Bubble milk tea (珍珠奶茶, zhen zhu nai cha) is one of my favorite comfort drinks. I still remember how excited I was when the first branch of the afternoon tea chain RBT, from Hong Kong, opened in Beijing. I was in middle school back then, and the best drink I had had at that point was instant coffee mixed with hot milk. Back then, there were far fewer restaurant options in Beijing, and even fewer dessert and coffee places. For me, this rich and milky drink was so delightful and I loved to chew the sweet little tapioca pearls. I went to RBT to enjoy this tea almost every week and still love it to this day.
My mom and I have been trying out all kinds of ways to make bubble milk tea at home for several years. After experimenting with different types of tea, milk, powdered milk and cream, we finally found the best combination. Plus, we chose the healthiest ingredients for the drink, using honey to replace sugar and milk to replace cream. Now, I’m gonna share this secret with all of you!
How to Create the Best Bubble Milk Tea
You need black tea powder to get the best texture and flavor. I know it sounds cheesy, but the most important thing to creating a good milk tea is to brew a very strong tea with a limited amount of water, so that the drink will have a rich, silky and thick texture after adding milk. I tried to make it with high quality black tea leaves, but doing so resulted in a thin and plain drink. Nowadays, I mainly use high quality blended black tea powder from Sri Lanka. It’s very cheap compared to black tea leaves and it has yielded the best results so far.
The next thing you need is a fine strainer. Because the tea powder is so tiny, so you need a very fine strainer, like the one you use for making greek yogurt. You can replace it with a coffee filter, but it will take longer to strain the tea.
The last thing you need is black tapioca pearls – dried tapioca balls about the size of chickpeas. The dried ones have a faded brown color and rubbery texture, but after boiling, they will become soft, chewy, and black. You’ll need to add sugar to marinate the pearls, since they’re flavorless by themselves. If you don’t have tapioca pearls, simply skip them. Milk tea without pearls is still very hearty and delicious.
For the measurements in this recipe, you can slightly adjust the amount of milk and pearls according to your palate. Generally, the ratio of tea to milk is 3:2 or 4:3. But if you are not sure about the flavor of the tea you’re using, add milk slowly and mix well. The finished drink should have a light caramel color.
Bubble milk has been my weekend afternoon routine for years and I feel so happy whenever I drink it. What’s your favorite drink for a relaxing afternoon tea?
- 80 grams (2.7 ounces) black tapioca pearls
- 20 grams (0.7 ounces) black tea powder
- 1 tablespoon white / red sugar
- 400 milliliters (14 ounces) milk
- 2 tablespoons honey or to taste
- (option) 1 cup ice cubes
- Add 800 milliliters (27 ounces) water to a small pot and bring to a boil. Add tapioca pearls and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. Drain tapioca and transfer to a small bowl. Add cold water to cover and allow to cool for 1 minute. Drain tapioca again and transfer back to small bowl. Add sugar and mix well with a small spoon. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Ten minutes before tapioca is ready, add 600 milliliters (20 ounces) water to a small pot and bring to a boil. Add black tea and simmer uncovered over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Stop heat and let the tea steep, covered, for another 5 minutes. Strain tea with a very fine colander or coffee filter.
- (Option 1) For a hot drink - heat milk in microwave until warm. In each cup, add a large spoonful of tapioca pearls, black tea and milk (ratio 1:1 or to taste). Add 1/2 tablespoon honey. Stir well and serve immediately.
- (Option 2) For a cold drink, mix chilled milk with black tea. Add a large spoonful of tapioca pearls to a large cup. Add milk tea, ice cubes and honey to taste and stir well. Serve immediately.