The drink known as “bubble tea,” ubiquitous in Chinatowns everywhere in the USA, is characterized by boba—large tapioca pearls that are available in white, black, or a mix of pastel colors.
The pearls sit at the bottom of the glass and must be sucked up through a large straw, or else spooned out. When cooked they are soft and chewy, much like a gummy candy, and have little or no flavor except for what they absorb from the poaching liquid and from the drink they are put in.
All colors of boba taste the same. Black pearls are attractive in a colorful drink, white or pale colors are pretty in chocolate drinks or dark tea. Boba can be purchased, dried and vacuum-packed, in Asian markets and online. Follow the directions on the package, or simply put in simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water mixture) and cook until soft, five to ten minutes. Keep the boba in the syrup until needed; refrigerated, they will keep for about 24 hours.
To impart your boba with very special flavor, make a fruit-flavored simple syrup in which to cook them. Mix a cup or two of sugar with an equal amount of water, and simmer a minute or two until the sugar is dissolved. Add sliced apple, orange, or (my favorite) quince, and simmer until the syrup has taken on the flavor of the fruit, another ten to fifteen minutes. The syrup can be cooled, refrigerated, and stored for several weeks or more.
How to make your bubble tea? You can keep it simple or get as creative as you like. Three elements that make a nice combination are brewed tea, fruit nectar or puree, and some kind of milk, such as condensed milk, almond milk, or coconut milk. Sweeten to taste with the syrup that the boba were cooked in.
The bubble tea pictured here was made with 1 cup of brewed orange-ginger tea, ¼ cup apricot nectar (look for it with Goya products in your supermarket), and ¼ cup almond milk. The boba were cooked in quince-flavored simple syrup, with about a tablespoon added to the drink for sweetness and tang. Delicious!
First published December 2014