Learn how to make Classic Milk Tea Boba at home! Not only is it deliciously sweet and creamy, but it's also super easy to make it yourself. Customize it to your own taste and enjoy your refreshing homemade bubble milk tea!
🧋 What is Milk Tea Boba?
There are several names for boba drinks and it can change depending on your location. In the States, I've found that it's commonly referred to as "boba" on the West Coast and "bubble tea" on the East Coast. But this delicious drink originated in Taiwanese teahouses in the 1980's and has since exploded in popularity all around the world.
Bubble tea consists of sweetened tea with chewy black tapioca balls, often referred to as pearls or boba. There are endless drink variations, from fruit flavorings to milk alternatives to rainbow-colored boba. There's no shortage of fun and unique boba drinks!
However, the classic black milk tea is the most basic and popular. It simply consists of brewed black tea, milk creamer, and sweetener. It's a delicious thirst quencher that's both smooth and decadent. Make it yourself and you'll see just how easy and simple it is!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Customizable: The best part about making bubble tea at home is that you can customize every aspect of it. From the type of tea, milk, syrup and its proportions - this drink is 100% yours!
- Better than store-bought: The original boba shops commonly use powdered milk and artificial sweeteners because of its shelf stability. But there's no denying that using fresh, quality ingredients will produce a much better result.
- Affordable: The up-charge at boba shops can be crazy! With 6 simple ingredients (not including water), it's much more affordable to make bubble milk tea at home.
- Tapioca boba (pearls): I recommend purchasing pre-made boba at your local Asian grocery store. I get the Bolle brand from H-Mart. You can find them on Amazon or the Fanale brand at Webstaurant Store, but shipped tapioca balls can become powdery during the delivery process.
- TIP: Avoid "quick cook", "instant", or "5 minute" pearls. They have a hardening quality in the starch that prevents them from getting perfectly chewy. You can check the instructions on the back of the bag to double check - there should be a 20-30 minute cooking time.
- Black tea: You can use black tea bags or loose leaves. Loose leaf ones will have a higher quality, but they can be difficult to find. Since the brewed tea will be diluted in flavor from the milk, sweetener, and ice, you want a bold and robust tea. I recommend using Assam, Chinese breakfast tea (Chinese black tea), or Ceylon.
- Half and half: Smooths the bitterness of the tea. You can use whole milk, but half and half gives a creamier and smoother mouthfeel.
- Syrup: Sweetens the boba pearls and the drink itself. I like using a combination of white sugar, brown sugar, and honey because it provides more dimension and flavor.
Substitutions & Variations
- If you want to shorten the cooking time and try 5-minute tapioca pearls, try this popular brand on Amazon. Just keep in mind that the texture won't be as chewy and they'll harden faster.
- You can also make your own tapioca pearls at home. Try these recipes from The Flavor Bender or Sift and Simmer.
- Feel free to use your favorite type of tea in this drink. Green, Earl Grey, oolong, jasmine, or English breakfast are popular options for bubble drinks.
- Use your creamer of choice! Evaporated or condensed milk are commonly used in boba shops. If you follow a dairy-free diet, almond, soy, or oat milk are great options.
- Add more toppings to keep it fun! Coconut jelly, adzuki beans, egg pudding, and grass jelly are delicious.
- Want to make a boozy bubble milk tea? Once you take the syrup off the heat, slowly whisk in your spirit of choice. I recommend whiskey, rum, or vodka.
- Want the classic milk tea without boba? Easy! Simply brew the tea as directed and your sweetener of choice (like white sugar or honey) to the hot tea. Stir to dissolve and adjust as needed. If you want warm milk tea, add the creamer right away. For cold milk tea, let the brewed tea cool before stirring in the milk.
🔪 How To Make Black Milk Tea Boba
⬇️ Please scroll down to the recipe card to see full ingredient
amounts and instructions.
STEP ONE: Bring a pot of water to a boil and and add the boba. Stir for 1 minute to prevent the pearls from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If needed, turn the heat down so it's at a rolling simmer. Cover with a lid and cook the tapioca pearls for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Make sure the boba is fully submerged in water, adding more water if needed.
STEP TWO: After the initial 30 minutes, turn off the heat and let the boba rest for 30 minutes. No peeking!
STEP THREE: After the rest time, strain the boba and rinse briefly with cold water.
STEP FOUR: While the boba is cooking, boil 2¼ cups water. Add the tea bags (or leaves) and steep for 4-5 minutes. Discard the bags/leaves and let cool. You should have 2 cups of black tea.
STEP FIVE: While the boba is cooking, also make the syrup. Add white sugar, brown sugar, honey, and water to a pot and heat gently until everything is dissolved. Pour into a bowl.
STEP SIX: Add the strained warm boba to the syrup. Let sit for 30 minutes so it can absorb the flavor.
STEP SEVEN: Get everything ready to assemble your classic bubble milk tea! You'll needed the boba in syrup, black tea, half and half, and ice.
