By Jackie Morgan
Disclaimer: This blog post is not sponsored, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
The day of my high school graduation was the first time I had ever tried “traditional” tapioca boba, and at first I couldn’t wrap my head around why people enjoy the chewy little orbs. However, over the years my apprehension changed into obsession, and now I make regular boba runs to my favorite local spots. However, once quarantine hit back in March 2020, I decided that I should try to make this delicious drink at home!
Tapioca boba originates from Taiwan, and its presence in the U.S. serves as a cultural comfort for many Asian Americans. Moreover, in Jenny Zhang’s enlightening article, “The Rise (and Stall) of the Boba Generation,” she expands on how the popularity of boba in America has helped support the notion of, “food as a universal language,” in terms of acceptance of Asian culture in America. As a non-Asian boba enjoyer, I find that cultural appreciation is vital for understanding cuisine—especially when you’re the one cooking it!
So, to make this drink you will need tapioca boba and tea. I purchase my tapioca boba pearls at my local H Mart, which is a good place to shop if you want to support Asian businesses, for a few dollars a pack (they sell rainbow and green tea varieties as well that are delicious!). Additionally, you can find your tea at any grocery store; I recommend either black, green, jasmine, or herbal (go for herbal if you can’t have caffeine), and you’ll need to brew this according to the instructions on the box and then let it get to room temperature before serving—as boba drinks are usually served iced.
The instructions for cooking the boba are as follows, though these instructions are usually included on the bag of boba (I’m adding a few pointers that I learned from trial and error).
1. Measure out your boba. A serving size is 1/3 cup, but if you are making a batch for multiple people/drinks then you will need to ratio the amount to match. I personally like a LOT of boba in my drink, so I always make a bit more than it calls for.
2. Boil a large pot filled at least halfway with water, and once it is boiling you slowly add the boba. Stir lightly.
3. After the boba has floated to the surface, cover the pot and switch from high heat (I use high heat to get the water boiling) to medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes (I do 3 minutes because I like my boba extra soft and a little easier to chew).
4. Turn off the heat afterwards, stir lightly, replace the lid, and let cook for 2-3 more minutes. Again, I personally do 3-4 minutes because I like super soft boba—if you prefer firmer and chewier boba then go for 2 minutes!
5. After they finish cooking, scoop them out and place them in a bowl of cold water for 20 seconds. If you want your boba sweetened, honey flavored to be specific, then heat up a few tablespoons of honey in a microwave safe bowl and then stir in your boba. If you don’t like honey, another good alternative to this is agave nectar or liquid stevia. I find that the honey flavor really permeates if you let it sit for at least 10 minutes, but just a quick toss in honey or whatever sweetener you use will be fine if you can’t wait!
6. To make the drink, scoop the amount of boba you want into your glass, then pour your room temperature tea (or hot tea if you prefer hot boba tea) over the boba. If this is going to be an iced drink, leave at least an inch or two of clearance for the ice. Also, if you like milk tea, then just pour in a tablespoon or two of your favorite milk and stir. Additionally, if you want your drink to be extra sweet, I recommend either mixing in granulated sugar while the tea is still hot after brewing, or mixing in liquid sweetener (liquid agave is the bomb) before you add the ice. After your tea is made to your liking, add enough ice cubes to fill the glass and insert a boba straw (you can find these on Amazon or at H Mart).
If you like specific types of boba tea, like brown sugar or matcha for example, there are tons of amazing recipes on YouTube and online about how to get them to taste perfect at home. If you’re going for matcha, ceremonial grade is best!
After making boba countless times at home, I still go out to get it once in a while from my favorite places due to their unique taste that can’t be replicated. Yet, I do love making it myself when I’m short on time and/or money. For those of us who hoard tea already, usually the boba itself is the only thing I have to go out and buy, and it’s a simple way to feel luxurious at home!
Jenny Zhang’s article: https://www.eater.com/2019/11/5/20942192/bubble-tea-boba-asian-american-diaspora
Edited by Emelyn Ehrlich