In Taiwan in 1988, Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House kicked off the bubble (or boba) tea movement, a huge departure from the tradition of serving tea hot. Over time, boba came to include chewy adds-ons, and there are boba outposts around the world today. Consequently, a cottage industry has sprung up, producing boba ingredients like powdered creamer, tapioca balls made from cassava root, mini squares of various shades, and flavors of jelly. In Japantown, there’s even chocolate versions and cotton candy fluff to tip the decadence scale, and part of boba’s thrill is the pleasure of alternating between chewing and drinking.
That fun factor is tough to ignore. This stuff makes people feel happy and alive, and even a bit like a child. During recent travels around Taiwan, I learned at Chun Shui Tang that while the word boba means “pearl,” it can also mean “boobs” or “big-breasted.”
I had to laugh at the coincidence. I have (big) boobs that cost $132,000, and my bobas were built from my stomach after my “real” breasts were removed due to a cancer diagnosis at a youngish age. So yeah, I’ll take the title of Queen Boba!
Boba seems close to getting all artisanal on us, what with the rise of the Boba Guys, who forgo the artificial creamer (and also add plan on adding booze to their boba drinks as boba shops in Los Angeles do). While I enjoy a boba outing as much as the next queen, at Chun Shui Tang I learned how to make DIY bubble tea. Since I already had a cocktail shaker back at home in S.F., it’s easy to mix up a frothy concoction.
Historically, the first boba drinks were made from strong black tea shaken heartily with simple syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water. Chiang, our youthful instructor at Chun Shui Tang, let us know that it’s key to shake the milk and tea together as rapidly as possible.
Tapioca pearls at Berkeley Bowl, Ranch 99 or similar store stocked with Asian specialties come next. There are five-minute or quick-cooking tapioca pearls, but you’ll potentially sacrifice flavor and texture for convenience. I haven’t used powdered creamer since an older relative visited for Thanksgiving in the early aughts, so I decided to stick with liquid soy or almond milk for my at-home boba party. It’s also OK to play around with which tea to use for your boba. Black, green, white and even herbal tea are completely welcome, since boba is meant to be customized. And if you are into mango puree or other fruity additions, those can also work with some tinkering.
D.I.Y Boba Tea
Simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled then cooled).
One cup cooked boba tapioca pearls (use approximately two tablespoons per drink).
One half-gallon of black, green, or herbal tea at room temperature. (Do not use steaming hot tea.)
Dairy of choice (soy, rice, almond, condensed).
- Put one-quarter cup ice, one-half cup cold tea, and dairy of choice (one tablespoon or more) and simple syrup (to taste) in the shaker. If you don’t want it sweet, skip the syrup.
- Cover the shaker and shake vigorously until condensation appears on the outside, approximately 45 seconds. You are doing the shaking right if your own bobas (chest) are shaking like you’re on a hot, exuberant dance floor.
- Pour drink over a strainer into a cup or glass.
- Add two tablespoons boba pearls, or to taste.
- Use a wide straw to drink (all the better to slurp the boba pearls as discreetly as you wish).