💭 Top Tips
- It's important to brew teas at their indicated temperature. Brewing it in water that is too hot can result in a bitter taste, while water that is too cool will result in a weak flavorless tea. 200-212°F water is generally best for black tea, but follow the instructions included with your tea. A temperature-specific electric kettle will make this a breeze.
- Brew a stronger-than-usual tea. The black tea will become diluted from the milk, syrup, and ice. Plus, it's easier to adjust a strong milk tea rather than fix a bland one.
- Only make as much boba as needed. Cooked tapioca pearls don't store well, especially the instant or quick cooking ones. Over time, the boba will stiffen and become overly sweet if sitting in the syrup bath. They're at their best quality when fresh and warm, within 4-6 hours of cooking.
- Make sure you have a proper boba straw! I like these reusable straws from Amazon.
- If making classic black milk tea boba for a large party, make the tea and syrup 2-3 day in advance (see instructions below). Cook the boba day-of and keep warm in a slow cooker.
🥡 Storing and Make Ahead
Storing: Store each item separately for best quality.
- I don't recommend storing cooked boba as it hardens in the fridge. If you still plan to, you can store it with the syrup in an air-tight container. Keep in the fridge for maximum 1 day. To reheat, microwave in 30 second intervals until warm.
- Brewed black tea can be stored in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- You can store any leftover syrup, even if you've used up the boba. Transfer to a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Use it in any drink or cocktail.
Make Ahead: The tea and syrup can be made 2-3 days in advance. For the tea:
- You can warm brew the tea, as directed in the recipe. Let cool slightly before transferring to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the fridge until ready to use. It will turn cloudy in the fridge but it won't affect the flavor.
- To cold brew, add the tea bags to a pitcher of water (can be cold or room temperature) and let sit in the fridge overnight. Strain and store in the fridge until ready to use. Cold-brewed tea will be sweeter, less bitter, and less caffeinated.
📖 Recipe FAQs
To achieve the right chewy texture, boba needs to be cooked perfectly. If it's undercooked, it'll have a hard center. If it's overcooked, it'll be too slimy and can even disintegrate. Cook the boba perfectly and you'll have a soft and smooth exterior with a bouncy, chewy center. This is also why I do not recommend quick-cooking boba as they can harden very quickly compared to the traditional boba.
The tapioca pearls are made from water, tapioca starch from the cassava root, and black sugar. The black sugar gives it the dark color and caramel flavor.
The tapioca pearls themselves are quite bland. Their main ingredient is tapioca starch, which provides more texture than flavor. Bathing the pearls in a syrup bath will give them their signature flavor and sweetness.
As for the drinks, it really depends on what you're making! This classic milk tea is creamy and sweet with a distinct tea flavor. Delicious and refreshing!
When you go to a boba shop, the drinks are usually very heavy with sugar. Some places still use processed milk powder and fruit syrups. So not exactly what you'd call "healthy".
If you make it at home, it'll definitely be healthier. You can control how much sweetener and milk you'd like. Still, I wouldn't describe bubble tea as a particularly healthy drink - but they're a fun treat to enjoy in moderation!
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Classic Milk Tea
Honey Boba in Syrup
- Pour 2½ cups water into a small pot, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Pour in the boba and stir for 1 minute. Bring the heat down so it's at a rolling simmer, cover, and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Make sure the boba is fully submerged in water the whole time, adding more if needed.
- Take the pot off the heat and let rest for 30 minutes without peeking. Then strain the boba and rinse briefly with cold water.
- While the boba is cooking, add the tea bags to the 2¼ cups hot water. Let steep for 4-5 minutes, depending on how strong you'd like your tea to be. Discard the bags and let cool completely.
- To another small pot, add ½ cup water, white sugar, brown sugar, and honey. Warm over medium heat, stirring constantly, until slightly reduced and dissolved, about 5-7 minutes. Add the strained warm boba to the syrup and let sit for 30 minutes.
- To assemble your milk teas, prepare two tall glasses. Divide the boba, tea, and half and half between the two glasses. Add as much honey syrup as preferred and top with ice.For one glass, my preferred ratios are: ¼ cup boba (70g) with a little syrup included, 1 cup (240mL) black tea, ⅓ cup (80mL) half and half, and 3-4 tablespoon syrup.
- Tapioca pearls: Look for vacuum-sealed bags at Asian supermarkets. Avoid "quick cook", "instant", or "5 minute" pearls. They have a hardening quality in the starch that prevents them from getting perfectly chewy.
- It's important to brew teas at their indicated temperature. Brewing tea in water that is too hot can result in a bitter tea, while water that is too cool will result in a weak flavorless tea. 200-212°F water is generally best for black tea, but follow the instructions included with your tea.
- Brew a stronger-than-usual tea. The black tea will become diluted from the milk, syrup, and ice. Plus, it's easier to adjust a strong milk tea rather than fix a bland milk tea.
- Make sure you have a proper boba straw! I like these reusable straws from Amazon.
👩🏻🍳 Products I Used
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