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  • What is Boba and How Do You Make Bubble Tea?
  • Post author
    Jillian Rensvold

What is Boba and How Do You Make Bubble Tea?

A cup of boba sits on the counter at Saratoga Tea and Honey with the chalkboard menu visible in the background

 

You asked and we answered! Saratoga Tea and Honey has been working behind the scenes to bring you boba, also known as bubble tea. Of course we wanted to make sure you got what you wanted but it had to meet certain standards for us. Instead of just adding boba to any of our teas, we have been working to make sure that you get the full experience of the tapioca pearls (boba) blending with our tea and honey. 

Where Did Boba Come From?

The history of boba includes a story that seems almost like a made-for-tv movie. In the 1980s, several different people claim to have created the tea that has become the unofficial, official drink of Taiwan. Some of the stories seem to be more believable than others though.

In the first story, there is a teahouse in Taichung whose owner noticed that people from Japan enjoyed iced coffee, so he decided to try doing the same thing to teas, and it became a hit! He was having a meeting one day and the product manager decided to add tapioca balls to her iced tea and the staff loved it. Bubble tea eventually made its way to their menu.

In another story, an artist was visiting a market in Tainan and saw vendors selling tapioca balls which were a childhood favorite snack. He decided to add the white tapioca pearls to his green tea and decided to sell it. He also experimented with adding the bigger black tapioca pearls, which are the boba that we have come to love in our bubble teas today. 

So I know you are asking yourself sure this is dramatic but what makes it a story built for a made-for-tv movie? Well, there was a lawsuit filed in order to have the court decide who the rightful creator of boba was. This lawsuit dragged on for 10 years! In the end, there wasn't an "Aha!" moment where the court announced the creator like the winner of American Idol though. The court decided that it didn't matter who the creator was, it only mattered that anyone could make bubble tea and everyone can enjoy the experience of drinking it.

How to Make Boba

While it is easy to go out and buy boba already made, there are ways to make your own at home. This recipe could come in handy with the possibility of a boba shortage due to the pandemic. 

What you will need:

1/4 cup buckwheat honey

70 mL (or 70g weight) water 

1/2 cup tapioca flour plus more to coat

1. Bring honey and water to a rolling boil. Add a few tablespoons of tapioca flour and mix in really well. Add remaining flour and work in until it forms a soft ball. You may need to add another dusting of flour to coat dough before transferring to work surface. 
2. Knead the dough until smooth. It will be hot so be careful, but don’t let it cool too much because it gets harder to work with as it cools, which is important for the next step.
A ball of uncooked boba dough sits on a glass cutting board on a marble kitchen counter
3. Divide into three parts and roll each part into approximately a 1/4” diameter snake, then cut into about 1/8” pieces to form balls.
A glass bowl is full of uncooked boba pearls on a marble kitchen counter
4. Toss with a dusting of tapioca flour to keep them from sticking. 

*Yields: 75-100 pearls depending on the size 

To make boba for bubble tea:

Bring 400 ml water and 1tbsp buckwheat honey to a boil. Drop in tapioca balls and boil for 3-4 min. Remove from heat, strain boba if using right away or reserve simple syrup for boba storage. 

A mason jar with uncooked boba pearls sits on a marble kitchen counter next to a honey jar with cooked boba in a simple syrup

How to Make a Bubble Tea

There are a few elements that are necessary in order to make a bubble tea also known as boba. There are the obvious ingredients such as the tapioca pearls and tea, but most boba also contains milk or a nondairy milk option. 

In a cup, add about 100 boba pearls with buckwheat simple syrup. In a cocktail shaker, add ice to fill up halfway then top with approximately 4 oz. of milk or oat milk. Top off the rest of the shaker with iced tea that has been brewed to be super strong. We have been using Russian Caravan for a traditional black tea or One Night in Rio to provide a fruity option. Shake well and pour over boba pearls to serve.

Resources:

McEneaney, Ciaran. “A Brief History of Pearl Milk Tea.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 26 May 2017, theculturetrip.com/asia/taiwan/articles/a-brief-history-of-pearl-milk-tea/.

Wong, Maggie Hiufu. “The Rise of Bubble Tea, One of Taiwan's Most Beloved Beverages.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/travel/article/taiwan-bubble-tea-origins/index.html.

  • Post author
    Jillian Rensvold