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Bubble tea: what is it and how to make it

Bubble teas are more than a beverage, they are an experience
bubble tea
Source: NPR

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan during the 80s, but the wide variety of flavors of these beverages combined with their unique looks are set to conquer fans all over the world. Some varieties are healthier than others and some blends are so unexpected they will make you raise an eyebrow. But bubble tea is not supposed to be just a tea, it is an experience for the palate.

What is bubble tea?

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 80s, although no one knows exactly where or who invented it. It is also known as boba tea, pearl milk tea, or bubble milk tea. It is traditionally served cold and in a transparent cup to show the little pearls or bubbles floating at the bottom that give the name to these teas.

These beverages must be drunk through a large straw that allows the suction of the pearls too, so you can enjoy the mix of flavors.

Ingredients

bubble tea ingredients
Source: Phoenix

The traditional varieties have a base of ice tea, either green, black or oolong to which milk can be added in powder or liquid. As this beverage evolved, new flavors started being added too, and today you can also find fruit blends added to the milky tea based as well as several sweet toppings that might include pudding or jellies, for instance.

The branching out in flavors started from the typical iced tea or iced tea and milk combination started early in Taiwan and Hong Kong. With the boom of bubble ice tea shops and street stands, the vendors started to innovate and trying different mixes as a way of standing out from the competition.

Nowadays, bubble teas are available in countless flavor combinations all over the world.

What are the bubbles in bubble tea

Despite its name, bubble tea has no gas. The name comes from the large pearls of tapioca floating in the bottom of these teas and the air bubbles created by these when the tea is shaken to combine the ingredients.

These pearls are little balls of starch extracted from cassava root. They are frequently used to prepare puddings and other desserts, although the black variety is exclusively used to prepare boba tea for their sweetness and chewy texture.

Although in the West the terms boba and tapioca pearls are used as synonyms, in Asia boba refers only to large tapioca pearls measuring about 1/4-inch in diameter.

Recipe and how to make it

bubble tea recipe
Source: Honestly Yum

As mentioned before, there are countless ways to prepare bubble tea and so the recipes can vary too depending on the ingredients you want to add to your drink.

If you are just curious to try a more simple and traditional variety, you can do it at home by following this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of brewed black tea
  • 1/3 cup of pearl tapioca
  • 2 tbsp of milk
  • 5 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup of ice

Directions

1. Take the water to boil in a pan and add 1 teaspoon and sugar. Stir until dissolved and reduce the heat.

2. Add in the pearls and cook for 20 minutes. Drain the pearls and let them cool down at room temperature or refrigerate them for at least 15 minutes or until they are set and crunchy.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker, minus the ice, and shake to mix them well. Add in the ice and shake again.

4. Place the tapioca at the bottom of a tall glass and pour the tea over them.

5. Drink the bubble tea through a wide straw so you can enjoy the texture of the tapioca at the same time as the beverage.

Flavors

bubble tea flavors
Source: Mind Over Munch

The basic teas used to prepare bubble tea are green tea, black tea and oolong. Milk can be added or not depending solely on personal taste. If so, you can choose between regular milk, powdery milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, and other vegetable or lactose-free milk types too.

Using this mix for a base, you can also have countless fruity teas. In some cases, these varieties have become so popular that tea even ceased to be a requirement.

It would be impossible to list all the flavors available, but the following ones are especially popular:

  • Bubble coffee (made with blended ice and no tea)
  • Bubble tea with pudding topping
  • Bubble tea with fruit (fresh, jelly or fruit jam)
  • Hong Kong milk tea (served hot)
  • Milk smoothies (without tea)
  • Bubble tea smoothies (without milk)
  • “Snow bubble” (without tea or milk, only flavors, ice, a non-dairy creamer and tapioca pearls)

Is it healthy?

Since eating too much sugar is bad, it is safe to say that boba teas are not healthy.

Many brands claim they are because it is tea after all, and it contains important antioxidants and vitamins, especially when prepared with fruits too. Despite the truthfulness of these claims are true, the problem is in the added sugars of these beverages.

Normally, the bobas are prepared with sugar and more sugar is also added to the tea in high quantities. If you take the example of the aforementioned recipe, one glass of tea alone has 5 tablespoons of added sugar.

On top of this, syrups, flavors and sweet desserts like puddings are also commonly added too, which also increase this intake of sugar and sugar derivatives.

The basic boba tea only with tea and milk, albeit not perfect either because of the pearls, is still the healthiest option, particularly if you ask for fresh milk instead of the powdery one.

Calories

bubble tea calories
Source: Food Republic

As you might have guessed by now, the amount of calories in a bubble tea can vary greatly depending on the ingredients you add.

The most basic variety (iced tea and tapioca pearls) starts already at an average of 136 calories due to the pearls. If you add in condensed milk, one of the most popular choices, the number can go up to 230 calories in one single beverage.

Any other flavors or syrups you add to your tea will just make this number rise.

What does it taste like?

The taste of bubble teas can vary greatly depending on the added ingredients.

Although the most popular varieties are very sweet, the traditional ones have a milder flavor since they are based only on ice tea with or without milk. Sugar can be added to these varieties too, but it is an optional ingredient as the tapioca pearls release part of their sweetness into the beverage.

The pearls themselves are very chewy, somewhere between jelly and chewing gum. They are almost flavorless, save for those priorly soaked in syrup, and their main goal is to add texture to the beverage.

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