Now if you're any kind of tea-head I’m sure you’ve heard of boba, also called bubble tea. Boba is the Taiwanese tea drink invented in the 1980s apparently, that’s usually an iced milk tea with the signature tapioca pearls at the bottom. The drink tends to be sweet (with so many different varieties out there now) and is the perfect treat on a hot summer day.
With the weather warming I’ve really been craving one myself, but I’d like to avoid all the single use plastic that usually comes with it. So I’ve decided to show you how to make your own boba tea at home!
So here’s what’s going to go down:
- Make your own tapioca pearls: Ingredients and how to make ‘em
- Making Moringa Tapioca Pearls: a tasty green option!
- How to make milk tea at home: You can’t have boba without the tea
- Brown Sugar Syrup & Vegan alternatives to dairy-free boba tea
- Elevating your bubble tea: spice up your tea with my favorite takes on the classic
The founders Vientiene & Elizabeth actually visited Chun Shui Tang, the original cafe that invented boba tea in 1987 in Taichung, Taiwan on their tea-travels, pretty cool! In fact in 2020, April 30 was declared as National Bubble Tea Day over there. They found there were bubble tea shops everywhere in Taiwan - often several on the same street around the center of Taipei!
Now, let’s get started!
Making Homemade Tapioca Pearls
Ok, so this is definitely the most challenging part of making our boba, but, lucky for those of you that may not be the most cooking savvy, it’s also optional to your preferences. Boba pearls can be bought pre-made and you can probably find them at your local asian market as we might say in the USA, or if you can’t buy them locally they can definitely be purchased online.
For those of you who want to take a stab at making homemade tapioca pearls by hand, here’s what you’ll need:
- ⅔ cup of tapioca starch
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 7 tbsp of water
Simple ingredients, but making the boba dough may take a few tries (it took me more than a few) so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right on your first try. It’s worth it in the end!
How to make
Add your water and dark brown sugar to a pan
Place the pan on the stove over low heat and stir the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved. Then allow mixture to come to a low boil
Once your water and sugar mixture begins to boil add roughly half of your tapioca starch to the pan. (Don’t leave it to boil for any longer than necessary, you’re not making toffee!) Stir the mixture until the starch is fully combined and the mixture forms a sticky paste. Stirring constantly is very important here or the tapioca starch can become gummy very fast
Remove the pan from the heat as soon as it is fully mixed, then add the second half of the tapioca starch. Briefly stir to mix in some of the additional tapioca then pour the mixture out onto a clean surface for kneading. You might find that some of the additional starch sticks to the pan, no need to spend too much time scraping that out.
Knead the dough to incorporate all the excess starch until you have a smooth ball of dough. At first it may seem like the dough is too dry and won’t incorporate the tapioca, just keep on kneading and you’ll get there!
Top Tip: At this point you can stop if you are not planning on making your boba that day. The tapioca pearl dough can be saved at room temperature for up to three weeks.
Once your dough is all kneaded, roll it out into one long log (kind of like the play-dough snakes we used to make). Cut the log in half and then cut each of those pieces in half as well. Line up your four logs and cut them into a bunch of smaller pieces around a quarter-inch each. Roll each piece into a ball and set aside.
When rolling out your dough it may begin to dry out fairly quickly. I would recommend keeping a small bowl of water next to you; when your dough begins to dry out, lightly wet your hands and keep working, this will keep your dough hydrated as you roll it into pearls.
Now it's time to cook your pearls. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add your dough balls, being careful of splashes (use a slotted spoon to put them in gently). Allow your boba pearls to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until they are soft all the way through (you will need to try them like when you cook pasta).
Then strain and serve! You don’t want them to sit for long or they will all stick together, so you might let them cool for a few minutes and add to your iced tea you've made, or you can let them cool in the sugar syrup to help them not stick together.
