Bubble Tea 101: How To Make Boba Tea At Home

Tea is a beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries. It was originally used as medicine but now it's served in many different ways, including tea bags, iced tea, and milk tea. The most popular type of milk tea is the

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Have you tried bubble tea? I have to admit that the first time I tried it, I was unimpressed and maybe even a bit grossed out. But since then, I’ve grown to love this popular Taiwanese tea drink.

Whether you’re simply curious, or you can’t get enough of this interesting tea drink, here’s all the information you need to figure out if this chewy drink is for you.

Reading: how teahouses make milk tea

If you already have a love affair going with this special tea drink, scroll to the end to find my favorite recipe to make it at home.

Bubble tea in a large glass with a yellow straw.

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What is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea is a style of iced tea that was invented in Taiwan in the 1980’s.

It’s traditionally made with sweetened tea, milk, and chewy tapioca balls. (I think it was the chewy part that originally grossed me out – now I LOVE these little tapioca bombs!)

Bubble tea can also be made with fruit flavors like passion fruit, mango and, honeydew melon.

Other Names for Bubble Tea

Bubble tea also goes by several other names. Where I live in California, people usually call it “Boba Tea” or simply “Boba”, but they’re all the same thing.

So as you read on, any time I refer to any of these, I still mean bubble tea. 🙂

  • Boba Tea
  • Tapioca Tea
  • Pearl Tea

Types of Tea in Boba Tea

Because you’ll be diluting your tea with milk, the stronger more robust tasting teas usually work best. They hold up and retain their flavor when mixed with milk.

Black tea (or if you’re Chinese, red tea) is by far the most popular choice for bubble tea.

But, there are lots of varieties of tea that can be used to make Boba:

  • Black Tea – Earl Gray, Breakfast Teas
  • Jasmine Tea – this tea is usually green tea scented with jasmine
  • Green Tea – along with jasmine tea, green tea powders like matcha
  • Chai Tea – usually Indian black tea mixed with spices
  • Oolong Tea – regular Oolong or green Oolong
  • White Tea – not traditional, but sometimes used in Western Countries

Types of Milk in Bubble Tea

The milk in bubble tea is used to give the tea a creamy richer texture and flavor.

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Different “milks” give different flavors and textures.

I usually use half-and-half because it makes a more decadent boba tea.

I’ve also made bubble tea with 1% milk which is lighter on the calories but still delicious.

  • Fresh dairy milk (whole, 1%, 2%)
  • Half-and-half
  • Cream
  • Condensed milk
  • Lactose-free milk like Lactaid
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen yogurt

If you don’t do dairy, not a problem, because there are also non-dairy choices that make great boba tea.

  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Nut milks like almond and cashew
  • Non-dairy creamer

Types of Tapioca in Pearl Tea

The most popular “topping” by far is tapioca balls. I used quotes around topping because these little balls actually sink to the bottom of your drink.

Tapioca is starch from the cassava root that’s rolled into balls, cooked and flavored with sugars or syrups.

If you’re buying your boba tea in a tea shop, there will be tons of choices. Not just tapioca balls, but balls made from other kinds of starches like taro root and sweet potato.

If you’re making your bubble tea at home, I’d stick with these black tapioca pearls. If you have a local Asian market, they are easy to find. I’m adding the link below so you can see what kind I use for my bubble tea.

The tapioca pearls don’t really taste like much on their own so after you cook them, soak them for a few minutes in a simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sweetener) or honey.

Sweeteners in Pearl Tea

Pretty much any type of sweetener works in your bubble tea:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Simple Syrup
  • Agave nectar

If you are using honey, white sugar or brown sugar, dissolve it in the hot tea so it all gets mixed in well.

Some people like their boba sweet, and some not so much. I’d start with a tablespoon of honey or sugar and work my way up from there.

A great way to make everyone happy is to whip up a batch of simple syrup and keep it in the refrigerator, then you can add it in at the end and adjust the sweetness to your liking.

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Simple syrup is easy to make: Simmer one cup of water and add one cup of white sugar. Stir to dissolve and remove from heat. When cool, refrigerate to use later.

If you’re using syrup, start with two tablespoons and work your way up if you like it sweeter.

You can also use a ready-made simple syrup like the ones made by Toriani.

Is it Bubble Tea without the Tea?

As Boba tea has become more popular there are tons of variations, some of which don’t contain any tea.

Many bubble tea shops make drinks that are fruit-based, cream-based and even some frozen blended drinks that don’t use tea as the base.

Since each ingredient (tea type, milk type, tapioca type, sweetener type) has a bunch of choices, it can be overwhelming the first time you decide to try a bubble tea.

I’m not an expert in statistics, but it seems like there are almost an unlimited amount of combinations of ingredients!

The first time I went to a tea shop, I had my friend order for me because there were SO many choices and options.

If you’re new to boba, I’d start with this classic choice:

  • Milk tea with tapioca pearls – sweetened black tea with milk and tapioca balls.

But if you’re adventurous, there are many popular bubble tea flavors to try.

The recipe below is for this classic kind of tea drink.

MORE TO SIP ON: Thai Iced Tea – Try as a Boba Tea Base

How To Make Your Own Bubble Tea

Here’s how I make my boba tea. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never made your own bubble tea before. You can change things up by choosing your own:

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  • Type of tea
  • Level of sweetness
  • Type of Milk
  • Amount of tapioca pearls
Bubble tea, or boba milk tea in a large glass with a yellow straw.

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