Obscurely invented in Taiwan in the 1980s with no concrete trace of its true origin, bubble tea is made from cooked black tapioca pearls, tea, milk, and varying levels of sugar. The only requirements for it to be called a bubble tea is that it be shaken (shou yao) to mix and it’s generous with a base of perfectly spherical, fluffy boba bubbles sucked satisfactorily through an oversized straw.
But like our morning specialty java beers, it can get expensive. So how do you watch your wallet while still quenching your cravings?
One way to start is to make your own at home, starting with one of the essentials. Here’s how to make your own tapioca pearls.
Step 1: Choose your tapioca pearls
Making your own tapioca pearls from scratch has many benefits. When you make them yourself, you can dictate the size, eliminate additives and preservatives, have more control over texture, and can add flavor. A perfect example of the four in action is Hanh Nguyen’s July Moon Bakery & Café in Alpharetta, GA, which has become known for its natural purple sweet potato boba pearls, which are “deeper in color with a richer taste and bouquet. earthy” compared to normal. tasteless ones made from tapioca starch, which are made from cassava root flour.
However, this is a lot of work on top of an already time-consuming task, so we recommend starting with store-bought, ready-to-cook tapioca pearls.
There are several types of boba that you can buy:
- The aesthetic blacks that have become commonplace in bubble tea shops are either made with brown sugar or added food coloring.
- The clear/white ones, which are tasteless and better able to take on the flavors of your milk and tea.
- Popping boba, which releases a burst of juice in the middle when you chew it.
You can buy all of these (and reusable boba-width straws!) online through companies like Amazon, and kits through Asian online retailers Umamicart and Weee! If you have an international or Asian market like H-Mart or City Farmers Market nearby, you’re in luck: they usually offer tapioca pearls in vacuum-sealed bags in their aisles.
Test kitchen tip: It can be tempting to buy and use quick-cooking pearls, but many boba tea lovers advise against it. They usually don’t offer as much flair as traditional ones, especially since they’re easy to overcook, resulting in soft rather than firm outer layers.
Step 2: Boil the tapioca pearls
Once you have the tapioca pearls of your choice in hand, cooking them can take some patience.
You’ll want to use about a 5:1 ratio of water to pearls in a pot large enough to accommodate those proportions. This will help reduce clinging, give them room to move, and provide even hydration.
- Bring a small pot of water to a gentle but steady boil.
- Drop in the desired amount of tapioca pearls and let them come back to a boil, stirring frequently during this process to prevent them from sticking to the bottom.
- Once they start to float to the top, cover the pot and lower the heat to simmer, stirring every five minutes or so for the remaining 15 minutes of cooking.
Typically, tapioca pearls need about half an hour of active cooking on the stove: 10 to 20 minutes boiling uncovered, stirring constantly; then 15-20 minutes over low heat covered with periodic stirring; then rest for 30 minutes, off the heat but covered.
Nguyen advises, “Make sure the water is fully boiling before gently dropping the bobas into it. And don’t hesitate to test the level of tenderness.” Just as you don’t want to overcook them to compromise their structural integrity, you also don’t want to undercook them, “As they can be tough in the middle,” she warns, ruining the experience.
Step 3: Let stand
Once they have reached translucency with only a white dot remaining in the center, remove them from the heat keeping the pan lid on. You will want to let the hot water and steam finish cooking them completely.
Step 4: Prepare a brown sugar syrup bath
In a separate saucepan, prepare a brown sugar syrup bath. You’ll need it to sweeten cooked tapioca pearls and also for short-term storage. You can also keep reusing it for future batches of prepared boba balls until it’s completely absorbed and gone.
To make this syrup, simply boil equal parts water and brown sugar until it’s thick enough to coat your spatula as you stir it, but still runny.
Step 5: drain the fluid
After about 30 minutes of soaking, strain the water from the tapioca pearls by emptying the pot into a colander. Run them under cold water to rinse them, then add the boba to the prepared sugar bath. The tapioca pearls will be ready to serve with your beverage flavor of choice after at least half an hour of soaking. They won’t get sweeter after this time, but won’t get sweet enough before then.
How to Store Cooked Tapioca Pearls
As mentioned in the cooking instructions, you will need to prepare a sweet liquid slurry in which to store your cooked tapioca pearls.
“We like to keep our bobas in a tub of warm brown sugar water that has the consistency of soup stock. This keeps them from sticking together, which makes them easier to serve. It also keeps them soft and sweet all the time. throughout the day,” says Nguyen.
This is typical practice for most boba tea shops, which will keep brewed tapioca pearls in this liquid for at least 30 minutes – to allow it to absorb the sweetness of the syrup and create the nice streaks liquids in your bubble tea – but no more than four hours, because that’s when most tapioca pearls start to break down and stop being that bouncy “QQ” texture.
Knowing how to make your own tapioca pearls for bubble tea at home will save you a lot of money without forcing you to give up a favorite indulgence. You can put tapioca pearls in milk tea, Thai tea, chai tea, fruit drinks and more to add a fun, fluffy texture to any beverage.