Making Moringa Tapioca Pearls
So one of the interesting boba adaptations I’ve been seeing recently is matcha boba pearls. The pearls themselves take on an interesting green(ish) color and I’m sure the matcha adds a whole new flavor. This got me thinking and I decided I would try a matcha style tapioca pearl but with MA’s moringa powder instead!
For additional ingredients you’ll need:
- 1-2 tbsp of MA Superior Organic Moringa Tea Powder
- 1 tbsp of white sugar
- 1 additional tbsps of water
To make moringa pearls the instructions are almost exactly the same as the one above with just a few easy tweaks:
- When adding your water in Step 1, make sure to add an additional tbsp so that’s 8 instead of 7.
- When going to add your first batch of tapioca starch in Step 3, also add in your moringa and your white sugar. The amount of moringa you use depends on the intensity of the flavor and color you’re looking for.
For more cool, fun (and plant-protein and vitamin rich) moringa recipes,
from cakes to ice popsicles click here!
Now let’s make your Bubble Tea!
What’s so great about making your own boba is there is no limit to what kind of tea you can use to make it. I’m going to walk you through the basic steps to making your own milk tea (or vegan milk tea if that’s more your speed), but feel free to experiment on your own!
If you're not a huge milk tea fan you can always just add your boba pearls to a nice cup of iced tea. I’m actually a huge fan of boba in some iced jasmine tea, no milk needed. So from here on out you take the reins!
A Basic Milk Tea
From my experimenting, this is my favorite of the milk tea concoctions I tried. The proportions below are for making a 16oz glass of boba, so alter as needed for your preferred size.
- 1-2 tsp condensed milk
- 1-2 tbsp cooked boba pearls
- ⅔ cup of hot water
- 1-2 tsp of the tea of your choice
- Half & half or evaporated milk to fill the rest of the glass
- Ice cubes
To make your basic milk tea:
- While your water is heating, rinse your tea leaves with cold water. Once your water is up to the proper temperature, add your tea and let steep for 2-3 minutes
- As your tea steeps, add your boba pearls, condensed milk, half & half, and a few ice cubes to the serving glass of your choice and stir.
- Allow your tea a moment to cool then pour over the milk mixture
- Now enjoy the fruits of your labor! Snap a pic and tag us @MatchaAlternatives on IG for a repost!
Vegan Milk Tea
Lucky for us all, boba can be vegan, the pearls are vegan safe and your tea does not need to contain dairy. But for those looking for non-dairy milks for your milk tea, there are coconut products that can be used to replace both the condensed milk and half & half for all of our vegan and non-dairy readers. Coconut half & half may not be too difficult to find, but if you have trouble finding a vegan condensed milk why not try boiling down your own with a vegan dairy-alternative? Click below...
Read our huge comparison of dairy milk alternatives here + how they affect the antioxidant healthy-ness of your tea!
Making a Brown Sugar Syrup
Oftentimes boba pearls are served in a brown sugar syrup when added to drinks.
If you wish to do this, add ½ cup of brown sugar to 5 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to cook down until it thickens slightly and leaves a streak in the pot as you stir. Then add your pearls into the mixture, add to your drink and enjoy!
Elevating your bubble tea: Ways to spice up your tea with cool mixes!
If you're lacking a bit of inspiration at the moment but are still hankering for a cool glass of homemade boba, here are some of my favorite experiments! We’re not claiming any of these to be truly original in the culture of their origin countries, but they are still incredible and taste-tested!
Strawberries and Cream
So if you’re looking for a great tea to use for this recipe, I would recommend MA’s Strawberries and Cream Green tea.
It’s a yummy green tea with the perfect sweet and fruity notes.
But if you want to take this a step further and really go hard on that strawberry flavor, I made a strawberry syrup to soak my boba pearls in instead of the standard brown sugar syrup.
This fruit syrup is fairly simple:
- Just like with the brown sugar syrup, add water and sugar to a saucepan. Only this time, I would recommend using white sugar and a bit less water, about 3 cups of water.
- Then add in some roughly chopped strawberries, as many as you'd like.
