fall under two categories: teas (without milk) and milk teas. Both varieties come with a choice of black, green, or oolong tea, and come in many flavors (both fruit and non-fruit). The two most popular varieties are black pearl milk tea and green pearl milk tea. Milk teas include condensed milk, powdered milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, 2% milk, skim milk, or fresh milk.

Bubble tea shops often give customers the option of choosing the amount of ice and/or sugar. Sugar level is usually specified in percentages (e.g. 30%, 50%, 70%, 100%), and ice level is usually specified ordinally (e.g. no ice, less ice, normal ice). This drink is highly customizable so it can be adjusted to suit even the most fastidious! 

Singaporeans are wild about bubble tea and during the Covid-19 pandemic, the country's obsession with bubble tea became all too apparent! There are bubble tea shops at every turn so whether one is craving for a decadent brown sugar boba milk or a creamy cheese tea macchiato, they don't need to travel very far to get their boba fix 😊 

I love bubble tea but I am no authority on it nor am I addicted to it. It is something I drink only once in a while as a "drink-meets-dessert" indulgence. Bubble tea can be high in sugar, fat and calories depending on what goes into it so despite the allure, I tend to keep my distance. That said, I really wanted to try making bubble tea at home because of how fun and creative it is! At the end of last year, I bought some English breakfast tea, a bag of quick-cooking tapioca pearls and fat metal straws (to accommodate the marbles of tapioca that cluster at the bottom of the cup) in the hope of making bubble tea at home. But I just kept postponing it and it never happened. Finally, this weekend I decided to end my procrastination once in for all. 

Here is the recipe. It is super-duper simple you guys. I hope you try it especially if you have never tried bubble tea before! 

Bubble Tea

Total time: ~40 min
Serves: 2 (large servings, recipe easily doubles or triples)
Recipe category: Cold beverage/Taiwanese
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe source: Adapted from here

5-6 black tea bags
3 cups water
4-5 tbsp granulated sugar (plus more if needed)
125 gm quick-cooking tapioca pearls
4-6 tbsp whole milk or half-and-half 

*Refer notes at the end for substitutions


Prepare the black tea:
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and add 5-6 tea bags and granulated sugar to the water. Stir well to combine and steep until the water reaches room temperature (at least 25 mins). Note that once the tea is made, it can be stored in the refrigerator until use. 

Prepare the boba:
Approximately 15 minutes before serving, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the tapioca pearls (boba) and stir immediately to prevent them from sticking together. Allow them to cook for approximately 5-7 minutes (they should be floating on the top and chewy). Drain and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a clean bowl.

Divide the cooked boba between two drinking glasses and top with a few small ice-cubes (don't overdo the ice or the drink becomes too diluted). Pour approximately 1 cup (or slightly more) of black tea into each glass and top with 2-3 tablespoons of milk or half-and-half. Mix well to combine, taste and adjust for sweetness. Serve cold with a broad straw. 

  • Remember that the black tea has to be strong. You don't need any fancy expensive tea - any English or Chinese breakfast tea would work well
  • Add the sugar to the tea while it is still hot so it will dissolve properly
  • Instead of granulated white sugar you could also use brown sugar, coconut sugar, jaggery powder, simple syrup, honey or agave 
  • You could only mildly sweeten the tea and then use additional full-fat condensed milk to add more body to the tea and make it sweeter
  • Using heavy cream would make the beverage richer and decadent. On the other hand, skim or low-fat milk isn't creamy enough so I don't recommend it. A safe bet would be whole milk or half-and-half. For a plant-based version, you could use coconut cream, almond milk or soy milk
  • I wouldn’t recommend cooking the tapioca pearls too much in advance because the pearls stiffen and dry out quite quickly. Cook only as much as you need and just before serving (if you are using the quick-cook variety)


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