Brown Sugar Boba (Bubble Tea)

May  6, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham
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. —Yi Jun Loh

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: How to Make Milk Tea at Home Like a Barista. —The Editors

  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Makes 4 cups
  • Milk tea base
  • 6 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons loose black tea leaves (or 4 tea bags)
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • Ice cubes
  • Tapioca pearls
  • 1/4 cup (65ml) water
  • 1/4 cup (45g) muscovado sugar, or another dark brown sugar
  • 7/8 cup (110g) tapioca starch, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup water (for braising syrup)
  • 1/2 cup muscovado sugar, or another dark brown sugar (for braising syrup)
In This Recipe
  1. Milk tea: Add the milk, tea leaves, and sugar into a pot, and heat it up 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 it into a jug or bottle, and keep it in the refrigerator until it’s cold.
  2. 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 it to a boil. Stir and make sure all the sugar has melted, turn down the heat to low, and then dump the tapioca starch into the pot all at once. Using a firm spatula, stir the pot until everything is evenly mixed and a sticky brown dough forms. Cook this dough over very low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the bottom from burning.
  3. Rolling out the pearls: Scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface, and split it into two or three 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 them from drying out. Then, roll out the piece you have into a long string, roughly 1/4-inch thick. Using a bench scraper, cut the string into 1/4-inch pieces. Roll each little piece of dough in between the palms of your hands and shape it into little spherical balls. After you roll each ball, dust it in some tapioca starch to prevent it from sticking. Repeat until you’ve rolled out all the dough.
  4. Cooking the pearls: Ready a large pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add in 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. Once the pearls are cooked, transfer them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and firm up slightly.
  5. Braising the pearls: To make the braising syrup, add the water and muscovado sugar in a small pot, and bring to a boil. Add in the chilled tapioca pearls, and turn the heat down to a slow simmer. Let the pearls braise for 20 to 25 minutes, until the braising liquid turns thick and syrupy. Keep it warm after it’s done cooking.
  6. Serving: 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 it with a straw so you can get at the pearls as you drink the tea.

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Engineer + cook + food blogger. All about cross-cultural cooking, funky-fresh ferments, and abusing alliteration.