I have been a fan of tapioca pudding since I was kid. For some reason, those little fish egg-looking chewy bits always appealed to me. Much later in life, I discovered a sweet Taiwanese beverage that combines 3 of my favorite things: milk, tea and tapioca. What the heck? Why has no one told me about this before? Bubble tea, also known as boba milk tea, has a shaken until frothy tea and milk or fruit base plus chewy tapioca pearls or fruit gummies. There are many different possible flavors. The version shown here uses chai tea, vanilla soy milk, vanilla extract and large pearl white tapioca.
I used large pearl tapioca purchased from a typical American supermarket. This is not quite the right stuff for traditional bubble tea. If you don’t mind waiting a bit and springing some extra cash, you can order larger black tapioca pearls and wide straws perfect for boba tea from Amazon.
Bubble tea is believed to have been created by Lin Hsiu Hui, product development manager of the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. The founder of this tea house was the first to serve cold tea, after being inspired on a trip to Japan where he was served cold coffee. During a 1988 meeting, Hui poured a sweetened tapioca pudding into some iced tea. It was well-received and became the house’s top-selling product. The drink was very popular throughout East and Southeast Asia during the 90s and is also popular in Canada and the US. The name ‘bubble’ comes from the foam created by shaking the tea, which is called pàomò (frothy or foamy) tea. The most popular variants are black and green milk tea with tapioca pearls.
As previously mentioned, there are two types of bubble tea: fruit-flavored or milk. However, some shops do offer hybrid fruit milk teas. The oldest known variety of bubble tea was a mix of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls, condensed milk and simple syrup or honey. These days, bubble tea is most often served cold and most milk teas are made with powdered creamers instead of fresh milk. (It is cheaper and many East Asians are lactose intolerant.) The most common types of black tea used are oolong and Earl Grey. The first variations on this recipe involved different types of tea. First was green tea, followed by jasmine. Larger tapioca pearls replaced smaller ones. Peach and plum flavorings were added, followed by other fruit flavors. Eventually, fruit replaced tea entirely in some versions and they began to include fruit colored pearls or jelly cubes. One variation originating in Hong Kong uses a mix of black tea and coffee.
Try some other flavors:
Vanilla Chai Bubble Tea
4 cups water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup dried large pearl tapioca
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups prepared chai tea, chilled (I steeped 3 tea bags in 2 cups of boiling water for 20 minutes and then moved it to the freezer to chill.)
½ cup vanilla soy milk
Combine 1 cup water and sugar in a small saucepan.
Heat over high heat until boiling, stirring occasionally.
Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and set aside.
In separate saucepan, bring remaining 3 cups water to a boil.
Add tapioca and boil 15-20 minutes or until pearls are mostly translucent.
Remove from heat and allow to sit in hot water for 10 minutes.
Drain, combine with simple syrup (sugar and water) and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.
Strain bubbles (cooked tapioca pearls), reserving syrup.
Divide bubbles between 2 large glasses and set aside.
Combine tea and milk.
Pour mixture over bubbles.
Add reserved syrup to taste.