By Angela Denstad Stigeler
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble here, but long before the Starbuck’s “Secret Menu” of elusive Unicorn Frappuccinos and other icy drink concoctions, there was another café curiosity that took the world by storm: Bubble Tea. Dating back to an ‘80s craze, Bubble Tea, or Pearl Milk Tea as it was sometimes known, was invented in Taiwan and originally consisted of iced tea with sweetened condensed milk and a healthy dose of large black tapioca pearls. Viewed through the sides of a glass, they look like large bubbles or other spherical gems dredged up from the depths.
Now the term Bubble Tea is used to describe any number of drinks with tapioca, sometimes fruit based and without any tea at all. The black tapioca pearls are rarely found outside of specialty stores, but most Asian grocery isles will have large white tapioca which you can cook up in advance and store in simple syrup. It’s a satisfying summer sipper and snack all in one. So if you need a little break, or need a celebration-worthy beverage suitable for all ages, break out the bubbly–the Bubble Tea, that is, and toast to the start of another sweet summer!
Bubble Tea, a.k.a. Pearl Milk Tea
1 cup large tapioca pearls
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons loose black or green tea leaves, or 4 tea bags
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk, plus more to taste
Fill a large saucepan at least halfway with water and bring to a full rolling boil. Slowly add the tapioca pearls to the fully boiling water. If the water isn’t hot enough, the tapioca will dissolve. Cover and cook over medium heat until the tapioca is soft and mostly translucent with just a little bit of opaqueness in the center, up to an hour, making sure there’s plenty of water and stirring occasionally to prevent the tapioca from sticking to the bottom. Taste it now and again to determine the right texture. It should be like gummy candy with a slightly crunchy center.
Meanwhile, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup boiling water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Place in a jar that will be big enough to hold the tapioca; set aside to cool. Once the tapioca is cooked, drain it and put it into the sugar syrup.
In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a full rolling boil. Add the tea and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain the tea into a container.
When ready to serve, spoon some tapioca into the bottom of a large glass, add some ice and a tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk, adjusting the amount to taste. Fill the glass with cooled tea and stir to combine. Slurp through an extra-wide straw, chewing the tapioca whenever it comes up.