Bubble Tea


The first time I had bubble tea was at a night market in Taipei, but since then the tapioca pearl tea craze has expanded into seemingly every nook and cranny—like fro-yo shops on caffeine. The pop culture sur- rounding bubble tea parlors is just as sugary, from the cute bleached blond Taiwanese girls working the cash register to the K-pop music they’re bopping to. Born in Taiwan in the 1980s, this drink has earned itself legions of fans who now take their bubble tea with endless variations—fresh fruits, milk, and of course, tapioca pearls. Though the sweet, chewy balls look like bubbles, the name for the drink actually comes from an anglicized form of the Chinese word boba, slang for the large tapioca balls that are my favorite part.


1 cup dried large tapioca pearls (see Note)

1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar

6 black tea bags

¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the tapioca pearls, stirring with a wooden spoon
to prevent them from sticking together. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer gently for up to 30 minutes (depending on how soft you prefer the tapioca balls to be), stirring occasionally. Drain the tapioca pearls into a colander and rinse them under cool running water.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar with 1 cup of water and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Drain the tapioca bubbles and add them to the brown sugar syrup.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in another saucepan over high heat. Add the tea bags, remove from the heat, and allow to steep for
4 to 5 minutes. Divide among the glasses.

To assemble each bubble tea, put ¼ cup of the bubbles and a few tablespoons of the sugar syrup in the bottom of each serving glass. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes, and add 1 cup of the hot tea and 1 tablespoon of the sweetened condensed milk for each serving. Cap and shake vigorously until the hot tea is chilled (the outside of the shaker will feel cold). Pour the cold tea over the bubbles and serve at once, adding more ice to the glass if desired.

Note: Tapioca pearls can be purchased either fresh or dried. Dried pearls will need to be cooked before serving.