Brown Sugar Boba (Bubble Tea)

March 29, 2022
13 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Makes 4 cups
Author Notes

Boba (or bubble tea) is an Asian milk tea drink, elevated by the addition of tapioca pearls (the "bubbles"). The drink has gained a cult following in Taiwan and its surrounding countries, and also in Asian communities in the U.S. As an Asian myself, I'm a sucker for good boba, too. But tired of the queues caused by the recent boba craze, I made my own at home. And let me tell you: It was glorious.

The tapioca pearls in a typical boba are made of just three ingredients—tapioca starch, sugar, and water. It starts off as a dough, which then gets portioned and rolled into little balls. This sounds easy enough, but tapioca starch has this really sticky quality, which gives the pearls their characteristic chewiness, but it also means that a bit too much moisture in the tapioca dough will make it stick to any surface it touches, becoming nearly impossible to work with.

This is why most online recipes start off with pre-made boba pearls bought from the supermarket or your local Asian grocers, circumventing the hassle of working with tapioca starch altogether. But to me, that defeats the whole purpose of a homemade boba. So I made my own pearls, too.

After many failed attempts that left overly sticky tapioca residue all over my countertop, I found a ratio that works perfectly every time. The secret, I discovered, was to err on the side of caution and use more tapioca starch than most recipes would call for. (Working in grams instead of cups is important to get the right consistency for the dough.) This results in a much more amicable dough, which makes rolling it out into little pearls a breeze.

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What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Brown Sugar Boba (Bubble Tea)
  • Milk Tea Base
  • 6 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons loose black tea leaves (or 4 tea bags)
  • Ice cubes
  • Tapioca Pearls
  • 7/8 cup (110 grams) tapioca starch, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup (65 milliliters) water
  • 1/4 cup (45 grams) muscovado sugar or another dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup muscovado sugar, or another dark brown sugar (for braising syrup)
  1. Make the Milk Tea: In a pot, combine the milk, brown sugar, and tea leaves. Heat until the milk starts to steam. Let the tea leaves steep in the hot milk for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain out the tea leaves. When the milk tea is cool enough, transfer to a jug or bottle and keep in the refrigerator until cold.
  2. Make the Tapioca Dough: Sift the tapioca starch and make sure no large lumps remain. Pour the water and sugar into a small pot or saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir and melt the sugar. Reduce the heat to low, then dump the tapioca starch into the pot all at once. Using a firm spatula, stir until evenly mixed and a sticky brown dough forms. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning, for 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface and split it into 2 or 3 roughly equal portions. This is just to make it easier to work with. The dough will be a little sticky to start with, but should get easier to handle as it cools slightly. (If it’s still super sticky, knead in a tablespoon or two of fresh tapioca starch.) Take one of the dough portions and cover the rest with a cloth or kitchen towel to prevent from drying out. Roll out the dough to a long string, roughly ¼ inch thick. Using a bench scraper, cut the string into ¼-inch pieces. Roll each piece in between the palms of your hands and shape into little spherical balls. After you roll each ball, dust in some tapioca starch to prevent sticking. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  4. Cook the Pearls: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tapioca pearls and keep the water on a rolling boil for 20 minutes, until the pearls are cooked through. Stir vigorously in the beginning to prevent the pearls from sticking, but once they start to float, you only need to stir the pot once every few minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and firm up slightly.
  5. Braise the Pearls: In a small pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the chilled tapioca pearls, reduce the heat, and bring to a slow simmer. Let the pearls braise for 20 to 25 minutes, until the braising liquid turns thick and syrupy. Keep warm.
  6. To serve, tilt the glass or cup at a 45° angle and place the tapioca pearls close to the lip of the glass, letting them slide down to the base. Repeat this on all sides to get a trippy, tiger stripe-like ripple effect, then add the ice cubes and milk tea. It’s best to drink with a straw so you can get at the pearls as you drink the tea.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Becky
  • Jennifer Chanchall
    Jennifer Chanchall
  • Madeline Myslow
    Madeline Myslow
  • M
  • Haneen Salama
    Haneen Salama

