Monday, August 16, 2010

Boba Tea 101

Before I lived in California, my palate wasn’t all that diverse.

I stuck to the mainstream New England comfort foods and the things my mom made for dinner. I didn’t venture too far outside my comfort zone. But spending a few years living in a place where fish tacos are considered fast food and you can choose between any of the 10 types of ethnic cuisines within half a mile at any given time changed how I looked at things.

I remember my girlfriends talking one night about going out for “boba tea.” I had never heard of such a thing and asked what it was. They told me it was tea with tapioca in it, and that once I tried it, I’d be hooked. I was skeptical, but I went along with it anyway.

And man, they were right.

One sip of lychee tea with boba and I was in for the long haul. It was so tasty, and so strange, and SO delicious.

For those who aren’t lucky enough to have sampled boba tea (also called “bubble” tea in some places), you may be reluctant to try it, but trust a formerly reluctant yankee… you won’t be disappointed.

Boba tea is a broad term for a few different types of beverage – one is tea-based and flavored with fruit, another is milk-based and flavored with either fruit-flavored powder or syrup, and the third is a frozen flavored milk drink, similar in consistently to a milkshake. In the bottom of the cup for each beverage are large tapioca balls (generally about the size of peas), and depending on the tea house or your request, the balls might be green or black or even red and don’t have a strong taste of their own, unless sweetened. They’re soft and gelatinous, and although I know doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, you just have to try it to understand.

Though many people think the word “boba” is the name for the tapioca, “boba” actually refers to the liquid in the beverage. The tapioca grains are referred to as "pearls," but even some teahouses, when asking if you want the tapioca in your drink, refer to them as "boba."

I myself have always had a favorite type of boba tea – almond. It has a simple taste, isn’t too sweet or too thick. I miss it all the time.

Having left San Diego years ago and only visited once since, I really missed boba tea and had to find a way to make it on my own at home since there’s no place on the east coast outside Boston where it’s readily available. There’s just one problem though – I live in central Massachusetts… not exactly a hotbed of activity for specialty foods. I knew I’d have to turn to the internet.

Luckily, it didn’t take too much searching to locate a company I could order tapioca pearls from. I ordered them on a Sunday and much to my surprise they arrived early Wednesday, and I couldn’t wait to make some of the tea on my own.

Though the website also had a bunch of powders to flavor the boba with, I figured I’d rather give it a shot on my own and use fresh fruits, so I set out to the produce section for some exotic flavors. I ended up picking up a mango, a couple star fruits, two cactus pears, some pomegranate juice and a couple avocados.

I prepared each of the fruits and pureed them in a food processor. I used some cheesecloth to strain some of the pulpier fruits from their juice. I was set on not using any granulated sugar, so I sweetened the drinks only with honey. I then mixed each with about 6 ounces of skim milk.

The tapioca – the ‘five minute’ variety – were easily prepared: boil water, drop in pearls, wait five minutes, remove. I placed them in a bowl and let them cool before putting them into some cups (about ¼ cup of pearls in each cup – they go in before the milk) and pouring in the different flavored milks I’d made.

No boba tea or boba milk would be complete without the ONLY way you can eat the tapioca out of your cup – a giant ½-inch diameter straw.

I was thrilled with how my homemade boba milk came out. It required a little more effort than just walking into a teashop and ordering, but knowing a cup of delicious boba “tea” is five minutes away is even more satisfying. Enjoy!

*In case you’re wondering, I ordered my tapioca pearls and ginormous straws from They have great prices on each item a la carte – you can order straws, tapioca pearls, flavor powders – and deals on starter kits that include everything you need to make boba tea on your own. Order from them! (And they’re not even paying me to say that!)

*I used one entire 8.8-ounce package of tapioca pearls, which made about two cups of pearls once they were cooked.


erks ortega said...

I love this post. How did John like it?

Amy said...

Thanks! He actually liked it a lot, which is saying something because he doesn't drink milk. The avocado weirded him out waaaay too much to try though.

Suzanne said...

There's a new place in Norwich that sells bubble tea, down in the Wauregan building. I've always been too skeered to try it.

Also, do you remember Orbit soda? With the little gelatinous balls in it? I'm guessing it was a mainstream attempt at bubble tea - but since I haven't seen it in years I'm guessing it failed.

Deidra said...

I've heard of the place in Norwich too. I'll have to find it and check it out now, these sound so delish and I bet my little man would like them. Do they not sell the tapioca in stores??

Amy said...

@Suzanne: I do remember Orbit soda! I actually remember my sister had one and it must have sat on our bookshelf for two years because she was afraid to drink it! I'll have to check out the place in the Wauregan -- thanks for the tip!

@Deidra: They do sell tapioca, but it's a different variety. The kind I used are ABOUT the size of a small marble. Again, I know it sounds weird, but you have to try it! If you check out the place Suzanne mentioned, let me know how it is!

SoCal_Suz said...

For the past 2 years or so, I have noticed Boba signs on shop windows. Each and everytime I have thought, 'What the heck is Boba!?' Thanks for clearing that up! lol

Keala said...

Definitely have to try it!!! I'm one of the pickiest people and I love it!!

And thank you Amy for making me crave it and want to go to Bubble Tea after work!

Deidra said...

Sazon Restaurant in downtown Norwich, I'll be stopping in there now that I know where it is!!