Whether you call it boba or bubble tea, the sweet drink shaken with milk and tiny tapioca balls resting on the bottom has swept across much of East and Southeast Asia, while launching a beachhead in U.S. cities with a large Asian-American population.
Boba—a word borrowed from the Taiwanese slang for “boobies”—was invented at a teashop in Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980s.
While the “bubble” refers to the foam created by shaking the tea (usually with a cocktail shaker or machine), the signature of the drink is the sweet tapioca, which are formed into ball shapes that are boiled and stored in simple syrup or honey.
The flavors are as far reaching as many Southeast and East Asian desserts: from basic green and black tea, to matcha and taro (a purple Asian sweet potato), as well as flavors more suited for American palates like cookies and cream.
When you’re looking for an after-dinner treat or a morning boost, boba is the perfect combination of digestive and dessert.
My own quest for perfect boba has taken me to shops from New York to San Francisco, even hopping over to Hawaii. I did enjoy some very good drinks, until I realized the best place to get boba exactly the way I like it, is in my own kitchen.
Tea enthusiasts, like myself, can steep their favorite leaves in place of the faux flavors found at most boba shops, which are often achieved by mixing powders stuffed with dyes and artificial flavors. What’s more, with just a little imagination, you can get varieties you might never find in a shop.
Plus, let’s face it: a cup of it at any big city shop is usually around $4, or even up to $7 for fancier varieties. Making it at home is half the price.
Here are a few recipes to try at home. (Tip: In order to drink bubble tea, you’ll need extra wide straws. You can buy them disposable or reusable.
In a small saucepan, add a cup of water and bring to a boil. Add 1/3 cup of sugar and stir until it dissolves into the water. Add 1/3 cup of boba and lower to medium heat. Once the balls rise to the surface of the water, cover the pot and boil for another five minutes.
Remove it immediately from heat and strain.
Steep the tea extra strong—I use twice the normal amount of leaves per cup of hot water and allow it to steep twice as long before adding just enough ice to cool it down. You can also start this process the night prior.
Once the tea is dark, add a tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk. You can also try regular milk, coconut milk, or almond milk, but be cognizant that this may leave everything a little more watery (unless you steep the tea even darker and add a bit of sugar). Give the mixture a stir or a shake in a cocktail shaker until you get it to a frothy texture.
Spoon boba delicately into the glass (but don’t mix it!).
The spiced Indian beverage, served over ice, is a great for boba. Start by combining the following spices in a saucepan and boil in four cups of water:
3/4 tsp cloves
?2 star anise?
1/4 tsp vanilla extract?
1/4 tsp cloves?
1/4 tsp cardamom
Directions: Add two teaspoons of black tea (bagged) and steep. I tend to like my tea on the strong side, so I leave the bags in until it’s a rich auburn color. Finish with a couple of teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk (adjust to your desired sweetness) and tapioca.
I first tried the avocado smoothie version in Vietnam and more recently in San Francisco. When using avocado as the major flavor rather than a sweeter fruit, like strawberries or banana, you get the thick, creaminess you want from a shake with less of the dessert-like taste. However, I do like to add a little banana to give it a bit of that traditional smoothie taste.
Combine the following ingredients in a blender until it is a thick, creamy consistency.
½ an avocado
½ a banana
½ cup of water
¼ cup of coconut or almond milk
1 tbsp honey
2 ice cubes (optional)
Add ¼ tapioca balls (recipe above).
Add a little fun to your post-workout recovery drink.
The key to getting the perfect creamy smoothie is to use frozen fruit rather than fresh. In this case, that is a half a banana. Then add one serving of whatever protein powder you prefer (I like this one, two heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, and water. I add a splash of coconut milk for a hint
Blend and spoon in the finished tapioca balls.
This a Mexican smoothie that uses all milk instead of water. It is subtly sweet and refreshing—perfect for a hot day.
1 cup of milk (non-dairy can be substituted)
4 ice cubs
1 1/2 cups of fresh strawberries
1 tbsp sugar
A squeeze of lime, to taste
Add tapioca, and enjoy!