- Cook down to a syrup, as thick as your liking too noting that it will thicken further as it cools, and then add your previously-made tapioca pearls!
I prefer to keep the strawberry chunks in the syrup for an extra treat at the bottom of the drink, but if you want something more similar to the brown sugar syrup just strain your syrup before adding your boba.
Strawberries & Cream Green bubble tea, with strawberry syrup and cheese cream topping
Butterfly Pea Boba
So of all the teas I’ve made with this recipe, this one definitely looks the coolest! Very reminiscent of the blue milk from star wars and tastes just as good as I always imagined. For a good quality I recommend the Blue Sapphire Pure Thai Butterfly Pea Flower Tea.
Butterfly pea tea looks amazing, but doesn’t really have the punchy flavor to match the instagram worthy photos. So to spice up my blue milk boba I sprinkled the top with crushed up freeze dried blueberries and mango to add a bit of fruity flavor to my drink. You could definitely also make a fruit syrup for this tea as well.
Butterfly pea flower boba tea, with cheese cream topping
Homemade Thai Tea Boba
So I have always been a huge fan of Thai iced tea….and with the addition of boba pearls? Manafique!
But I always wondered what exactly goes into Thai iced tea? This one might be harder for some to come by, but here is my take on homemade Thai tea boba.
The basic ingredients in a Thai tea are black tea, a chai blend (normally consisting of cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves), vanilla and tamarind.
For my adaptation I blended MA’s Pinch of Pink Pepper Chai Blend with black tea, a ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a ¼ teaspoon of tamarind powder. I added it all to my hot water when steeping the tea, then added it to our standard milk mixture. And viola! Your very own homemade Thai tea!
For true Thai milk tea, the spices will vary but they will probably also vary across Thailand I’m sure. And the black tea is of course Thai with its own unique flavor. It is famously red too! Elizabeth, one of our founders, loves Thai milk tea. From her memories it is suuuper caffeinated, suuuper sweet, and incredibly delicious.
Thai boba tea with our Pink of Pink Pepper Aniseed Chai Blend and tamarind, and a decadent cheese cream topping
And to top it all off… cheese-topped bubble tea!
So I remember maybe a year or two ago, the internet went a little crazy for the interesting boba tea topping, cheese cream (no, not cream cheese!). I never tried it and mostly forgot about it until I started researching for this recipe and Vientiene (our other founder) swears by it!!
I was struck with a wave of curiosity and decided to try and make it myself.
To make it you’ll need:
- 2oz of cream cheese
- 1 tbsp of white sugar
- 1 tbsp of milk
- 2 tbsps of heavy whipping cream
- ¼ - ½ tsps of Himalayan sea salt (to your taste)
The topping is fairly simple and pretty much just a whipped cream, so here’s what you need to do:
- Add your cream cheese, salt and sugar to a mixing bowl and beat until soft and combine
- Then add your milk and heavy cream and beat until the texture is reminiscent of whipped cream (soft peaks)
- Serve immediately on top of the tea of your choice
So this topping may not be for everyone, but if you're curious I would definitely give it a try! Putting cheese in sweet things is not new remember - we all love carrot cake and cream cheese frosting! It's super easy to make and a fine way to mix up your tea.
A Note from Anna
Elizabeth and Vientiene tell me that milk tea is all over south, south east, and far east Asia spreading out from Taiwan: they have had it themselves in Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia (i.e. a lot!!!). If you'd like to read about the origins of the original cafe that invented it, this is a good starting point.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe and learning all about making boba, I know I had a ton of fun researching, testing and writing it. Though now after all that testing I will say I will definitely take a little break from drinking bubble tea myself ;-D
And I hope that this recipe inspires you to do some testing of your own! If you come up with any cool recipes using MA teas make sure to message us or tag us in SM posts on Instagram @MatchaAlternatives or Facebook /MatchaAlternatives
Now you've learned how to make boba tea, give it a try! I used this tea as a base and it was SO GOOD
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