Ever wondered how to make bubble tea? Here is a simple bubble tea recipe that shows how you can make this beverage at home!
Bubble tea is one of my favorite things to sip on during the summer. Originating from Taiwan, bubble tea (波霸奶茶/珍珠奶茶) usually consists of sweetened tea with milk and the characteristic chewy tapioca balls, also known as boba (波霸). Bubble tea comes in many flavors: plain tea flavors such as black or jasmine tea, fruit flavors such as strawberry or honeydew, and even taro, which is a root vegetable commonly used in Asian dishes. (You can read more about the history of bubble tea here).
While I enjoy drinking bubble tea, I don’t particularly like the ones sold in the teahouse chains because they contain too much sugar. The good thing is that you can make bubble tea at home easily! In this bubble tea recipe, all you really need is tea, tapioca pearls, milk, and a sweetener.
WHAT KIND OF TEA DO YOU USE?
The best kinds of tea to use are those that have a robust flavor, such as black or jasmine tea. Chai tea works as well. Because you will water down the tea with milk, you want a strong tasting tea that will retain its flavor. I used Numi’s Chinese Breakfast Tea for the recipe, but any strong tea will work.
WHAT KIND OF TAPIOCA PEARLS DO YOU USE?
I typically use this brand of tapioca pearls, which cook in about 5 minutes. I like that they cook quickly, but the texture could be better. (For reference, slower cooking tapioca pearls can take up to an hour to cook.) One important thing to note about these quick-cooking tapioca pearls is that you should not make them ahead of time. The pearls start to stiffen in just 1 or 2 hours, so they are meant to be served immediately after they’re cooked. You can find these tapioca pearls in Asian supermarkets or on Amazon.
WHAT KIND OF MILK DO YOU USE? CAN THIS BE DAIRY FREE?
I prefer using whole milk the most because the rich flavor makes the beverage tastier overall. I tried a version of the bubble tea with heavy cream. While the flavor of the tea was even better than the version I made with whole milk, it felt too decadent. Perhaps using half-and-half is a good compromise?
You can also make a dairy-free version with nut milks or soy milk. I tried using canned coconut milk once, and the coconut milk left a funny feeling in my mouth. It felt as if my mouth was coated with a thin layer of coconut fat.
WHAT KIND OF SWEETENER DO YOU USE?
Any kind of sweetener works. However, I do want to point out that if you use honey (or any thick syrup), it is best if you mix in the honey while the tea is hot so that the honey can dissolve evenly. The same goes for granulated sugar. Of course this will mean that you’ll have to approximate how much sweetener you’ll need before the bubble tea is ready for tasting. You’ll probably need at least 2 tablespoons of honey for every 2 cups of tea.
Because everyone has different preferences for sweetness, I recommend preparing simple syrup and having each person add however much simple syrup they want into the drink. Simple syrup is easy to prepare. Heat 1 cup of water in a saucepan and add 1 cup of sugar once the water starts simmering. Stir until the sugar dissolves and turn off the heat. Once the simple syrup has cooled, bottle it up, and it’s ready to be used. Typically, I use about 2 tablespoons of simple syrup to each drink, just so it tastes barely sweet. Some people might want more syrup in there.
CAN YOU MAKE THIS BUBBLE TEA RECIPE AHEAD?
You can steep the tea 1 or 2 days before and store it in the refrigerator. Also, you can make the simple syrup several days ahead. I wouldn’t recommend cooking the tapioca pearls ahead because the pearls harden quite quickly.
MORE DELICIOUS DRINKS
- Simple Mango Lassi (so refreshing!)
- Spiced Golden Milk (turmeric milk)
- Red Beet Smoothie (great morning pick-me-up)
How to Make Bubble Tea
I used Chinese breakfast tea for my bubble tea recipe, but any other black tea or strong tasting green teas will also work! In the recipe, you may notice that I use 8 tea bags to steep just 4 cups of water. Because the tea will be watered down with milk and ice cubes, you want to start of with a pretty strong tasting tea.
If you enjoy a lot of tapioca pearls in your drinks, I recommend cooking 1 cup of tapioca pearls instead of the 3/4 cup I listed below.
- Prep Time: 2 hours
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
- Yield: 4 drinks
- 8 bags of black tea
- 4 cups just boiled water
- 3/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca pearls
- whole milk to serve (or your choice of milk)
- simple syrup to serve (or your choice of sweetener)
For the Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- Prepare the tea: Steep the tea bags with 4 cups of just boiled water. Let the tea sit until it reaches room temperature. There’s no need to remove the tea bags from the water as the tea is steeping. You can stick the tea in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.
- Prepare the simple syrup (if using): Add the water to a saucepan and heat the water until it starts to simmer. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from heat and let the simple syrup cool before transferring to a jar.
- Cook the tapioca pearls: Bring about 4 cups of water to boil and add the tapioca pearls. Stir the pearls and let them cook for about 5 minutes. The pearls should have floated to the top by now. Drain and rinse the pearls under cold water. Transfer them to a bowl.
- Assemble the drinks: Divide the cooked tapioca pearls into 4 large glasses. Next, add a few ice cubes to each glass. Pour 1 cup of the tea into each glass. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk and 1 1/2 tablespoons of simple syrup into each glass. Stir and taste the milk tea. Add more milk or simple syrup to your taste. If you are serving the beverage to guests, have a small pitcher of milk and jar of simple syrup ready so that they can adjust the drink to their taste. The drink is usually served with large boba straws (large enough for the tapioca pearls to go through). If you don’t have the straws on hand, you can use spoons to scoop out the tapioca pearls.
- You will likely have a lot of simple syrup left over, which you can use for other drinks, such as lemonade.
- For my version of the Jasmine Green Bubble Tea, check out my recipe on Numi’s blog!