Learning how to make bubble tea at home is a great way to save money. Learn how to cook and freeze boba, and make homemade bubble tea.
Almost everyone in my family loves bubble tea. My daughter requests it at least once a week, and with 2 boba shops within easy walking distance, it'easy for us to stop in at our favorite shop whenever we want. However, with each drink coming in at $6-7, it adds up extremely quickly.
I tried some DIY bubble tea kits from Costco, and those definitely worked out to be cheaper, but when one kit I tried included only frozen packets of tapioca and straws, I figured I could easily make something similar myself.
Where do you buy tapioca for bubble tea?
I find large bags of tapioca every time I go to T&T, often available in both black and white (clear). Sometimes H-Mart has it too, but it doesn't seem to be as cost-effective or readily available as it is at T&T.
If you have any other Asian market near where you live, check there. If they don't have it, or if you don't live near a well-stocked Asian market, buying it online is probably your best bet.
How to cook tapioca for bubble tea:
Cooking tapioca to make homemade bubble tea is generally a long process. Though quick-cooking tapioca is available, most types that I have purchased need to be boiled and/or soaked in hot water for approximately an hour. If your bag of tapioca is large (mine was 1Kg), make sure you have a large stock pot on hand to boil it all at once.
The most important thing to note when you are cooking your tapioca is to avoid submerging it in cold water. You need to add the tapioca to water that is already boiling, or it will dissolve. I made this mistake once, and will never make it again.
After the tapioca is completely cooked, it needs to be strained in a colander or large wire mesh strainer, and rinsed with cold water. Then the tapioca is sweetened to taste (I recommend ½ to 1 cup of sugar per large bag of tapioca) with granulated or black sugar.
How to freeze (and thaw) tapioca for bubble tea:
Learning that I could freeze tapioca to make homemade bubble tea was a game-changer for me. Before, I would cook up a large batch of tapioca, and either be forced to use it all up very quickly (tapioca doesn't refrigerate well - it gets hard) or waste a lot of it.
Then I tried those frozen bubble tea packages and realized I could do the same thing at home.
Figuring out how to individually portion the tapioca for freezing, so I could make just one bubble tea at a time took some thinking. I knew I wanted to do it in a waste-free way (so no disposable zipper bags), and I didn't want to have to buy any specialized kitchen gear.
I looked through my kitchen cabinets and realized that the silicone muffin cups that I use only occasionally would be just the right size. It was a bonus that one batch of cooked tapioca just happened to exactly fill my 24-muffin set.
I put the silicone liners in my muffin pans to hold them steady (you will need two full-sized muffin pans and 24 silicone muffin cups for a 1Kg bag of tapioca), fill each cup with tapioca, and put the muffin pans into the freezer overnight.
The next day, I remove the silicone cups containing the frozen tapioca from the muffin pan and put them into large freezer bags where I store them until I want to make my own homemade bubble tea.
To thaw the tapioca, simply put the silicone cup in the microwave (or peel the silicone liner off and put the tapioca puck into a small microwave-safe bowl), and microwave on high for about 45 seconds. From there, you can use that now-warm tapioca to make a fresh, homemade bubble tea.
How to Make Bubble Tea at Home:
Ok, so now you've got cooked tapioca. What else do you need to add to make refreshing, homemade bubble tea?
Just like when you order at your favorite local boba shop, you have a lot of options when it comes to making bubble tea at home.
One option is to simply add your favorite tea. Black tea and green tea are both great options. For the best flavor, brew your tea strong as it will be diluted by the ice if you like your bubble tea cold. If you want, you can add more sugar to sweeten it, or use simple syrup for easier dissolving.
You can also make homemade flavored simple syrup by adding a handful of fresh or frozen fruit (berries or mango are great options for bubble tea) or mint leaves before you heat the syrup, and let it steep for several minutes before straining it out.
There are also lots of store-bought flavored syrups available. My daughter chose a passionfruit one at our local market, and it is excellent in bubble tea.
You can also make a milk tea drink by adding your favorite dairy or non-dairy milk to your tea of choice. For a stronger tea flavor, use a higher-fat milk or cream, and just use a little bit of it to avoid watering down the tea too much.
Another option is to simply use a powdered bubble tea mix. This is a good option if you want flavors that are hard (or impossible) to recreate at home, like taro.
