Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recipe: Popular Chinese Drink "Bubble Tea"

For an after school snack this week, we thought we would make another* popular Chinese drink: Bubble Tea. Also known as Pearl Milk Tea, or Boba Milk Tea, this drink is not part of traditional Chinese culture, but a piece of pop culture. Originating in Taiwan in the 1980s, it became popular in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, and trendy with youth. Bubble tea shops seem to have sprung up in many major cities, and you might be surprised to find one near where you live.

Bubble tea is a sweetened cold drink, with many variations. It is generally sweetened black or green tea, mixed with milk and fruit syrup. Originally, it was a cold milk tea that was shaken until frothy. Nowadays, it generally has boba pearls in it. 

Various Fruity Bubble Teas
Boba are tapioca balls that you drink/eat with your tea through an extra large straw. They come in many different colors - often black, though also white or multicolored. They must be cooked in boiling water for some time, and expand into chewy balls that rest at the bottom of your drink. 

Black boba pearls, prior to cooking
Photo Credit: Mokiko
We first tried fruit based bubble tea at a tea shop in Halifax, and it was the creamy fruit drink the girls didn't care for - so we decided to make ours with a regular tea base. We bought the tapioca balls and extra large straws at an Asian grocery store.

Bubble Tea

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup tapioca pearls
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 8 cups water for tapioca 
  • 1 cup water for sugar syrup
  • 4 tea bags - any tea you like - we used Orange Pekoe
  • Ice
  • Milk or sweetened condensed milk (having the sweet tooth we have, we used sweetened condensed milk)
1. In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil and add the tapioca balls. When the balls start to float at the top, reduce heat to medium. Boil for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the tapioca doesn't stick to the bottom or to each other. Turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 more minutes with the cover on the pot. 

Cooked tapioca pearls
Very interesting texture - fun to put a few aside for kids to touch them
2. While the tapioca is cooking, brew tea. Once it has steeped for 15 minutes, remove tea bags and let cool (I refrigerated it as soon as possible)

3. Make a simple syrup as well while the tapioca is cooking - bring one cup of water to a boil and add both sugars. Dissolve, and set aside to cool. (It will cool quicker if transferred to another dish)

4. Once the tapioca pearls are cooked, drain and rinse them in cold water to chill them. Combine the tapioca and sugar syrup in a dish, and let "marinate" for at least 20 minutes. You could put them aside at this point to be used later, but they should be left at room temperature or they will harden. The longer they sit, the "crunchier" they will be, so it's ideal to consume them within 24 hours. 

5. With all the components made and cooled, it is time to assemble. If you have a cocktail shaker, combine tea, ice and milk (to your preference) and shake. Add tapioca and simple syrup to taste afterwards. 

We don't have a shaker, so we started with 2 tbsp of tapioca, a few ice cubes, and poured the tea over that. We all tasted our own to determine whether we wanted to add sugar syrup or milk. It was actually quite sweet just from the syrup that came with the tapioca. Despite that, three of us still added a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Then we stirred well. 

We enjoyed our drinks with some sweet steamed Chinese buns. Elle downed her drink, then decided she didn't care for it :) We all had fun chewing our tapioca - that is, until halfway through, and then we had all had enough of the chewy balls. I guess 1 tbsp would have been enough. We were also left with enough cooked tapioca for a few more glassfuls. 

*The other popular drink we have tried, Cocoa with Rock Salt & Cheese was more of a hit. You can find our recipe here.


  1. I just love the photos of your girls! I'm thinking my face might look like Pea's face if I had to try it. I'm not keen on the texture of tapioca!

    1. It's definitely a texture that takes getting used to - especially in your drink!


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