What is bubble tea?
Bubble tea is an iced tea drink that is traditionally made with black or green tea and topped with milk and tapioca pearls (otherwise known as boba). The drink originated in Taiwan and has become widely popular around the globe by the names of bubble tea, milk tea and pearl milk tea. It is very common to drink bubble tea on a regular basis in Asian countries, as it is the equivalent of drinking coffee in America.
With the expansion of bubble tea worldwide, it’s common to see new variations made from different types of tea, coffee, fruit and fruit flavouring, milk, and unique toppings. However, the most common flavour, which happens to be the classic milk tea, is black tea with milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls.
It is said that the name “bubble tea” comes from the bubbles that form when shaking the tea, rather than the bubble shaped tapioca balls at it’s base. Tapioca pearls are small balls of tapioca that have been cooked and coated in simple syrup. They are typically black but can also come in white.
Milk tea and non-milk tea are the two main categories of bubble tea. The milk tea versions are made with either fresh milk, powdered milk, or condensed milk, and can also be substituted with dairy-free milk. The non-milk teas are available in iced teas, slushies, and smoothies (all with toppings, of course). Typically, these drinks come in a pleasant fruity flavour.
The addition of various toppings is what makes bubble tea unique from iced tea drinks and iced lattes. Tapioca pears seem to be the identity of bubble tea, but there are many other toppings available. Some of the those toppings include popping boba, grass jelly, coconut jelly, rainbow jelly, aloe vera, chia seeds, and red bean.
What are typical bubble tea flavors?
If you go to any bubble tea shop, you will see a large menu board with what looks like hundreds of different flavours. The possibilities seem endless! Luckily these tea shops group the menu into sections such as milk tea, non-milk tea, green tea and slushies and smoothies. It is very common to see many different fruit flavours such as mango, passion fruit, citrus, and earthy flavours such as matcha and red bean.
As mentioned previously, the most popular flavor is the classic milk tea, but there is a large fan base for taro milk tea and orange Thai tea. Thai tea is commonly found in Taiwan. It has a slight vanilla taste and uses food colouring to get the orange appearance. Taro comes from the root vegetable taro that is widely used in Asian cuisine, and has been described as tasting similar to cookies & cream. The popular tapioca pearls topping have a gum-like texture with a sweet syrup taste.
Bubble tea can be as sweet as you would like, as most tea stores will allow you to customize the sweetness, amount of ice, and toppings used. Lucky for us, it’s quite easy to replicate bubble tea on our own at home.
Classic bubble tea recipe
Here is how to make bubble tea at home! It isn’t necessary to have tapioca in your bubble tea, but if you can get your hands on some then you’ll be in for a unique treat.
Note: It takes roughly 40 minutes for the tapioca pearls to cook. If you’re short on time, we would recommend omitting them from your drink.
- Dried tapioca pearls
- Black tea – either loose leaf or in tea bags (we recommend loose leaf for better flavours)
- Milk (this one’s up to you – 2%, half and half, condensed milk, or dairy free milk will all work)
- Simple syrup (or any other sweetener of your choice)
To make the tapioca
Put your dried tapioca pearls in boiling water and leave them to boil for as long as instructed on the package. Most dried pearls will need to cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat, then put your cooked tapioca in a container with simple syrup (or honey) to soak.
To make the tea
Steep your tea in your preferred brewing method. We love to use the Aberdeen Smart Tea Maker. You will want to make sure that you steep for as long as possible. A longer steep will guarantee to leave you with a strong tasting tea. If you would like to use an alternative sweetener such as honey or sugar, add that to your tea now.
Prepare a glass cup with your desired amount of cooked tapioca pearls. Add ice on top, then pour your steeped tea over the ice. Add your simple syrup, then top up the glass with a splash of milk (of your choosing). Finally, add a wide metal straw and sip away!
You can easily adapt this recipe for any tea you desire. Bubble tea is quite versatile, so the tea you choose is entirely up to you. Try playing around with your favourite teas and even adding flavoured syrups to intensify the flavours. The toppings can also be varied as well – we’ve seen options such as pudding, mousse and chia seeds. A bubble tea without toppings is still great as well!