Bubble tea is such a delicious treat but did you know that it's super easy to make at home and much healthier done this way? You can use the best ingredients and control the sugar in your bubble tea drink so that you can enjoy it more often!
What is bubble tea? Bubble tea comes from Taipei in Taiwan and started in the late 1980's. Nowadays cities seem to have a proliferation of bubble tea stores, particularly cities with a large Asian population like Sydney. The bubbles referred to are the chewy, jelly-like balls that sit at the bottom of the drink. You suck these up with supersized straws and it's addictive, fun and tasty.
There are generally two types of "bubbles". The first are tapioca bubbles which are chewy and sweet. The second are popping pearls which are filled with syrup and pop in the mouth. These recipes use tapioca pearls (I personally like these better). The drink that accompanies these pearls can be a fruit tea, black tea or milk tea or have no tea at all and be plain fresh milk or a fruit juice.
Brown sugar "tiger" stripe milk tea
I will show you how to make three types of bubble tea which will help you branch out to make your own bubble tea flavours (I have some other flavour suggestions below).
- The first is a classic Hong Kong bubble milk tea and is the easiest milk tea to make.
- The second is my favourite: a strawberry cheese milk tea made with fresh strawberries and a cheesecake foam topping. The base of this is like a strawberry frappe and the topping is an addictive light cheesecake topping with a touch of salt! It usually doesn't contain any tapioca pearls (but feel free to add them if you want, it's your tea!).
- The third is a brown sugar tiger bubble milk tea. It is named tiger because of the eye catching stripes formed with the milk and brown sugar. This bubble milk tea doesn't actually contain any tea and is on the sweet side. This is the most challenging of the three (although really not that hard). You can easily do it if you follow the directions carefully.
Which bubble tea pearls to use? My favourite are these brown sugar bubble tea pearls. You can make your own tapioca pearls but it's so much easier (obviously) to buy them and these ones above are the easiest and take just 2 minutes to make. Prior to these there were tapioca pearls that you had to boil for 30 minutes or so. These newer ones are amazing and just have to sit in some boiled water for 2 minutes and that's it. You can buy these at Asian grocery stores; I bought mine at my local Food Works supermarket.
Another type of tapioca pearl that takes 5 minutes boiling to prepare. I prefer the other ones because they are faster, don't require boiling and taste like brown sugar but these will work in a pinch too.
Important tip with tapioca pearls: ONLY make the pearls when you are ready to drink the bubble tea. They firm up and lose their deliciously addictive chewiness within 30 minutes or so.
How many tapioca pearls per cup? I used 1/3 cup/50g/1.7ozs of dried tapioca pearls (weight before rehydrating) per glass of tea or drink.
*Which tea to use in bubble tea? *You can use any sort of black or green tea. Green tea is best for fruit teas to keep the fruit colour but black is the classic tea to use. You can use English breakfast, Chinese teas, Thai red tea, really any sort of strong black tea works.
I actually like cold steeping the tea because I like cold bubble milk tea. I leave it to steep either overnight or an hour before. Otherwise make it fresh and let it cool (or serve it hot if that's how you prefer bubble tea).
Bubble tea straws: you will need fatter straws 12mm/0.47inches in diameter for bubble tea. I bought some reusable metal ones online.
Bubble tea glasses: I used tall Hiball glasses that were 450ml/15flozs. in capacity so they are almost double the capacity of a regular 250ml/8oz cup.
Is Bubble tea healthy for you? Home made bubble tea is exactly what you put into it. It is all about fresh fruit, not powders and you control the sweetness! The sugar is the main concern with bubble tea and you can customise it how you want. Obviously the brown sugar tiger bubble tea is very sweet and contains a lot of sugar so keep that in mind if you're trying to minimise sugar. In that case try the classic Hong Kong bubble tea or the strawberry cheese foam tea.
Which sweetener to use in bubble tea? If you make bubble tea (or cocktails) a lot, then a simple sugar syrup is super handy to have on hand for bubble tea. To make a simple syrup boil 1:1 parts of sugar and water. For example to get a cup of simple syrup boil 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water until slightly reduced and cool and store in fridge. Otherwise you can use sugar but make sure to add it while the tea is hot to allow it to dissolve.