22 Reviews

Shelby August 6, 2023
This is really not fun to make… I was super precise and weighed each ingredient. The “dough” was very wet, so I added a tiny bit more tapioca flour and it became a crumbly mess impossible to roll out. Unfortunately as well the 20 minutes of boiling time is not enough; after boiling and braising as directed my pearls were still hard in the middle.
Squid720 August 7, 2021
This was by far, the best bubble tea I’ve ever had. Like other reviewers, I had difficulties with the tapioca dough but it was fine after I added more water. The dough dries up very quickly so cover with clingfilm if you’re not using immediately. The milk tea was delicious and so were the boba when they were cooked. Overall this recipe is well worth a try and I will probably never go back to buying bubble tea again.
Becky September 28, 2020
I really wanted this to work, but these pearls just did not turn out for me. I tried twice, and both times ended up with a crumbly dough rather than a sticky one - same as another reviewer. What went wrong? I suspected it had burned, so the second time I tried a lower heat and less time. Still no good. Would love some recommendations here :)
Kittie July 8, 2021
Hi! This is a really late reply, but I had the same problem, I decided to have a bowl of water at the side to dip my palms into every few balls, this helped stop the crumbling and also made them a lot smoother. Not too much water though otherwise they just slip about haha. Hopefully this helps some people!
jacrae August 9, 2020
I made this recipe as written and used loose Thai tea leaves in the milk. This came out really good! I didn't bother to roll the Boba into spheres, I just left them in the shape they were cut in and it's fine.

Honestly, though, it's a lot of time and work to make these, and they are that much better than store bought. I think I'll just use commercial boba in the future and make the milk tea myself.
Lana2125 July 7, 2020
My boba ball needed about 2 hours to cook not 20 minutes and I am also I bit disappointed with the turn out of them.
Biliki May 26, 2020
Too much flour, your children will hate you
funsized May 25, 2020
Wow, this was both fun and delicious! I only had dark brown sugar and it came out a touch sweeter than my ideal, so I ordered muscovado for the next time a boba craving strikes. Thanks for the great recipe!
cinderella May 21, 2020
too lazy to try making boba (and i also don't have any tapioca flour) but made the tea with whole milk and it's so good.
eats.123 May 1, 2020
This is my first time making bubble tea and it was AMAZING! I have had many bubble teas in my life and know what tastes good :) This recipe is very easy and is clear to follow. Both the milk tea and pearls came out great!
Jennifer C. April 6, 2020
Recipe taken verbatim from this website
essoe.alex April 18, 2020
Yes, that's the poster's website. It's called because his name is Yi Jun Loh. Same guy, still his recipe.
Kinz January 16, 2020
I didn't attempt to make the pearls but I made this with 3 cups half and half and 3 cups 1% milk. I also added a tablespoon of brown sugar. It turned out amazing!
nickml December 15, 2019
I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but its called “Pearl Milk Tea” and “Bubble Tea.” The tapioca pearls should be just springy enough. I also get annoyed when its given as “bubbles” when in reality and in the countries that this drink was made in, their pearls. I’m from that area so its harsh to keep ignoring it. Its hard to ignore.
Jermeyn May 19, 2020
I am sorry if they called it "bubbles" asians calls it bubbles or boba but thank you for enlightening us
Madeline M. October 27, 2019
I’ve tried making this twice to save money on buying it at the bubble tea place near me for almost $6 for a small. The milk tea comes out tasting great but the boba has not come out right both times. The first time I could tell the mixture was just too dry; I followed the instructions closely but it didn’t work out. The second time I tried adding more water which definitely made the tapioca mixture stickier, but still didn’t yield the correct texture. My boba also always turned out a very light color when they are supposed to be a lot darker. Also very important to note that the boba definitely get bigger when they cook, so err on the smaller side when rolling! I’ll definitely play with this recipe a bit to make it work for me. But I had no concept of how to make these before so thank you for the start!
nickml December 15, 2019
Here’s a video on how to make the pearl!
M April 8, 2020
I use to have a boba shop myself and the key ingredient is how long you cook the boba. Generally you’ll have to cook the boba for around 40 minutes and let it steep for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water and place the boba in syrup water for about 15 minutes minimum so that it soaks in all the sweetness. Also, It’s best to use commercial boba rather than cheap supermarket ones that take 5 minutes to make. They are not as good.
JC May 21, 2020
My local Asian market sells black pearls boba. I'll get some that way. Any ideas where to get yuzu and lychee jellies?
Haneen S. June 8, 2020
I have better recipe than this it can help u out
Cheri September 22, 2019
Made this today and it came out great! Few things to note: Despite knowing I should not have used baking cup measurements for the water (tapioca), I did it and the dough came out dry. I redid it and this time I used a scale. Came out smooth and was able to work with it. Another thing, I didn't have muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar, so I used the light brown version. Flavor wasn't as deep as I would like but of course, it's not the recipe's fault. Still came out great! Tapioca was so soft and chewy. Next time, I might also play around with earl grey for the milk tea base. Thank you to the author and creator of this recipe, you did a great job!(:

nickml December 15, 2019
Have you tried turbinado sugar?