Bubble Milk Tea (珍珠奶茶)

Bubble milk tea - Ingredients | Omnivore's Cookbook

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.

Bubble milk tea - Ingredients | Omnivore's Cookbook

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! 🙂

Bubble milk tea - Ingredients | Omnivore's Cookbook

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.

Bubble milk tea - Ingredients | Omnivore's CookbookThe 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 tea - Ingredients | Omnivore's Cookbook

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?

5.0 from 1 reviews
Bubble Milk Tea
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Drinks
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 2 - 4
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Bubble milk tea - cooking process | Omnivore's Cookbook Bubble milk tea - cooking process | Omnivore's Cookbook
  4. (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.
  5. (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.

Bubble milk tea - Nutrition Facts | Omnivore's Cookbook


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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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15 thoughts on “Bubble Milk Tea (珍珠奶茶)

  1. Angie

    Where do you purchase black tea powder? Is this something I can get at the Asian/Chinese market? And what brand do you get?

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Angie, thanks for stopping by! 🙂
      I live in China and I can easily get it from online store. Those stores import bulk amount of tea powder from Sri Lanka and sell them in plastic bags without a brand, so I’m afraid I don’t have a brand name.
      I just checked Wikipedia and found out the black tea powder also called fannings or dust. I also checked on Amazon, and the closest thing I can find is Kenya Black Loose Tea Pekoe Dust, but the price is quite high.
      I think you could check Asian market especially for Sri Lanka or Indian ones. Just be careful, if it’s labelled as chai, there’ll be mixed spices blended in the tea, not the pure black tea in this recipe. I don’t think you could find it at a Chinese market.
      I didn’t realize the tea powder is difficult to get outside of China, and hopefully the information here could be helpful.

      1. Thomas

        I might try a normal loose leaf black tea such as this one or the standard Lipton or PG.

        A coffee grinder or mortar and pestle could then be used to get it into powdered form.

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Lokness, thanks for stopping by and glad you like the milk tea! I really love it and drink it every week. 🙂
      Have a nice weekend! 🙂

  2. stella

    Omg I am so glad I found this, actually I was checking how to make bubble milk tea , or how people call it in China ”zhenzhu naicha”. I live in Shanghai and since that I discovered this drink I can’t stop drinking it. I think is really hard to find the tapioca balls or maybe I don’t know where to get them.Anyway thanks a lot for this recipe!!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Stella, thanks for commenting and yes, bubble tea is the best! I can’t stop drinking it too 🙂
      It’s difficult to find the tapioca balls in supermarket, but you could easily find it in online shop. If you’ve been in China for a while, you must know Taobao? This is the shop I use to get tapioca balls, just for your reference.