This recipe is designed to strip away many of the gimmicks -- the flavored syrups, the fruit powders, the squares of gelatin -- that have compromised the simple elegance of bubble teas, which were first introduced in Taiwan in the 1980s. This drink emphasizes the flavor of the tea, which should be strongly steeped.
The fresh, caramel-colored tapioca pearls that are required for this tea can be found at the Eden Supermarket in Falls Church. They are also available via Amazon.com and other online shopping sites. The dried white tapioca pearls found at Asian supermarkets will not work for bubble teas.
You'll need wide-mouth straws for serving.
Make Ahead: Tapioca pearls degrade quickly, so they are best consumed within seven hours after cooking.
Servings: 4 - 5
Yield: Makes 1 cup tapioca bubbles (enough for 4 or 5 servings)
- For the bubbles
- 14 cups cool water, plus more as needed
- 1 cup fresh tapioca pearls (see headnote)
- For the tea
- 1 cup cool water, plus 4 to 5 cups just-boiled water
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 8 to 15 single-serving tea bags (flavor of your choice)
- Ice, preferably crushed
- 4 or 5 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
For the bubbles: Bring 7 cups of cool water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the tapioca pearls, stirring immediately to make sure they don’t clump together or stick to the saucepan. After 1 minute, reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 25 minutes, keeping the water boiling gently and stirring every 3 to 4 minutes. (The pearls can turn black after the first 20 minutes or so of cooking.)
Drain the pearls in a fine-mesh sieve, rinsing them under cool water to remove any remaining starch. Discard the cooking water.
Rinse out the saucepan (also to remove starch). Fill with the remaining 7 cups of cool water and return to the stove top over low heat.
Return the rinsed pearls, or bubbles, to the saucepan; cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, so the bubbles become soft, chewy and bouncy on the tongue. Repeat the draining, rinsing and discarding of the cooking water.
For the tea: Meanwhile, heat the 1 cup of cool water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until it completely dissolves to form a light syrup. Remove from the heat.
Add the finished pearls to the brown sugar syrup; steep for at least 10 minutes. They can be held in the syrup for up to 7 hours as you prepare each tea.
To prepare each serving, steep 2 or 3 tea bags in 1 cup of just-boiled water. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of the bubbles to the bottom of each highball or pint glass.
For each serving, fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with ice. Add a tablespoon of the sweetened condensed milk and the steeped tea; seal and shake until cool to the touch. Pour into a glass with bubbles, then fill with ice. Serve right away, with a wide-mouth straw.
Adapted from an original recipe by Diana Shen, a Taiwan native and bubble tea enthusiast.
Tested by Tim Carman.
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