Bubble Tea: History and Recipe For The Tasty Treat
Bubble tea is a popular beverage made using tea leaves, milk, and tapioca pearls. It's commonly called nai cha, boba tea, or pearl milk tea and can be found in bubble tea shops across Asia and the west. The tapioca pearls are also called fen yuan.
These chewy balls add a rich and fun element to tea drinking. Pearl tea is consumed using special fat straws that have an opening large enough to fit the tapioca pearls. Toppings including egg pudding, grass jelly, coconut jelly, and ice cream may also be added to the top of the cup. Boba tea is typically served as an iced tea with large ice cubes or shaved ice in spill-free cups.
Bubble tea is traditionally made using small tapioca balls and true tea varieties such as black tea, white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. In recent years, the beverage has exploded in popularity and now includes wild tea flavors from mocha and peppermint to chamomile and basil. There are also fruit flavors such as orange yuzu with aloe, spicy chamoy sauce with mango, and other fresh fruits such as passion fruit.
The tea is also traditionally brewed using fresh milk just like Hong Kong milk tea. In American households, this portion of the recipe has been altered to include western preferences which include using sweetened milk such as condensed milk as well as dairy alternatives such as non-dairy creamer and soy milk.
History of Bubble Tea
This milk tea is a Taiwanese invention that traces its roots back to famous tea shops including Chun Shui Tang in Taichung and the Hanlin tearoom in Tainan, Taiwan. Liu Han-Chieh — the founder of Chun Shui Tang — brewed the tea using white tapioca balls which he thought resembled the look of pearls. The tea leaves were mixed with tapioca starch, brown sugar, and milk.
The tea gained prominence in tea shops throughout Taiwan before becoming staple offerings at Chinese and Vietnamese establishments. As large Asian populations emerged in western countries, bubble tea became increasingly popular abroad. Today, the tea can be found in boba shops from the coasts of California to the mountains of Asia.
Bubble Tea Recipe
- 1 handful of tapioca pearls
- 3 teaspoons loose leaf tea
- 3 cups of water
- 1/2 cup of milk (dairy or non-dairy options such as almond milk or coconut milk)
- Sweetener (optional)
- Flavorings (optional - fruit, herbs, etc)
- Cook the tapioca pearls. Use 7 parts water for each part tapioca balls. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let the pearls cook until the pan reaches room temperature.
- Bring the water to a rapid boil and add tea leaves. Remember to use the proper water temperature for the type of tea you are using.
- Steep the tea leaves as recommended for your chosen tea type. Add in fruit, sweeteners, and herbs as desired.
- Place the cooked tapioca pearls in large, tall glasses. Pour the tea base into the cup and add the milk on top. You can also use a frother or shake the milk in a cocktail shaker for a thicker milk texture if desired.
- Use a large straw to stir the layers together and enjoy!
Brew Bubble Tea
Boba milk tea can be made using hundreds of different flavors. Mix things up and don't be afraid to play with strange combinations. The creamy flavor of milk and the chewy texture of tapioca leave room for experimentation.
Check out our at-home boba tea kits here!