Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bubble Tea from Scratch

     You've all heard of bubble tea, right?  I've always enjoyed it at the stand in the mall, especially after 7th grade when I last visited China.  Now, every time I see a new bubble tea place, I have to try it.  I've had hot, cold, taro-flavored, lychee-flavored, and any other type or flavor of bubble tea you could think of.  I can't get enough of that creamy tea flavor and the feeling you get when you suck a tapioca pearl through a big, colorful straw.
      So I decided to make myself some bubble tea at home.  I've made the milk tea part before, but not the tapioca pearls.  The milk tea is basically milk, black tea, and sugar mixed together and chilled.  The tapioca pearls are just tapioca starch (or flour) mixed with hot water and cooked in a pot of water and brown sugar. The tapioca pearls turn out wonderfully chewy and with just the right amount of sweetness.  Of course, you could just by tapioca pearls from the store and cook them.

       If you're wondering how they make fancy flavors like taro at stores: they make it from a special flavoring powder you can buy online.  This "original" flavor tastes just as good, though.
What tapioca starch looks like. You can find it in Asian groceries.
Tapioca Pearl Dough
Tapioca pearls before cooking.
To suck up the tapioca pearls, you'll need some fat straws, which I got from Bed Bath and Beyond.  Or you can drink the tea first, and then spoon up the pearls.  You can drink this warm, or chill it to make it cold.
         If you want to make the pearls ahead of time, cook them as directed and then put them in a seal-able container along with some sugar syrup (1 cup water + 1/2 cup brown sugar boiled together until sticky).

          So, with this recipe, you can whip up some fantastic bubble tea any time you want from the comfort of your own home.  And you don't have to pay all that money they charge at stores.  Enjoy!
Cooking the pearls.
Finished pearls (made from scratch)
Bubbles in black tea.
Add caption

Adding the milk.
Finished bubble tea.

Bubble Tea

recipe makes 1 serving (about 2 cups)
adapted from All Recipes


1/3 cup dried tapioca pearls (see recipe below for how to make them from scratch)
2 cups water
1 tsp or 1/4 cup brown sugar (use the bigger amount for white tapioca, the lesser for black tapioca)
1 cup brewed black tea (chill it for cold bubble tea)
2-3 tbs milk
4 tsp sugar 
ice cubes, optional


  1. In a saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and add the tapioca pearls.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the tapioca, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour, until they are soft and chewy all the way through.  Spoon the pearls into cold water so they don't stick together.
  2. In a tall glass, spoon in the tapioca pearls, then pour in the tea.  Mix in the milk and add ice cubes if desired.

Tapioca Pears

makes about 2 cups pearls


1 cup tapioca starch or tapioca flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup Brown Sugar
About 5 cups additional water, for cooking


  1. In a large bowl, quickly mix together the tapioca flour and boiling water to form a firm dough, adding more water if it is too dry.  You can add food coloring if you want colorful pearls.
  2. Knead the dough in the bowl until it is smooth and stretchy.  
  3. On a piece of wax paper or a board, roll the dough into thin ropes.  Tear a small, dime-sized piece off of one rope and, between the palms of your hands, roll it into a ball.  Cover the dough you aren't using with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out.  You can keep the finished balls uncovered.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  4. Let the small spheres dry out, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, or up to a day.
  5. Bring about 5 cups of water to a boil and stir in the brown sugar.  Then add the tapioca pearls and lower the heat to a simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick.  Cook until transparent (30min-1hr).  Then, transfer the pearls into cold water so that they don't stick together.  
  6. If you want to save them for later, place in a seal-able container with the sugar-syrup you cooked them in.  You can also use the syrup to sweeten your bubble tea.
  7. If you want to use these to make bubble tea, go immediately to step two in the recipe above. 


  1. How long do the tapioca pearls last in the sugar syrup? Can you just store the dried tapioca balls without the syrup?

    1. The pearls should last at least 5 days in the sugar syrup. And the dried tapioca can be stored for a long time; it would be like the dried tapioca you can buy from the supermarket.

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  3. Great post about the Bubble tea.
    Get bubble tea online