How to Make Bubble Tea at Home

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Bubble tea first appeared in Taiwan but has recently exploded in popularity in the US. It's made with tea, milk, sweetener and tapioca, and there are so many ways to personalize each cup! Here's how to make bubble tea.

Move aside juice and smoothie bars, bubble tea is here! This tea-based drink, made with chewy tapioca pearls, is sure to give you a caffeine boost with a flavorful twist.

What Is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, is a Taiwanese tea drink flavored with milk or fruit (or sometimes both) with marble-sized tapioca balls at the bottom. It can be made with all sorts of tea—from plain black, jasmine or oolong tea to fruity herbal tea like strawberry, melon or mango. It’s most known for its iconic bubbles (also known as pearls, boba or tapioca) that are soft, chewy and a little sweet. People enjoy other unexpected add-ins like grass jelly (similar to Jell-O) or cheese foam (which resembles whipped cream).

Bubble tea has all the health benefits of drinking tea, too.

What Are the Ingredients in Bubble Tea?

Tea

Use any tea you have on hand, like black tea, jasmine, oolong, matcha or even fruit-infused teas. Steep as you would a normal bag of tea, then chill. Here’s our guide to making the perfect iced tea at home.

Milk

Add a bit of creaminess to your drink by adding condensed milk. Or use whatever milk you have on hand, like whole milk, oat milk, soy milk, almond milk or hemp milk.

Tapioca Pearls

Prepped Tapioca Pearls for bubble teaMegan Barrie for Taste of Home

These can be found premade in Asian markets in the packaged goods aisle often near the teas. Because they come dehydrated and vacuum sealed you’ll need to cook them to enjoy. You can also find them on Amazon or Weee! and while you’re at it, you can get a boba straw which allows you to slurp up the large tapioca pearls. You can also make your own tapioca pearls with a combination of tapioca flour, water and sugar (see instructions below).

Sweetener

Just as you might add sugar or honey to coffee, you can customize your drink with a sweetener of choice. Typically when you get bubble tea at a boba cafe, they add a simple syrup made from brown sugar or honey for sweetness unless they’re using condensed milk. You can choose to use something simple like honey or agave, or make your own simple syrup.

How to Make Bubble Tea, Step by Step

Ingredients for bubble teaMegan Barrie for Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tapioca pearls
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Brown sugar or sweetener of choice
  • Milk of choice

Directions

Step 1: Prep the tapioca pearls

Most brands sell tapioca pearls uncooked, so you’ll need to boil or soak them. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, then add 1 cup of pearls. Let them cook until they float to the top, then allow them to cook about 1 minute more. This will make enough for 2-4 drinks, depending on how many tapioca pearls you like.

Editor’s tip: Be sure to check the package directions for best results, as some brands may have larger or smaller pearls.

Step 2: Brew your tea

Next, brew the tea a little stronger than if you planned to drink it plain, following a 1 teaspoon to 1 cup ratio, tea to water. Steep for about 5 minutes, then discard the tea leaves. Chill tea in the fridge until cool, or if in a rush, pour the tea over ice. (This will dilute the tea, but that should be OK if you over-steep.)

Step 3: Add flavor

Bubble TeaMegan Barrie for Taste of Home

Place the cooked tapioca pearls in a tall glass. If you want sweetened boba tea, add honey or agave, or make a simple syrup and coat the glass.

Pour your chilled tea 2/3 of the way up the glass. For a creamy tea, add a splash of your favorite milk. Give the glass a stir with your straw to combine sweetener and milk and enjoy!

Popular Bubble Tea Flavors

  • Black Milk Tea or Hong Kong Milk Tea: The classic bubble tea includes black tea (standard Lipton works fine) and condensed milk.
  • Taro Milk Tea: Use taro root powder and milk for a creamy, delicious and refreshing tea.
  • Thai Milk Tea: Use Thai tea leaves, condensed milk and tapioca pearls for a sweet caffeine kick.
  • Strawberry: Use strawberry-flavored tea and garnish with fresh strawberries.
  • Matcha: Use matcha green tea powder.
  • Brown Sugar Milk Tea or Tiger Milk Tea: Use a brown sugar simple syrup in the drink to give the milk a sweet, molasses-y toastiness.

Tips for Making Bubble Tea

How do I make tapioca pearls?

If you want to make homemade tapioca pearls, mix 2 parts tapioca starch with 1 part boiling water. Mix together until you achieve a dough-like consistency. Form the dough into small pearls, then boil over medium-high heat. When the boba reaches your desired consistency, remove them from the pan and add to the tea.

How do I keep boba soft and chewy?

Just as you don’t overcook pasta, you want to keep an eye on your boba as it cooks to make sure it maintains that nice chew. Once they float to the top, let them cook 1 minute more and then strain immediately. Give them a rinse with cool water, and immediately transfer them to a bowl or jar with simple syrup. Adding them to the simple syrup keeps them soft and chewy while also adding a nice sweetness.

Can I make a dairy-free version of bubble tea?

Bubble tea can be made however you’d like it, including dairy-free options using alternative milks like oat, hemp, almond, soy or rice milk. The tapioca pearls are naturally vegan since they’re made with tapioca flour, which is derived from the cassava root.

Is bubble tea healthy?

You can make your bubble tea as healthy or indulgent as you’d like, just like coffee! Adding sweeteners or fruit juices will increase the amount of sugar consumed. The tapioca pearls are made from cassava, which contains no fat or cholesterol, though they’re high in calories and carbs. For a healthy tea beverage, check out Thai tea.

Can you make bubble tea ahead of time?

You can make bubble tea about a day in advance, but any longer and your tea may start to get too strong, and tapioca pearls can get soggy and lose their chew. Be sure to store the tapioca pearls in the fridge submerged in simple syrup if making ahead, and discard tea leaves once your tea has brewed so it doesn’t oversteep.

When making simple syrup ahead, store this in a sealed jar for over a week and it should stay fresh.

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Megan Barrie
I'm a home cook, instructor, and recipe developer focused on celebrating seasonal, comforting, Japanese-y food. I founded a platform called Seasoned Cook to give people the building blocks to make cooking approachable and enjoyable every day. My recipes are currently featured on Harvest Queen and Taste of Home.