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Like so many beloved recipes, the story of bubble tea begins at a street food stall. It was in Taiwan in the 1980s that a vendor made the decision to combine milk tea, already a national favorite, and softened and sweetened tapioca pearls, a cherished Taiwanese dessert. It was an instant hit amongst Taiwanese who not only enjoyed its flavor but also loved the fun of sucking the oversized tapioca balls up through jumbo straws.
The trend quickly spread throughout Europe and America where storefronts exclusively devoted to bubble tea have emerged. The tea is referred to as boba in Taiwan, a word that means breasts, and while the pearls are often mixed with milk, tea, and fruit powders in retail shops, they are even tastier when combined with real fruit and other natural flavors.
Boba come in a wide variety of colors and flavors and are readily available in Asian markets as well as online, as are the wide straws required for a truly perfect glass of bubble tea. (You can even find reusable eco-friendly straws wide enough to suck up the boba pearls.) The drink is a favorite of adults and children alike and because it is such a treat to drink and kids won’t notice if you slip something healthy into it like green tea, almond milk, or fruit.
1. Create a simple syrup by bringing 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Remove from the heat and add 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.
2. Prepare a cup of tea using your favorite variety. Is using tea bags, try using two to make it more robustly flavored. Discard the tea bags or strain the leaves and cool the tea to room temperature.
3. In another saucepan, bring water to a boil; the ratio should be 2 cups of water for every 1/4 cup boba.
4. Add the boba and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook gently for 15 minutes then remove from the heat.
5. Set the pan aside for an additional 15 minutes. Drain the boba in a colander then stir them together in a bowl with the simple syrup. The syrup will not only sweeten the boba but will also help keep them soft and chewy. Boba are best when they are freshly prepared but they can also be stored with the syrup in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
6. In a tall glass, combine the tea and the boba and pour your additional liquid of choice up to the top. Ideas include milk, almond milk, or fruit juice.
7. Add additional flavorings, if desired, and serve with a jumbo straw.
WuFuYuan Black Tapioca Pearls, $9.88 from Amazon
The all-important bubbles for your bubble tea.
Buddha Bubbles Coconut Boba/Bubble Tea Powder, $15.95 from Amazon
You can try a sweet bubble tea mix as another option for homemade boba.
Jumbo Metal Boba Straws with Silicone Tips, 6 for $4.99 from Amazon
These eco-friendly wide boba straws include silicone tips to buffer your lips and teeth from the stainless steel.
To help you get started with flavor combinations and variations, try these bubble tea recipes to start.
This bubble tea is for those who love a classic with its infusion of black tea and black tapioca pearls for an elegant finish. Get the Black Bubble Tea recipe.
The spicy virtues of chai and tropical kiss of coconut form a perfect union in this recipe that is sweetened with honey. Get the Chai Coconut Bubble Tea recipe.
In this recipe a Taiwanese native shares her aunt’s bubble tea recipe that includes red rose tea for a delicate finish. Get the Authentic Taiwanese Bubble Tea recipe.
Here’s a fun summer twist on bubble tea that incorporates strawberries and crushed ice. Get the Strawberry Slushie Bubble Tea recipe.
Fruity and pretty all at the same time, mango and strawberry combined with milk and boba make this a go-to for fussy kids who won’t be able to resist its charms. Get the Strawberry Mango Bubble Tea recipe.