How to Make Boba Pearls for Bubble Tea

Invented in Taiwan in the 1980s with no concrete trace of its true origins, bubble tea is made from boiled black tapioca pearls, tea, milk, and various levels of sugar. The only requirement for the Bubble Tea designation is that it be shaken (sho yao) to mix and that it’s generous with a base of perfectly spherical, chewy boba bubbles that are satisfactorily sucked through an oversized straw.

But like our morning Java specials, it can get pricey. So how do you take care of your wallet while satisfying your cravings?

One way to get started is to make your own at home, starting with one of the essentials. How to make your own tapioca pearls.

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Step 1: Choose your tapioca pearls

There are many benefits to making your own tapioca pearls from scratch. Making them yourself gives you the power to dictate size, eliminate additives and preservatives, give you more control over texture, and add flavor. A perfect example of all four in action is Hanh Nguyen’s July Moon Bakery & Cafe in Alpharetta, GA, which has become known for its natural purple sweet potato boba pearls, which are “deeper in color with an earthier flavor and…” compared to regular Bouquet” are tasteless, only consisting of tapioca starch, which are made from cassava root flour.

However, it’s quite labor intensive on top of an already time-consuming task, which is why we recommend starting with store-bought, ready-to-cook tapioca pearls.

There are different types of boba that you can buy:

  • The aesthetic black ones that have become commonplace in bubble tea shops are either made with brown sugar or laced with food coloring.
  • Clear/white ones, which are tasteless and more likely to take on the flavor of your milk and tea.
  • Popping Boba, which releases a burst of juice in the center when chewed.

You can buy all of these (and reusable boba-width straws!) online through companies like Amazon, and kits through online Asian retailers Umamicart and Weee! If you have an international or Asian market nearby, like H-Mart or City Farmers Market, you’re in luck — they usually stock tapioca pearls in vacuum-sealed bags in their aisles.

Test kitchen tip: It may be tempting to buy and use pressure cooker pearls, but many boba tea lovers advise against it. They don’t usually offer as much give as traditional ones, especially as they can easily be overcooked, resulting in mushy rather than firm outer layers.

Step 2: Cook the tapioca pearls

Once you have your hands on your tapioca pearls of choice, cooking them can take patience.

You should use an approximately 5:1 ratio of water to pearls in a pot large enough to hold those proportions. This helps reduce stickiness, gives them room to move, and ensures even hydration.

  • Bring a small saucepan of water to a gentle but steady boil.
  • Add desired amount of tapioca pearls and bring to a boil again. Stir frequently during this process to keep them from getting stuck at the bottom.
  • Once they begin to float to the top, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir about every five minutes for the remaining 15 minutes of cooking time.

Typically, tapioca pearls require about half an hour of active cooking on the stove: 10-20 minutes with open cooking, stirring constantly; then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally; then rest for 30 minutes, without stove but with lid.

Nguyen advises, “Make sure the water is fully boiling before carefully adding the bobas. Just as you don’t want to overcook them to compromise their structural integrity, you also don’t want to undercook them “as they can be hard in the middle,” she warns, ruining the experience.

Step 3: Let it rest

Once they are translucent and only a white dot remains in the center, remove them from the heat and leave the lid of the pot on. You should allow the hot water and steam to cook them through completely.

Step 4: Prepare a brown sugar syrup bath

In a separate saucepan, make a brown sugar syrup bath. You need these to sweeten the cooked tapioca pearls and also for short-term storage. You can also reuse it for future batches of prepared boba balls until it is completely absorbed and gone.

To make this syrup, simply boil equal parts water and brown sugar together until thick enough to coat your spatula when stirring but still stays runny.

Step 5: Drain the liquid

After about 30 minutes, strain the water from the tapioca pearls by emptying the pot into a colander. Run them under cold water to rinse, then place the boba in the prepared sugar bath. After at least half an hour of soaking, the tapioca pearls are ready to serve with the beverage flavor of your choice. They won’t get any sweeter after this time, but not sweet enough before then.

How to store cooked tapioca pearls

As mentioned in the cooking instructions, you need to prepare a sweet liquid suspension to store your cooked tapioca pearls in.

“We like to keep our bobas in a warm water bath with brown sugar that’s the consistency of soup stock. This keeps them from sticking together and makes them easier to serve. Plus, they stay soft and sweet throughout the day,” says Nguyen.

This is typical standard practice for most boba tea shops, who leave the prepared tapioca pearls in this liquid for at least 30 minutes so they can soak up the syrup’s sweetness and create the beautiful liquid streaks in your bubble tea, but no more than four Hours, as by this point most tapioca pearls are beginning to break down and no longer be that “QQ” springy texture.

Knowing how to make your own bubble tea tapioca pearls at home can save you big bucks without sacrificing a favorite treat. You can add tapioca pearls to milk tea, Thai tea, chai tea, fruit drinks, and more to add a fun, chewy texture to any beverage.

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