If you’ve been around an Asian mall food court, you will have seen them: pastel-coloured drinks with neon-coloured wide fat straws sticking up and black mini balls on the bottom.
WHAT IS BUBBLE TEA?
So what exactly is Bubble Tea? It’s a tea based drink consisting of tapioca pearls (more commonly known as “boba” in the States) and was invented in the late ’80s in Taiwan. The “bubbles” come from the foam that was produced by shaking the tea with ice.
It was originally made with black tea, tapioca pearls, condensed milk/honey, but soon, different variations and mashups appeared. The tapioca pearls have a squishy gelatin mouthfeel that are slightly chewy similar to gummy bears.
WHEN I FIRST TRIED BUBBLE TEA
My first encounter with the Taiwanese-famous Bubble Tea drink was during my first year at University. My cousin took me to a bubble tea shop in Chinatown. It was a small shop, with a few seats, and an interesting sweet smell.
There was a menu with a smorgasbord of drinks and different options. Black tea or green tea. Hot or cold. Sweetened or unsweetened. Milk or non-dairy creamer. Powder or real fruit. Pearls or coconut jelly. My mind was going in a million different directions.
Finally, I settled on my first bubble tea drink: honeydew melon with pearls. Little did I know that it would be the first of many drinks which would be consumed during my University days.
DEHP & CHEMICALS IN BUBBLE TEA
In 2011, I learned about DEHP, a chemical used to make plastics, that was found in the synthetic fruit syrups used in bubble tea. In addition, there were multiple health news articles that stated that bubble tea pearls contained ingredients that were cancer-causing.
After learning that, I became wary of bubble tea and stayed away from it. Especially since I knew it had no nutritional value and that it could be detrimental to my health? No thanks.
The latest news I’ve come across is that fake tapioca pearls are being made with rubber tires and old leather shoes. Ew, yuck!
For something as simple as it sounds, tapioca pearls should consist of just tapioca starch and water. Yet, even if you purchase the dried packaged tapioca pearls at the supermarket, you’ll notice that the ingredient list is filled with chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavours.
MAKING MY OWN TAPIOCA PEARLS FROM SCRATCH
Back in 2015, I was determined to make my own bubble tea.
Not by using the already prepackaged tapioca pearls. But by single handedly making the tapioca pearls “bubbles” from scratch. I did, and it was super simple.
Just water and tapioca starch.
PEARLS NOT DARK ENOUGH
However, I wasn’t able to visually get the pearls to look dark enough even through soaking them in my brown sugar tea syrup.
They just turned slightly brown, definitely not as dark as store-bought.
THE SECRET INGREDIENT TO BLACK PEARLS
But I’ve reworked my recipe and it really looks and tastes like the real deal.
Without chemicals, artificial colours or flavours.
And no old tires here, I promise. The secret ingredient…?
Black Activated Charcoal.
WHAT IS ACTIVATED CHARCOAL?
Activated charcoal is primarily used for poisoning and helps to get rid unwanted toxins in the body. You can find activated charcoal in health food stores.
In this recipe, it is used to colour the tapioca pearls.
MY RECIPE FOR HOMEMADE BUBBLE TEA TAPIOCA PEARLS
I’m ready to share my recipe homemade tapioca pearls. Now you can make bubble tea any time you want for literally pennies(!), and know exactly what is going into your tea and tapioca pearls.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- tapioca starch
- hot boiling water
All you need to do is mix in HOT boiling water with the tapioca starch and knead until a dough forms.
Note: it’s important that the water is hot, or the dough will not come together.
If the dough is too dry, add a little bit of water to it at a time. Knead and feel the dough with your hands. If it’s too wet, add just a touch of starch. You don’t want the dough to be too sticky.
Form into a log, and roll into 1cm balls.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook them for 6-7 minutes. Strain.
Try the tapioca pearls in a classic HK-style Milk Tea Bubble Tea.
SOME OTHER FLAVOUR IDEAS
Try the tapioca pearls in a number of different flavoured teas:
Fruit/slush: watermelon, mango, lychee, honeydew
Milk-based: strawberry milk, avocado, durian
Tea: black or green tea
OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE
If you love tapioca pearls, you may enjoy these recipes:
Let me know if you try my recipe by tagging me @siftandsimmer or leave me a comment! I’d love to know what flavour combo you enjoy in bubble tea.
Homemade Tapioca Pearls (Boba) for Bubble Tea
- 1 capsule activated charcoal optional
- 12 tsp tapioca starch
- 4 tsp boiling *hot* water
Sugar Tea Syrup
- ¼ C hot water
- 2 T brown sugar
- 1 black tea bag
Make the Tapioca Pearls:
- Place tapioca starch into a bowl. Pull apart a capsule of activated charcoal [found in health food stores/pharmacies]. (This is totally optional, only used to make the tapioca pearls appear black). And dump the contents from the capsule into the tapioca starch and mix together.
- Using a kettle, boil some water and measure out 4 teaspoons of *hot* water. (Water must be hot or the mixture will not form). Stir the hot water quickly into the tapioca starch with a pair of chopsticks. Mix well. Then use your hands to knead the mass together into a dough. Don't be tempted to add too much water at first or else your mixture will turn into a gooey mess. Keep kneading until you can form a long thin rope about 1 cm wide with the dough.
- Use a butter knife to cut the rope into small pea-size pieces (about 1cm in diameter) and roll each piece into a ball with your hands. (The tapioca balls will expand slightly when cooked).
- Place the balls onto a piece of parchment paper dusted lightly with some tapioca flour.
- In a small pot, add 1 L of water and bring to a boil. Add the tapioca balls into the water. Let boil until they float to the top, about 6-7 minutes. Be careful not to overcook or it will turn to mush. You still want a slight chew to the pearls.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove pearls. Place pearls into Sugar Tea Syrup (recipe below) to soak for at least 1 hour.
- Tapioca pearls are now ready to use in your drink of choice.
Make the Sugar Tea Syrup
- Combine hot water, sugar, and black tea and mix well. Let tea steep for 15 minutes and then remove tea bag.