boba ingredients

You can find the ingredients for boba pearls at Lee's Market.

The term "boba" can refer to an array of Taiwanese drinks, but the most common in the U.S. is bubble tea. Bubble tea, also known as pearl tea, is usually iced tea topped with tapioca pearls. This delectably unique treat is served in Columbia at several places including Bubblecup Tea Zone and Hitea.

If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered how they make those heavenly jelly-like spheres. There are two options to make boba at home — either from scratch or using pre-shaped boba pearls. If you’re looking for a peaceful cooking experience, stick to the pre-shaped boba. If you’re up for the challenge and willing to test your patience, try the recipe below. The coconut milk tea from Bubblecup Tea Zone is my go-to, so I attempted to recreate it.

The lineup

For the boba pearls:

  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch (plus a little extra to coat the dough)
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (Taiwanese brown sugar if you can find it)

For the syrup:

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

For the coconut milk tea:

  • Black tea (I used Earl Grey)
  • Coconut cream

The process

For the boba pearls:

  • Add sugar and water to a saucepan and heat on medium. Stir until sugar has dissolved and turn off heat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of the tapioca starch and mix until combined and there are no lumps.
  • Turn the heat back on and stir until the mixture thickens, then remove from heat.
thickened mixture

When the mixture looks like this, add the rest of the tapioca starch.

  • Add the rest of the tapioca starch and mix until it turns into a sticky dough. (Tip: The dough becomes harder to manage the longer it sits, so work quickly.)
  • Move the dough to a surface lightly flowered with tapioca starch.
  • Roll the dough into thin rods and cut each one into small pieces. (Tip: If your dough is too dry, add some hot water. If it's too sticky, add more tapioca starch.)
cut up dough

Cut the dough into small pieces because they expand when boiled.

  • Roll the pieces into balls and add to a bowl. Coat the pearls in tapioca starch so they don’t stick together.
  • In a large saucepan, boil water and carefully pour the boba inside. Stir so the boba don’t stick to the bottom.
boba in pan

Adding the boba to brown sugar will make your tea extra sweet.

  • Cover and boil for 20 minutes, then let rest for 20 more minutes. The hardest part is over!
bubble tea

Make sure you get a big boba straw to go with your homemade tea!

For the syrup:

  • Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to a pan and stir until warmed up but not melted.
  • Add boba and coat with the sugar.
  • Add the mixture to your glass. You're almost done!

For the tea:

  • Brew your tea and refrigerate until cool.
  • Add it to your glass with ice.
  • Top with coconut cream and serve!

Final thoughts

This recipe took a lot of trial and error, but it gave me a whole new level of appreciation for anyone who makes boba. Looks-wise, my final product paled in comparison to Bubblecup Tea Zone. My boba pearls may have been a little misshapen and discolored, but they tasted pretty dang good — it's not about perfection! This may not be the easiest recipe to make, but you’ll definitely feel proud of yourself when it’s done.

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