Making Bubble Tea (Boba) at Home
Bubble Tea, or boba, has been one of my guilty pleasures over the past few months, so I decided to try making it at home.
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Here in the UK, we’re in lockdown once again until beginning of December. I’ve accepted that I likely won’t travel outside of the country this year. 2020 was set to be a big year for travel for me. I booked trips to Berlin and Milan – both cancelled. I was also beginning to plan trips to Mexico, Morocco, and Taiwan.
And perhaps it’s missing out on Taiwan this year that has inspired my recent treats here and there, along with the opening of a new bubble tea place not too far from where I live. For those of you that might not know, Bubble Tea, also called Boba, is a tea based drink that originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s. Since then it has spread to become a global trend. Usually served as an iced drink, it contains a topping that you suck up with the wide straws and gives it an addicting texture. I first tried it in London’s China Town and I was hooked.
I have tried a different drink every visit to my local bubble tea place and really wanted to keep trying new flavours, so I decided to get a kit that you can choose different teas and toppings to make at home.
Different types of Bubble tea
There are hundreds different combinations for bubble tea, but they mainly fall into two categories – milk teas and fruit teas. The toppings come in different varieties as well, with the most common being sweetened tapioca pearls, popping balls which are normally fruit flavoured, or jellies. There are weirder/more adventurous combinations available which I have steered away from thus far such as ‘savoury teas” and pudding toppings.
Making your own bubble tea (boba)
To make your own bubble tea, you’ll need:
- A tea base (Assam, green or jasmine green tea are the most common)
- Flavoured syrup (for fruit tea) or a milk tea mix
- Your choice of topping (such as tapioca or popping candy)
- A wide paper or reusable straw
The Bubble Panda box
I chose to get a box of supplies from Bubble Panda. You can buy a one-off build your own box or a subscription service. I picked the Build Your Own one-off box. It comes with supplies to make 4 different bubble tea drinks of your choice, ranging from milk teas to fruit teas with different toppings. The kit says it’s enough for 4 large drinks or 8 regular drinks (2 of each type), but the portions were quite generous so it would be a really large drink if you only made 4!
What comes with the bubble tea box?
Here’s what was in my box:
- 1 pot each of taro milk tea mix, coconut milk tea mix and matcha milk tea mix
- 1 pot of peach syrup for fruit tea
- 2 portions of tapioca pearls
- 1 portion of passionfruit popping candy
- 1 portion of blueberry popping candy
- 2 Twinings green teas, 1 Twinings Assam tea and 1 Twinings jasmine green tea
- 4 paper straws
- sachets of brown sugar
Additionally, you’ll need some ice cubes and a cocktail shaker to make a great drink.
Making bubble tea from the kit
Overall it was fairly simple to make the tea at home. The difficulty level is going to depend on what type of topping you got as the tapioca pearls require some cooking.
I started off by making my matcha milk tea with tapioca pearls.
You can either mix the tea ingredients in a cocktail shaker or in a bowl with a whisk. I tried both and it worked well. First steep your tea in hot water for about 5 minutes. Then add any sweetener and either your fruit syrup or milk tea mix while the tea is still warm. Whisk in a bowl or shake up in a cocktail shaker. Add your topping to your glass along with a good amount of ice. Pour your tea mixture over the ice and finish with a wide straw.
Cooking the tapioca pearls was the most challenging part as it was difficult to tell when they were finished. Only make what you intend to use from the tapioca pearls and consume them within 6 hours. I boiled them for 15 minutes, drained, and rinsed with cold water. This was the instructions for the ones that came in my kit (and they turned out perfect, had just the right texture). However, if you’ve bought them elsewhere the cooking time may vary.
What you are looking for is what is called “Q”. It’s a Taiwanese term that refers to a food texture that is springy, soft and elastic. It’s a texture you will recognise well if you are already a bubble tea fan. Overcook the pearls and they will be mushy and lose that ‘bite’. Undercook them and they will be crumbly. I taste tested one of mine before adding to my drink.
Is it worth it to make it at home?
It did work out cheaper to make the teas at home. The box cost £17.99 normally and I got a 15% voucher as a first time customer. Since I made a total of 8 regular drinks, they cost about £1.91 per drink, compared to £3.99 for a regular drink at my nearby bubble tea bar. If you plan on making 8 smaller drinks, you’ll probably need to get a few extra paper straws or grab some reusable ones.
In terms of taste, the teas in the kit were all really nice, a lot less sweet than I was expecting, which I really liked. I liked using the kit as I got small batches of different flavours. If I bought the items separately, I’d end up with large amounts to make one type.
Buying your own supplies
Of course you don’t have to get a box to make bubble tea at home and you can purchase supplies online. I think this could be the way to go if you have a favourite flavour and/or plan to make them regularly.
If you are going to have it at home, do make your own fresh though. I picked up a canned version at one point from our local Korean food market and I really hated everything about it, just didn’t taste like it or have the texture and was far too sweet
Is bubble tea healthy?
While the health benefits of green tea is well-known, which forms the base of many bubble tea drinks, in short – no, they are better as an occasional treat. They often contain a lot of sugar. Many places will let you choose your sweetness level. I normally go for 25%, but of course better to go with 0%. And if you are making your own at home, you can better control the amount of sugar going in. But toppings aren’t the healthiest either – the popping balls are basically filled with syrup and tapioca is pure carbs. Jelly toppings are supposed to be healthier, coconut is one of my favourite toppings. So like any treat, moderation is better.
The healthiest choice out of what you normally find on menus is probably a Matcha tea with a topping like aloe vera jelly.
There are other ways to make your bubble tea healthier. I also recently tried this recipe, which uses chia seeds as the boba which was surprisingly nice! And you only need a normal straw for this recipe.
The verdict on making bubble tea at home
Making bubble tea from a kit was a fun thing to do, although I did miss my walks to our local shop while I had all the supplies at home. It was also cheaper per drink, although I probably had them more frequently so it likely worked out not too different. I would definitely consider getting another box. A bubble tea kit would also make a great gift for someone that might not live near a boba bar or is more comfortable being at home right now.
My biggest complaint about the box was that it did have a lot of plastic containers. And although all the packaging was all easily recyclable, I think this is something that could be improved in the future.
Overall, the box impressed me for its good quality, better value, easy, and tasted exactly the same as buying from the cafe.
If you are looking for more travel inspired stuff to make at home, check out my guide to making Vietnamese coffee at home or check out my recipe for making a bbq sauce local to where I grew up.