Other bubble tea flavour ideas:
- Vietnamese bubble milk coffee made with sweetened condensed milk and ice.
- Matcha Milk Tea: mix 2 teaspoons of matcha powder with 1 tablespoon hot water to form a slurry. Then mix with 1/2 cup hot milk and add sugar to taste. Top with cold milk and ice.
- Pink dragon fruit frappe tea (replace strawberries below with dragon fruit chunks)
- Mango Milk tea: mix 1 cup chilled green tea with 1 cup mango juice.
Speaking of drinks, I was recently at Valentina's house for dinner. Her husband Pete (who is actually Welsh but speaks Greek) was teaching me a few Greek words and knowing of my love and curiosity of Greek food he often finds things that I can try.
"Have you ever tried mastic water?" he asked. I've had mastic, the resiny ingredient that thickens Turkish ice cream and makes Turkish delight but I didn't know that there was mastic water which is apparently a digestive aid.
"It's very strong," he said pouring a centimetre of the water into a glass. Everyone watched while I tried it. I gingerly sipped a little expecting something unusual.
"Um...it tastes like water?" I said. Apparently someone had refilled the bottle of mastic water with regular water! As a teenager, their daughter Katie who is now in her 20s refilled their vodka supply with water so she was suspected as the culprit.
But it turned out it was Valentina! "I bought it and drank it then refilled it with water and put it back in the fridge because I liked the bottle but hadn't told Peter," she confessed laughing.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever refilled your parents' bottles of alcohol? Do you like bubble tea and if so, do you have a favourite flavour?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
How To Make Bubble Tea
All Original Recipes by Lorraine Elliott
Classic Milk Tea
Makes 2 x 450ml glasses of bubble tea
- 4 black tea teabags
- 2 cups boiling water
- 4 tablespoons of caster superfine sugar (or to taste) or simple syrup
- 2/3 cup/100g/3.5ozs instant tapioca pearls
- 2 cups cold, fresh milk
Step 1 - Steep the teabags in the boiling water and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Allow to cool.
Step 2 - Place the pearls in a large jug and pour 2 cups of boiling water over and cover for 2 minutes stirring it once or twice to make sure that the pearls don't stick together. Strain.
Step 3 - Divide the tea and pearls among the two glasses and top with milk.
Strawberry Frappe Cheese Tea
Makes 2x450ml/15oz glasses of bubble tea
- 2 cups strong black tea, cooled
- 2-4 tablespoons sugar syrup or to taste
- 250g/8ozs. frozen strawberries
- 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs cream
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 30g/1ozs./1/8 cup cream cheese, room temperature
- Pinch salt
Step 1 - Whip the cream and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla, cream cheese and salt and whip until fluffy. Store in the fridge-this cheese foam lasts 2-3 days.
Step 2 - In a blender place the tea, sugar syrup and frozen strawberries and blend. Divide into 2 glasses. Top with the cheese foam.
Brown Sugar Tiger Bubble Milk Tea
Makes 2x450ml/15oz. glasses of bubble tea
- 210g/7.4ozs. brown sugar
- 180g/6ozs. water
- 2/3 cup/100g/3.5ozs instant tapioca pearls
- 3.5 cups cold, fresh milk
Step 1 - Place the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil for 5-6 minutes making sure the sugar has dissolved and that it has become syrupy in texture.
Step 2 - While the brown sugar syrup is boiling, place the tapioca pearls in a large jug and pour 2 cups of boiling water over and cover for 2 minutes stirring it once or twice to make sure that the pearls don't stick together. Strain.
Step 3 - Add the tapioca pearls to the syrup and boil them for 1 minute. Decant into a small jug and allow to cool for 10 minutes where it will thicken up.
Tipping the glass to spread the syrup to create the tiger effect
Step 3 - Take 2 glasses and divide the bubbles and syrup among the glasses (you don't have to use all the syrup if you don't want it to be too sweet but the best tiger effect is when you use a lot). Tip the glass so that the glass has the sugar coating the inside of the glass. This is on the sweet side so use less if you want it less sweet. Pour milk into the glass. When you add the milk and stir you will get the tiger stripe effect.