What Is Bubble Tea?

Known by many names, bubble tea has become one of the mainstream beverages around the globe. Commonly accepted to have originated in Taiwan, it didn’t take long for it to become a go-to snack and drink for many tea lovers.

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Read on to learn the history of bubble tea, its rise in popularity, and of course, a recipe for a classic but tasty boba milk tea with tapioca pearls.

What Is Bubble Tea?

Simply saying that bubble tea is a beverage with milk and tapioca tea simply isn’t enough. It is a part of Taiwanese culture that made its way to the US when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was introduced.

While boba drink was a popular milk tea in Taiwan, young Asian-Americans could also get a taste of it in their local boba-serving cafes.

Despite Taiwanese people being on two different continents, bubble tea has always been present in their culture. Taiwanese restaurants would keep tapioca balls in syrup and serve boba tea as an aftertaste after meals to their customers for a very affordable price.

Only a few years later has it gained the huge interest of foreigners and been refashioned in a unique and inimitable way.

Now, the boba tea market is estimated to reach $4.3 billion in 2027.

What Is in Boba Milk Tea?

Bubble tea is a very versatile beverage that includes classic ingredients and more. The most basic recipe has:

  • Black tea
  • Milk
  • Ice
  • Firm but chewy tapioca pearls

Everything is added together, shaken, and served with a fat straw.

There are endless variations of bubble tea. Black tea isn’t the only kind used to make bubble tea. You can experiment with green or fruit tea. Regular dairy milk can be replaced with soy, coconut, oat, and almond milk.

The same strategy is applied to tapioca pearls. Although it is the main ingredient making the beverage so tasty and nutritious, you can use popping boba or jelly.

History of Bubble Tea

The origins of bubble tea are often disputed. However, we do know it most likely emerged in Taichung, Taiwan. The owner of the tea house, Liu Han-chieh, got inspired after seeing cold coffee being served in Japan. At that time, it was a revolutionary invention, as a tea ceremony involved brewed leaves without any additives (until the Brits mixed it with milk and sugar).

This is when customers could order the novelty – cold tea cooled with ice – in their local tea shop, Chun Shui Tang. When black tea was served cold, the tea house owner decided to experiment with other types of tea. Customers could have an iced green or fruit tea in the middle of a hot summer day.

Not only did this invention earn the tea shop a much-needed income during summer, but it also unlocked new opportunities. Mr. Liu encourages his employees to experiment with cold teas and come up with creative combinations.

This is when one of the employees (currently a vice president of the tea shop) decided to add tapioca balls to the milk tea.

The shop owner knew the beverage would immediately become a hit, but it needed a catchy name. And they called it tapioca tea.

And only when milk tea with tapioca balls was popularized did it earn a new name, which many of us know now – bubble milk tea.

Many tea shops selling bubble tea keep introducing new flavors and ingredients, but the classic recipe remains the most requested of all.

Recipe for a Classic Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is a great refreshing drink that is both tasty and filling. It’s easy to prepare at home, and there are many great boba tea variations sold in bubble tea shops.
5 from 7 votes
Total Time 2 hrs
Course Drinks
Cuisine Asian
Servings 4
Calories 160 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • Black tea 8-10 tea bags
  • Ice
  • Water about 7 cups
  • Brown sugar syrup
  • Boba pearls store-bought or handmade
  • Sweetener honey, cane syrup, maple syrup, or sugar syrup
  • Milk almond milk, soy milk, nut milk, etc.

Instructions
 

If you have ready-made tapioca balls, the recipe shouldn’t take you long. However, making boba pearls may take hours if it’s your first time. Here is what you need to do:

  • Prepare the tea base. Brew black tea or any other you want to try.
  • Add sweetener, honey, or syrup to your drink. You can experiment with bubble tea flavors and adjust them to the sweetness level you like.
  • Prepare tapioca pearls and boil them for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Sieve tapioca pearls and run lukewarm water over them.

To serve, you need to:

  • Add tapioca balls to the tall glass.
  • Add a few cubes of ice.
  • Pour the tea base and add milk.

Nutrition

Calories: 160kcal
Keyword how to make bubble tea
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Recipe for a Classic Bubble Tea

To make a refreshing bubble tea with chewy pearls, remember these three keys:

  • High-quality tea – The scent concentration should be aromatic.
  • Cane sugar – A bubble tea recipe specifically says to use cane sugar instead of regular one. Not only is cane sugar less sweet, but it also makes the flavor richer.
  • Bubbles – When preparing the pearls, do not add preservatives. They can only stay fresh, firm, and chewy for 3 to 4 hours.

These three factors are indispensable to making great bubble tea at home.

To prepare bubble tea no worse than in boba tea shops, you need:

  • Black tea (8-10 tea bags)
  • Ice
  • Water (about 7 cups)
  • Brown sugar syrup
  • Boba pearls (store-bought or handmade)
  • Sweetener (honey, cane syrup, maple syrup, or sugar syrup)
  • Milk (almond milk, soy milk, nut milk, etc.)

If you have ready-made tapioca balls, the recipe shouldn’t take you long. However, making boba pearls may take hours if it’s your first time. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Prepare the tea base. Brew black tea or any other you want to try.
  2. Add sweetener, honey, or syrup to your drink. You can experiment with bubble tea flavors and adjust them to the sweetness level you like.
  3. Prepare tapioca pearls and boil them for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Sieve tapioca pearls and run lukewarm water over them.

To serve, you need to:

  1. Add tapioca balls to the tall glass.
  2. Add a few cubes of ice.
  3. Pour the tea base and add milk.

Making Boba Pearls at Home

First-timers may find it a bit difficult to make tapioca balls. But practice makes perfect, and you can master this skill in no time.

To make boba, you need:

  • Tapioca starch
  • Brown sugar
  • Water
  • Brown sugar syrup

There is no time to slack when making boba pearls. You need to be quick, so make sure there is nothing disturbing you.

  1. Add lukewarm water and brown sugar to the pot. Stir to melt the sugar. Leave the pot on the smallest fire with a closed lid.
  2. Add 1/2 of tapioca starch and mix well.
  3. Add the rest of the starch and continue mixing.
  4. Scatter flour on the counter and place the paste onto a counter.
  5. Knead the dough until it is soft. The paste shouldn’t be sticky.
  6. Now, you can either:
    • Divide the dough, roll it, and cut it into small cubes. Round the pieces.
    • Or take a pinch of dough and round it in your fingers.

Note: make sure not to make tapioca balls too big. Otherwise, it’s only going to block the fat straw.

  1. Throw the boba right into the boiling water in the pot.
  2. Let them boil for about 30 minutes.
  3. Drain the tapioca pearls and let them cool before adding them to your drink.

Final Word

Bubble tea is a great refreshing drink that is both tasty and filling. It’s easy to prepare at home, and there are many great boba tea variations sold in bubble tea shops.

You won’t taste any tea similar to this Taiwanese beverage. Try it yourself, but be aware, boba lovers say it’s addicting!

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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