The first time I heard of bubble tea was when we were in Hong Kong. I remember feeling so intimidated walking up to the bubble tea stall and pointing to one of the flavours to try this mysterious drink. The drink was sealed with plastic by a machine, shaken up and handed to me. It tasted like a very sweet, milky, drink with a hint of black tea and vanilla. It was delicious. The most mysterious part of the drink were the black, rubbery balls at the bottom of the glass. To suck up the ‘pearls’, you are given a super fat straw, which also has a pointy end to puncture the plastic seal. I had no idea what they were and wasn’t sure if I liked them (they have since grown on me) but it was certainly interesting.
Since then, I moved to (and away from) Vancouver, where there was a ton of bubble tea places. There are a few choices you have to make when you go for bubble tea. The first is choosing between fruity, milky and slushy. I always go for fruity milk tea or plain old milky. The second choice is between the tapioca pearls and other chewy chunks they can put at the bottom of the glass (coconut jellies or grass jellies). I always go for the tapioca pearls. The best bubble tea places always use fresh fruit, but often, I find that unless you get a plain green milk tea, you barely taste the tea flavour. The drinks are also almost always too sweet and filling to drink a whole, huge serving. Often (especially if you don’t go for a plain tea flavour) it taste more like a sweet, thin milkshake. The other day, I realized that I could buy my own tapioca pearls and cook them at home, tailoring the sweetness and freshness of the drink to my own taste!
I went with honeydew, kiwi, green tea (my latest, most favourite flavour at the bubble tea shop we go to), strawberry, black, milky tea (simple and classic), and some sweet, cinnamon, milk and black tea, the most sweet and ‘bubble-tea-esque’ version in my opinion. It kind of tastes how I remember the first one I ever tried. Either way, the possibilities are endless. We also enjoy almond, banana flavours and mango or pineapple, which give it a more tropical twist.
Cooking the tapioca pearls was fairly straightforward, finding them is another story. The best bet is to go to an Asian supermarket. I actually found tapioca pearls that were designated for bubble tea. You can also go for the coconut jellies which are less chewy and don’t require any cooking. I also just bought the straws from a local Vietnamese restaurant. If you can’t find them you can always alternate between sipping the drink and spooning some of the pearls out. It’s also important that you don’t cook the pearls too long ahead of time, or they get hard and crunchy inside (sometimes when you go to a shop they taste like that, which I now know means they are not ultra fresh!). If you can’t find the pearls, I think that this is a really unique version of ‘iced tea’ that can definitely be enjoyed at the weather gets warmed. Although I’ll definitely be hitting up some bubble tea places this summer (it’s kind of like coffee, there’s something gratifying about going to get it somewhere else) it’s great to have some tapioca pearls hidden away in my pantry when the craving hits.
Don't cook the tapioca pearls too far ahead of time or they will get crunchy and hard. I cooked mine for 12 minutes (at a boil) and 12 minutes (covered, off the heat). You may want to follow these instructions or the ones of the packet (if they differ). I haven't tried the instant pearls that cook in five minutes, so can't vouch for them. Your best bet to find them is at an Asian supermarket. For the straws, I just went to a local Vietnamese restaurant and asked if I could buy some straws from them.
If you don't want to wait for your tea to cool down, you can always brew some doubly strong and then cool it down quickly with a ton of ice cubes (which also dilutes the mixture, which is why you need to cook it doubly strong).
Brew tea, let cool completely
Spoon tapioca pearls in the bottom of a glass
Blend all ingredients together
Pour over tapioca pearls. Taste and adjust sweetener. Enjoy!
Fill a small pot with water. Bring to a boil.
Pour in tapioca pearls and cook for 10-12 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
Turn off heat, cover pot and let sit for 10-12 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
Drain pearls, mix in sweetener and let cool to room temperature.
Bubble Tea Recipe was last modified: March 27, 2014 by