How do you make simple syrup?
Making your own simple syrup is easy and economical! Simply mix equal parts sugar and water (eg. 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water) together in a small saucepan or large glass measuring cup. Heat on the stove (if using a saucepan) or in the microwave until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Pour the simple syrup into a jar or bottle and store it in the fridge.
You can also make flavored simple syrup by adding a handful of chopped fruit or herbs (mint or lavender are lovely) to the simple syrup before heating, and let it steep in the syrup before straining it out.
Want more non-alcoholic drink recipes?
Homemade Bubble Tea Nutrition Notes:
Note that I intentionally did not include nutrition information for homemade bubble tea. I wanted this recipe to be like a "choose your own adventure" type of recipe to allow freedom to make your bubble tea how you like it. Because of this, calculating nutrition information was not practical.
Note that homemade bubble tea will provide carbohydrates no matter how you make it, due to the tapioca. However, you can cut back on added sugar by making it less (or not at all) sweet.
Making bubble tea at home also gives you the freedom to make it according to your diet preferences. Skip the milk, or use dairy-free milk to make your bubble tea dairy-free and/or vegan. Tapioca is gluten-free, as are all other possible bubble tea ingredients that I can think of.
How to Make Bubble Tea at Home
- Large Stock Pot
- Wire Mesh Strainer or colander
- Large Spoon
- Silicone Muffin Cups (if freezing tapioca)
- 2 Muffin Pans (if freezing tapioca)
- water tap water is fine
- dry tapioca pearls
- brown sugar or granulated sugar
- cooked tapioca (boba)
- tea (optional) choose your favorite black, green, or white tea
- flavored or plain simple syrup (optional)
- dairy or dairy-free milk or powdered bubble tea mix (optional)
To Cook the Tapioca
- Fill a large stockpot mostly full with water. Note that most tapioca cooking instructions recommend using a ratio of 10:1 water to tapioca. Determine how much water you need (and how big your pot should be) based on how large your package of tapioca is. (Example, if you were planning to cook 1 cup of dry tapioca, you would need 10 cups of water. Assume that the volume of tapioca will double after cookng).
- Bring the water to a boil, then add the tapioca to the pot and stir. Note that it is very important that the water is boiling before adding the tapioca, as the tapioca will dissolve in cold water. Reduce the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook the tapioca, stirring every 5 minutes for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level, and add more water if the water level decreases significantly.
- Turn off the heat, and allow the tapioca to sit in the hot water for another 30 minutes. Strain the tapioca, and rinse with cool water.
- Transfer the tapioca back to the pot, or into a large bowl. Add sugar to taste (Note: the directions on my tapioca recommended adding sugar in a 4:1 tapioca to sugar ratio, but I used much less than this). I suggest adding ½ to 1 cup of sugar for a large (1Kg) bag of tapioca. Start with a smaller amount, then stir it in to dissolve. If you want it sweeter, add more.
- Use the tapioca to make bubble tea as soon as possible, or freeze in individual portions (see below).
Making Bubble Tea
- Add about ¼ to ½ cup of the cooked tapioca to a large glass. Fill the glass mostly full with ice for a chilled bubble tea. Pour the tea of your choice (note that strong brewed tea provides the best flavor as it will be diluted with the ice) and milk or non-dairy milk or cream substitute (if desired) over the ice.
To Freeze the Tapioca
- If you cook a large portion of tapioca, you may want to freeze it in individual portions to use later. Line each cup in 2 muffin pans with a silicone muffin liner (you will need 24 silicone muffin liners for a 1Kg bag of tapioca).
- Using a ladle, fill each silicone muffin liner with tapioca. Carefully put the muffin pans into a freezer and freeze completely overnight.
- Once the tapioca is completely frozen, transfer the silicone cups into large freezer bags and put the bags back into the freezer.
To Thaw Frozen Tapioca
- Remove a portion of the tapioca from the freezer bag and peel off the silicone liner. Place the frozen tapioca puck into a small, microwave-safe bowl. Alternatively, you can thaw the tapioca right in the silicone muffin cup, but you you might want to put in on the plate to avoid overflow. Heat on high for about 45 seconds until the tapioca is completely warmed through.
- Transfer the re-heated tapioca to a large glass, and follow the instructions on Making Bubble Tea, above.