Making Perfect Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea

two glasses of Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea

I’ve had a slew of bad tapioca milk tea experiences lately. The problem is usually the tapioca balls, also called pearls, bubbles or boba. They are so easy to make, but the ones I keep getting served are soft, not chewy, slimy, etc.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, tapioca milk tea originated from Taiwan and is served in various Asian tea cafes. It’s no longer limited to milk tea as there are also usually other fruit flavored tea beverages, slushies, etc. All of them usually offer the option of tapioca balls. which are brown balls that have a chewy texture.
photo of Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea
My favorite tea place is the Half & Half chain in Los Angeles, which makes honey boba. Tapioca balls have very little flavor on their own, so when it is sweetened with honey, they taste much better. Honey boba has become quite popular now and most of the new tea shops popping up usually make honey boba.

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I used to make pearl milk tea all the time as a kid and before the tea cafes even came to the US. I remember it being quite easy, so after another bad boba experience, I decided to make my own and do a little tutorial on how best to make the perfect tapioca balls.

You can buy the tapioca balls at most Chinese markets like Ranch 99. This is the brand I usually buy. The most commonly found ones are the brown ones. I prefer the colored ones just because they are so much prettier. There are also green tea flavored ones. The instructions for how to make them are on the back of the package, which I mostly follow with a few modifications.
package of tapioca pearlsphoto of what the uncooked tapioca pearls look likea package of brown tapioca pearlsa photo of a handful of tapioca pearls

How to Prepare Tapioca Pearls

step by step photo of tapioca pearls boiling in sugar water

Step 1: Bring a small pot of water with about 1/4 cup of sugar to a boil and then drop in your tapioca balls. I usually do about 2 handfuls per each cup of tea. The pearls will soon expand and rise to the top.

step by step photo of tapioca pearls simmering

Step 2: Once the pearls rise to the top, turn down the stove to low and simmer the pearls for about 5 minutes, with the lid on (but allow steam to come out so the pot does not over boil).

step by step photo of tapioca pearls in honey

Step 3: Remove the pearls from the water and drop them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of honey. You want enough honey so that each ball touches the honey. You let the tapioca sit in the honey until it is ready to be consumed.

photo of tapioca pearls ready to go in a drink
You don’t want to put the pearls into your drink until the very last minute because once the pearls are in the drink, they will soon lose their chewy consistency.

For the most traditional milk tea, a black tea is usually used as the base. My favorite is actually oolong tea, which is a light brown color, and some other popular offerings include green tea and jasmine. Common ways to add the milk are milk powder, sugar, and fresh milk, or my favorite: condensed milk. You add just enough to your desired sweetness.
close-up photo of Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea
The tapioca balls stay chewy for a few hours after cooking, so you never want to make them too long ahead of time. Also you can’t refrigerate them as they will completely lose their texture, so try not to make too much extra. This is a fun project if you have a large group or even if it’s just you. And it’s pretty easy to make and much cheaper than paying close to $4 per cup.
a glass of Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea with a straw

Honey Boba

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Taiwanese

Instead of buying expensive boba teas at cafes you can make your own at home with just a few ingredients. You can buy the tapioca balls at most Chinese markets.

Ingredients:

  • tapioca pearls
  • honey
  • water for boiling
  • granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Bring small pot of water to boil and add about 1/4 cup sugar. Add in tapioca and let them float to surface. 
  2. Bring water to a low boil and place lid over pot, adjusting lid to allow steam to release. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove boba from water and place into a medium sized bowl with honey (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup so that all the boba touches the honey). Make sure the bowl is large enough so the boba are not all piled on top of each other because they will stick to each other once they cool. 
  3. Let boba sit in honey until it is ready to be eaten, then put into your milk tea right before. Boba lose their consistency soon after sitting in milk tea so don't put in too soon. The boba stay chewy for a few hours if you just let them sit in the honey. Don't remove from the honey as they will end up sticking together. Don't refrigerate as they will completely lose their consistency and become brittle.
All images and content are © Kirbie's Cravings.

22 comments on “Making Perfect Tapioca Pearl Milk Tea”

  1. What brand of tea do you use and how strong do you make it?

    • It really depends on personal preference. I usually use oolong tea bags, no particular brand. Just whatever I find on sale. And I try to brew mine for about 15 to 20 minutes because I like my tea pretty strong. I also like green tea and Jasmine. I’ve also made it with Lipton red tea.

  2. I have had a bag of boba in my pantry for ages. Now I really need to make some soon. You have a point – it is much cheaper to make it at home and it’s not difficult. Thanks for the reminder.

    • We used to have big bags that just sat around too. I’d get lazy and just go out and buy it. But lately all the ones I’ve gotten were blegh and the prices keep going up. So I went out and bought more bags (little ones this time) and we’ve been making it every day.

  3. For those people who are allergic to honey or don’t have honey on hand, you can substitute honey with sugar.

    • Good tip. I prefer honey, but soaking in a sugar works too.

      • I make the pearls as noted on back of package. I usually make more than I’ll use because I don’t mind the chewy harder pearls.
        I make simple syrup, put in jar, make sure syrup covers cooked pearls.
        I put 2 tablespoons of boba in bottom of glass. Add tea to 3/4 filled. Add non fat half and half. Add Hershey Strawberry syrup to glass to taste. Stir vigorously. Absolutely delicious.

      • thanks for sharing!

  4. How do you flavor your tea? I hear Oolong tea is good but I don’t know how much to put into making it a milk tea ?

  5. Thanks for posting about this! I tried making boba once and it took forever for the boba balls to cook; I’ll try the brand you recommend next time!

  6. Hi, Thanks for posting this it’s great since my teens love this bubble tea.
    I was wondering what are the ingredients of the pearls? Is it just tapioca or are there colors, flavors etc?
    Thanks again. 🙂

    • I’m not really sure what goes into the pearls. I believe it is a bunch of ingredients which include color and flavoring, especially for the colorful ones. If you ever buy them you can look at the label to see what they’ve added.

  7. Just wondering how u guys make tha Milk tea ??

    • It’s written in the post. You brew tea, add milk and sugar or condensed milk to sweeten. Red teas and Oolong tea works well.

  8. This may be a sacrilegious question to Boba aficionados, but I live in the sticks, there are no Asian markets. Could I just use regular american tapioca pearls ? I realize they are no where near as big, but wouldn’t the taste still be the same ?

    • actually no. they are not at all the same. they might have similar names but are completely different things. so unfortunately, American tapioca does not work.

  9. Veronica – I got my tapioca pearls from Amazon.com

  10. Thank you Mary !

  11. In Melbourne I had pearls that are not shewy at all, as if inside were some fruit juice : how do you obtain this behavior ? It is like bubbles that has an exterior that is elastic, and inside more fluid. With flavors like leeches or raspberry…

    • those pearls are not tapioca pearls and you wouldn’t be able to achieve that texture with the pearls referenced in this recipe. In the US, those are often called “popping boba.” It’s harder to buy as a regular consumer as I haven’t seen them sold in the markets near me.

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