Believe it or not, not all that long ago, boba tea wasn’t even known about in the states. Enjoyed in Taiwan for decades, our restaurant was the first to start serving boba tea, or bubble tea, in Miami. Once people experienced the bouncy, chewy tapioca balls in sweet iced teas, they couldn’t get enough. It took off so much that we now have a Boba Tea window that includes smoothie styles in addition to the traditional teas! While boba tea can be made with a dizzying array of flavors, I think Thai Boba Tea may be my favorite. You just can’t beat its sweet and creamy vibe. It’s so delicious that it shouldn’t only be enjoyed when you dine out. Let me show you how easy it is to recreate Thai Boba Tea at home.
I actually contemplated delaying this post because there have been some reports about a shortage of the tapioca balls used to make boba. As it turns out though, there is plenty of tapioca available for retail customers. Asian grocers and online sources have lots of the small bags meant for home use. It’s the bulk, wholesale tapioca that is in short supply. So this is the perfect time to learn how to make your own Thai Boba while we wait for these supply issues to work themselves out.
Straight out of the bag, the tapioca pearls are light brown and crumbly. Simmering them in water cooks the balls, and they turn a shiny translucent black.
Once they are cooked through, they get drained and rinsed under cool water. The directions in this post are for the traditional tapioca pearls, not for the instant tapioca, which only needs about 5 minutes to cook. I much prefer the traditional tapioca which has better flavor and texture than the instant tapioca, which is rubbery and a little bland.
The boba have a tendency to clump together. To combat that, make sure your water is at a rolling boil and pour the tapioca in a slow stream while stirring the pot. Then I stir them occasionally while they are simmering, breaking up any little clumps. Finally, when they are done boiling, they should be rinsed under running water to cool. I usually use my hands to break up any remaining clumps while rinsing them.
Boba has a caramel-like flavor added to it but it doesn’t have any sweetness. To get the boba ready for drinks, we first prepare a simple syrup and then they are soaked in it until ready to be used. (My syrup is a little golden because I used natural unbleached sugar.)
Tapioca is best fresh, so I would recommend boiling only as much as you think you will consume in a day. Simple syrup, on the other hand, can be stored for months in the fridge without a problem. You can use any leftovers for lemonade, iced teas, or any cold beverage that doesn’t mix well with granulated sugar.
If you’ve never had Thai Tea, you are really missing out. Super creamy from evaporated milk, and sweetened with what can only be called an exuberant amount of sugar, you can’t help but smile after taking that first sip. I think of it as the Thai equivalent to sweet tea. Generally, “Thai Tea” is regular black tea leaves that have artificial color added to them. But the bright orange color adds to the fun!
Milk products were not readily available in much of Asia until the middle of the last century and even then, all of it was imported, as domestic dairy cows were scarce. So you will see many desserts and drinks utilize shelf stable milk products like evaporated milk, condensed milk, or powder milk. However, you are welcome to use whole milk, or non dairy milk products like oat milk, almond milk, or even coconut milk to suit your tastes.
Next, I turn off the heat and let the tea continue steeping for another 10-30 minutes (unlike other teas, the longer the better), until the leaves sink to the bottom. Finally, I strain the tea into a pitcher and add ice to chill it quickly.
The Thai Tea can also be made ahead and kept in the fridge for several days.
Assembling Thai Boba
Now that you have the tapioca bubbles and the Thai Tea ready, it’s time to put them together!
And finally, it’s time for my favorite part. Pouring in the evaporated milk doesn’t just add unbelievable creaminess, it also makes very cool special effects.
Don’t Forget the Straws!
Serve with large straws (the boba will not get through regular drinking straws) to suck up the boba, and now you’ve recreated this beloved treat at home! This is the perfect little pick me up on a hot summer day, and I know you’re going to love it! Serve it with Chicken Satay and Shrimp Salad for a Thai Feast!
Please take a moment to rate and leave a comment on the recipe below, we love hearing from you. And if you make these gorgeous Thai Boba Teas, we want to see! Tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, show us the goods!
For the Boba:
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup large tapioca pearls (160g)
- ½ cup sugar (plus 1 cup water)
For Thai Tea:
- 1 cup Thai tea leaves
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup of ice
To Make Boba:
- Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a deep pot, and add the tapioca. Bring it to a boil again, stir to break up large clumps of tapioca, cover, and turn the heat down to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, stir one more time to ensure there is no tapioca sticking to the bottom of the pan, and allow it to sit for another 15 minutes.
- Check the tapioca pearls by tasting one. If it still has an opaque white center, repeat the simmering and holding for another 10-15 minutes, until all the tapioca balls are translucent.
- Drain the tapioca pearls and rinse under cold water.
- If the tapioca pearls still have opaque white centers, repeat STEP 1 and STEP 2 until all the tapioca balls are translucent. You may have to repeat a few times depending on their size.
- In the meantime, combine ¼ cup sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat the pan over medium high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool until ready to use.
- Once the tapioca pearls are cooked, drain and rinse under cold water one more time. Then put them into the sugar water to prevent them from sticking together.
For Thai Tea:
- Combine the tea leaves and water in a saucepan.
- Bring the water to a simmer over high heat, lower the heat to medium low, stir the contents of the saucepan, and cook at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the sugar, stir the tea to dissolve the sugar, and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the tea steep for another 15-20 minutes until the tea leaves sink to the bottom.
- Strain the tea into a pitcher and add the ice to cool the tea.
- Add a couple tablespoons of tapioca to the cup, add a ½ cup of ice, and pour the tea almost to the top.
- Add the evaporated milk, stir, and serve with a straw.
*Large tapioca pearls can be found at most Asian grocery stores. Look for the standard dark brown tapioca and not the instant ones which have a rubbery texture.
*Thai Tea is strong and sweet. If you prefer a less sweet version, start with half the amount of tea in the recipe. Then once the tea leaves are strained out, taste the tea and add more sugar as needed. The sweetness will be slightly diluted by the milk added at the end.
*You are welcome to substitute the evaporated milk for whatever you prefer or have on hand. Half and half, whole milk, low fat, oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are all good substitutes. Skim milk is not the best choice as the watery nature does not add much creaminess or flavor.