Updated: Apr 27
How many times do you drink bubble tea in a month? According to GrabFood, Southeast Asians drink 4 cups of bubble tea per person per month. In the United States, it varies, however, it's mostly popular with university students where on average they drink 3 cups a month. WOW!
In my case once or twice a month would be more accurate. The last time I got one, I paid $7. Yes, more expensive than my cup of coffee but it’s so good, I can't resist.
Which brings me to the question, if it can be expensive, then have you ever thought of making them from scratch? Tell me what is on your mind, is it...
A) “Oooooh! I'd love to!”
B) “Eh! That’s too much work!”
Well if you answer “B”, you are probably right! but from my experience, it is so easy to make and a lot more delicious too! Anything homemade is yum. I’d say cleaning is more of a challenge than the actual recipe, which is true when you are cooking at home in any type of recipe.
But if you are up for the challenge and answered “A”, lucky you, we are sharing our homemade tapioca pearls recipe!
But first, what are tapioca pearls?
Did you recognize this root vegetable? It’s called CASSAVA! Also known as Yuca in South America. This is what your pearls are made out of. They turn this into a starch known as Tapioca Starch which can be used in a lot of desserts like my favorite, cassava cake from the Philippines.
But for some reason, in other parts of Asia, it’s more commonly used in making tapioca pearls. Learn more about the History of Bubble Tea here.
Fresh tapioca pearls are made out of simple ingredients, tapioca starch, brown sugar, and water. They were made fresh for the most part in the past but because of high demand, they started making them pre-made using machines and turned it into the perfect tapioca balls. These are mostly used for bubble tea although some desserts like pudding, add these pearls too!
Now, we know that the bubble tea craze is real but would you believe it if I tell you that the market size of bubble tea was valued at $2.4 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $4.3 billion by the end of 2027? WOW! Well, at least from my observation in downtown, New York City, I can say there is literally a boba shop every 2 blocks. What's crazy about it is there is a bubble tea flavor in every season so it's in demand all year.
Here is a quick recipe that we’d like to share from our in-person bubble tea-making class event where we made homemade tapioca pearls! Simple ingredients and patience can turn into something really good.
First, let’s start making brown sugar syrup. You can use this recipe to make thick brown sugar.
What you need:
1 cup of warm water
2 cups of brown sugar
1 tsp of molasses, optional
In medium heat, simmer for 20 minutes until it thickens.
Stir occasionally to avoid sticking from the pan
It’s best to use a non-stick pan
You are probably wondering why add molasses? For me, it gives that burnt taste which is a good balance when you are drinking something sweet. But if you don’t have it, you can also skip it.
Check out our brown sugar syrup from our shop with molasses, click here. It's so good! 8 oz can go quickly!
Tapioca pearls are typically black, but that is because they use food coloring. You can use this recipe and add any food coloring like this one in orange. I’ve seen people make tapioca pearls in different shapes, some are even rainbow colors.
Homemade Tapioca Pearls
What you need:
⅓ cup water
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup of tapioca starch
In a pot, medium heat, add water and sugar until it boils
Add ½ cup of tapioca starch
Mix until sticky and dough looking
Remove from heat
Add another quarter of a cup and mix
Sprinkle about an ⅛ of a cup and mix well
Remove tapioca dough from the pan and knead (might be a bit hot!)
Make a log and roll to small pieces tossing it to the remaining starch if it’s sticking to your hand
This recipe can make 300 pearls (insert patience when rolling it!)
TIPS FROM THE EXPERT
Before cooking the pearls, let them rest in the fridge for 10 minutes. Make sure you wrap the dough with plastic wrap as it gets dry quickly!
You can also freeze the dough if you like to roll it next time. Remember, store it air-tight to avoid drying.
It doesn’t have to be the perfect ball! You can make it even into different shapes, perhaps heart or square?
Here is a quick comparison of premade and fresh tapioca pearls, see the difference? The lighter tapioca balls are freshly made!
It’s no secret that premade pearls are made out of a lot of preservatives, ESPECIALLY the ones that are quick cook, 5-minute tapioca pearls. I recommend avoiding this but instead opt-in for something that requires longer cooking time. This translates to fewer preservatives, or just make fresh homemade tapioca pearls with this recipe that we just shared above.
If you really feel making it homemade is not for you, and the process is time-consuming, get your pre-made tapioca pearls here.
Now it’s time to make the tapioca pearls that you worked hard to make! Remember, you do not have to make all of them. You can keep the rest in the freezer, make sure it’s airtight. This recipe can be good for 3-4 milk tea servings.
Cooking Homemade Tapioca Pearls
Boil 8-10 cups of water in a deep pot
Once it’s boiling add pearls and stir for 15 seconds
Turn the heat into medium and cook for 20 minutes, uncovered
Try the pearls after 20 minutes and check if you like the texture
If you like it softer, turn off the heat and let it steep for another 5 minutes or until you reach desired texture.
Strain the water and let it run in cold water for 2 minutes
Transfer to the bowl and add brown sugar syrup
TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS:
If it turns out to be sticky, run it more with cold water. This is normal as it is made out of starch. Add more brown sugar if desired.
STORAGE: Do not store cooked tapioca pearls in the fridge. Imagine gummy worms stored in the fridge, it will be really hard. But instead, store in the freezer in an airtight container, and for next use, boil for 2 minutes.
It’s that easy! It’s completely normal for it to be clear and lighter in color if you don’t use any food coloring. It will also not look like the perfect round shape, it’s homemade and not made in a factory. It will be hard to compete with machines making thousands of pearls per minute (wink*)
Now you can start making your own bubble tea! JUST PLEASE do not be this person. I mean pizza and tapioca pearls. This is wild and very offensive to my Italian friends.
Going back to bubble tea, while there are a lot of recipes online, we recommend checking our DIY bubble tea kit from Food Craft. It’s easy to make with step-by-step instructions. The biggest plus is that you get to have variety. We all know that shopping online means you have to get all types of ingredients in bulk, yes big bags and not sure about you but I personally don’t have a lot of storage space. Also, I like how I can try the taste and product first before going all in. That happened to me when I tried this blueberry coffee which for some reason, I did not like and ended up wasting it, YIKES! Well, I gave it to someone else’.
In this kit at least you can have a sampler. i love the Assorted Bubble Tea Kit, see here. The Jasmine Milk Tea is my ultimate favorite. Ten flavors in one bubble tea kit, amazing!