How to Make Bubble Tea at Home

May 23, 2014

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Molly Yeh from My Name is Yeh makes iced tea fun again with the addition of boba. 

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Let me tell you about my relationship with textures: Since the day I could eat, the texture of a food has, more often than not, come first as a priority for what I feel like eating in that exact moment. Texture first, flavor second. 

I define my cravings as doughy or crispy, not salty or sweet. And I’d eat just about anything -- even durian -- if it morphed into the texture of a nice fluffy loaf of bread. My hierarchy of textures starts at the top with doughy: a crustless piece of challah, a thick potsticker wrapper (hold the filling), a pork bun. Then comes crispy: Cheez-Its, the coating of a well-fried mozzarella stick, a handful of potato chips. Way at the bottom of this list we have slimy, rubbery, and whatever mushrooms are. 

It doesn’t make sense that I should like bubble tea, and for the longest time, I didn’t. I’d sit in Chinatown and watch my sister slurping up the chewy black balls as I’d sip on my tapioca-less drink with the fat straw that I used to disguise my dislike. Eventually I just felt like a fake, drinking my plain jane drink with a super special straw, so I sucked it up (no pun…) and tried some boba.

More: Looking for another way to make tea exciting again? Try classic Southern sweet tea.


I realized those things don’t have an ounce of flavor, but I like the novelty, and the texture has grown on me. They’re not slimy, and the textural variety is a nice change of pace from your typical smoothie or tea. 

The closest Chinatown to my new home is in Canada, about two hours away, so that means that whenever I want bubble tea, I need to make it. I guess I say that about a lot of foods these days, but this one is extra special because without the access to fat boba straws, my boyfriend had to (got to) make a badass brass boba straw. 

It was fun until we realized that drinking out of brass might not be safe. Luckily, you can buy fat straws (and other bubble tea goodies) on the internet.

Bubble Tea

Serves 2

1/2 cup dried black boba pearls
1 cup honey or 1/2 cup white sugar + 1/2 cup brown sugar
3 black tea bags
2 cups milk or almond milk or a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk (to taste)
Any additional flavorings such as syrups, frozen fruits (to be blended like a smoothie), flavored powders, or extracts

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the boba pearls and continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 12 to 15 more minutes. 


While the boba pearls are boiling, make a simple syrup: Combine 1 cup of water with honey or sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat. Remove the mixture from the heat when it reaches a boil and set it aside until the pearls are ready. 

Steep the 3 tea bags in 2 cups of boiling water for 4 minutes and let cool.

When the pearls are ready, drain them and then gently stir them into the syrup. Let sit for 15 minutes. 

Distribute the pearls into two glasses. Then combine the tea, the milk, and any desired flavorings in a cocktail shaker with a few cubes of ice. (This might be easiest to do one serving at a time: 1 cup of tea and 1 cup of milk). Shake the tea vigorously, then pour it into the glass. 

While some say the name "bubble tea" is derived from the boba pearls, others say that the foam (or bubbles) on top of the tea that forms when shaking it is the real reason for why it's called bubble tea. 

If you want to use frozen fruit to make a smoothie, blend the 2 cups of tea, 2 cups of milk (or a few tablespoons of condensed milk), and about 3 cups of fruit in a blender until smooth. Pour over the pearls. Add additional simple syrup to taste.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Molly Yeh

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily Hanhan
    Emily Hanhan
  • Ryan Dak Anderson
    Ryan Dak Anderson
  • kimikoftokyo
  • Jesse Bray
    Jesse Bray
  • Elisa
molly yeh recently moved from brooklyn to a farm outside of grand forks, north dakota, where her husband is a fifth generation farmer. she writes the blog my name is yeh.


Emily H. May 23, 2015
I keep telling myself I'm going to make bubble tea at home because so often, the bubble tea that I get is toooo mushy and weird. Did you have any NYC favorite spots for bubble tea (until I make it at home)?
Ryan D. December 29, 2014
Thanks for sharing a great article. Here is another article people might find interesting, How to Make Bubble Tea with Real Tea: http://fanaledrinks.com/blogs/recipes/15580695-how-to-make-bubble-tea-with-real-tea
kimikoftokyo September 4, 2014
I love boba tea!! Oh and I'm so afraid of durian lol.
Jesse B. May 25, 2014
How long will the pearls last until they become overly saturated and mushy? I'd love to make this, but is it too many pearls for one person to eat up?
Elisa May 25, 2014
That's amazing, I had no idea it was so simple – and this way I can control exactly what goes into it. Thank you!
Burnt O. May 23, 2014
A 1/2 CUP of honey per serving? Is that right?
Tennille J. May 24, 2014
Bubble tea is very very very sweet. Plus you are soaking the pearls in the syrup and letting the tapioca pick up the sweetness, not putting the honey directly into the tea. A place I go to allows you to adjust the sweetness and I never ask for it at full strength.
Kenzi W. May 23, 2014
Girl you crazy. (Also I adore your blue Dansk pot.)
stephanie L. May 23, 2014
LOVE it!!! And I totally agree with you and Cynthia on textures. They are so, so important in food. I've been meaning to make bubble tea at home :)
Cynthia C. May 23, 2014
BUBBLE TEA AT HOME!!! Beautiful photos and just a gorgeous piece of food writing -- YES to texture first! Can't wait to try this soon.