Heatwave in Berlin means I crave a big glass of iced bubble tea; Asian stereotypes be damned ;)
Unfortunately, on hot Berlin summer days, lots of Asians and their cousins also end up at the bubble tea shop on Rosenthalerstraße and one spends a ridiculous amount of time queueing and waiting for this drink.
So I started investigating how to make my own milk tea with tapioca pearls. A quick Google search for “how to make tapioca pearls from scratch” yielded loads of results, and I shortlisted the ones I used below:
- An Instructable on “how to make tapioca pearls from scratch”
- A Snapguide on homemade tapioca pearls: great tips on keeping them moist as you’re kneading and shaping them into balls.
- A detailed blog entry on homemade tapioca balls at MyPinventures
- Although I can’t stand the presenter, plus I don’t have a microwave, nor do I use food colouring in my food, there is this YouTube video that’s worth watching. It displays what tricky fuckers tapioca flour can be: you’ll see how too much and too little water immediately changes the dough.
- The ratio of 3 parts tapioca to 1 part liquid seems to be the general consensus, although I have the feeling that a bit more than 1 part liquid was needed.
- A turkey baster or large eyedropper might be a better tool for adding the liquid. In any case I thought it was better to start with a runny paste.
- I used a sauce whisk at the start: a whisk helps get rid of clumps and make a smooth paste. Then, as I added more tapioca flour, I changed to a spoon.
- Use a ceramic or smooth plastic bowl to do all the mixing.
Variation #1: Green bubble tea
To end up with bright green tapioca pearls swimming in pale green tea, add ¼ teaspoon matcha powder to the tapioca flour and whisk well before adding the liquid.
Use green tea powder instead of loose leaf black tea for the milk tea starter. Green tea powder yields a brighter green color and the flavour holds up better to the sweetened condensed milk.
Variation #2: Black tapioca pearls
To get black tapioca pearls, add a pinch of crushed activated charcoal to the tapioca flour. You can get tablets of activated charcoal at your local pharmacy; I always keep some around the house in case of poisoning and to put into detox smoothies.
Simply crush half a tablet with the back of a spoon, and add to the tapioca flour. Whisk well before adding the liquid to the water. The flour might look pale gray, but as soon as the liquid is added, the crushed activated coal will turn the paste completely black.
What you need for basic bubble tea
- 1.5 litres milk tea: I use 1 cup of Oolong or Earl Grey and ½ cup sweet condensed milk
- cooked, homemade tapioca pearls
- crushed ice
Make the milk tea “starter”
I make it extra strong. In a large pot, bring 1.5 litres of water to boil. Add 1 cup of loose leaf tea, whisking for the first 5-10 seconds. Steep for 2-3 minutes.
After the steeping time, remove the tea leaves by straining it with a sieve. While the tea water is still hot, add ½ cup sweet condensed milk and whisk until well-blended. The sweet condensed milk gives the milk tea its sweetness.
Don’t substitute the sweetened condensed milk with unsweetened evaporated milk. Don’t know the difference? TheKitchn explains in their article.
Cool the milk tea and once cooled, refrigerate the tea until you’re ready to use it. If covered and refrigerated, it should be good up to 3 days; though we never really know as we always finish it within a day or two.
Assemble everything together
In a tall glass, add the tapioca pearls to the bottom of the glass and layer with crushed ice. Pour the cold milk tea over until the glass is ¾ full, and stir well. Top up with more tea.