When life gives you a boba shortage, kick it in the balls! These are the words of encouragement my husband told me as I was trying to perfect my homemade tapioca boba recipes haha. All you need is 3 simple ingredients: water, brown sugar, and tapioca starch! Enjoy it with the best Strawberry Matcha Latte or Vietnamese Avocado Smoothie & it's heaven!
Okay, so I won’t lie… making homemade boba from scratch is time consuming. I kind of think of it like making dumplings though. It’s not hard, it’s just a time investment. BUT it could be something fun to do with friends and family together or while catching up on your favorite Netflix show. You can make a bunch and pop it in the freeze for moments you’re craving that addictively chewy goodness!
Tapioca starch, also known as tapioca flour, is the key ingredient. This specific type of flour gives boba the signature chewy texture they’re known for and there is no substitute. Luckily, tapioca starch can be easily found at most Asian markets!
Pro-Tips for the Perfectly Chewy Tapioca Boba Recipe
- Don’t Overheat or Overcook the Dough: Overheating or overcooking will lead to tapioca pearls that won’t hold its shape. It will lose that beloved chewy texture. Combine the water, sugar, and half of the tapioca starch until smooth before bringing it to the stove.
- Cook Until You Have a Sticky Paste: As soon as the tapioca, water, sugar mixture starts to thicken into a sticky paste, turn off the stove and add the rest of tapioca starch. Not all of the tapioca starch will be mixed in & that’s okay. Don’t try to force all of the tapioca flour to mix in while the heat is still on. This will overcook the dough and it won’t be very elastic. You’ll have a much harder time rolling it out; not to mention the boba will be soft on the outside and hard in the center.
- Work Quickly with the Dough: Moving quickly while the dough is still warm is CRUCIAL. Once the dough cools, it’s much more difficult to roll out and manage.
- Take Into Account Boba Expanding: One of the great things learning how to make boba from scratch is that you can make them however big or small you like! The dough expands slightly when it’s cooked though, so keep that in mind. You’ll want to make sure it’ll still fit in your straw after it’s cooked… Otherwise, sadness.
- Let Boba Rest in Brown Sugar Syrup: When researching how to cook tapioca pearls, I noticed a lot of recipes call for them to steep in the hot water after it’s boiled. I did quite a few tests. Leaving the pearls in water definitely made it bland compared to resting it in brown sugar syrup. If you want a more flavorful boba (who doesn’t?!), I highly suggest not skipping this step.
- Either Freeze or Enjoy the Boba Immediately: If you’ve ever had milk tea with tapioca pearls that sat around for a while, you’ll know it’s a drastically different texture. The boba absorbs flavor at first, then disintegrates over time. So, enjoy the boba fresh or freeze for later!
Making Brown Sugar Milk Tea
Brown sugar milk tea has been all the craze in boba tea shops and I’m here for it! To get that mesmerizing “tiger pattern” in your drink, make a simple brown sugar syrup. This process will make your house smell like your favorite dessert shop!
Run the syrup along the inside of your glass. Then, layer on your fresh homemade boba, favorite tea, and top with a splash of milk. *chef’s kiss*
Whether you’re searching for tapioca boba recipes to add to your brown sugar milk tea, smoothie, or any other favorite drink, these balls will add an addictively chewy element that’ll have you coming back for more.
Let me know in the comments what you decide to mix your tapioca pearls with!
Let's Get Cooking!
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How to Make Homemade Boba Pearls (Tapioca Pearls)
For Brown Sugar Boba
- ½ cup muscavado dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons water
For Milk Tea
- 2 cups water
- 4 tea bags*
- 6 tablespoons milk dairy or non-dairy
Make the Dough
- Before turning on the stove, mix together the water, brown sugar, and half of the tapioca starch in a medium-sized pot. Make sure it’s smooth with no lumps before bringing it to the stove.
- Heat on medium-low, continuously stirring and watching carefully. Cook until it just starts to thicken into a sticky paste - Do not overcook. If the tapioca mixture forms a dry ball, it’s overcooked and it’ll be difficult to roll out.
- Turn off heat, add the rest of the tapioca starch, and mix. Not all of the tapioca starch will mix in well, but that’s okay!
- Roll out the dough onto a clean dry surface. The dough will be very warm. Quickly knead the dough until it’s smooth and one consistent color, about 7 minutes. Be quick when working with the dough because it becomes hard to manage when it’s cooled down.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each section into long ropes. Cut them into small pieces, depending on how big you want your boba to be. Keep in mind they'll slightly expand once they’re cooked and will need to fit in your straw.
- Roll them into small balls then dust them in tapioca starch to prevent them from sticking. At this point, you can place them into the freezer for up to 3 months.
Cook the Boba
- In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. There should be enough to cover the boba by a few inches of water. Once the water is at a rolling boil, carefully add in the boba and stir to prevent them from sticking. Boil for 15 minutes with the lid on.
- Meanwhile, prepare the brown sugar mixture. In a small pan, add the brown sugar, salt, and water then heat on medium. Cook until it's turned into a thick syrup, about 5 minutes. Transfer the syrup to a heat-proof bowl. If you’re making brown sugar milk tea, reserve 4 tablespoons to drizzle onto the cup rims.
- Drain the boba then dunk them into an ice water bath for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Drain them again, pour the boba into the brown sugar syrup, and allow them to soak for 30 minutes.
Make the Brown Sugar Milk Tea
- In a medium pot, bring to boil, then steep tea bags. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.
- Prepare glass cups by swirling reserved brown sugar syrup on the sides of the glass, creating tiger stripes. Add boba to the bottom of the cup.
- Divide the tea into two cups and 3 tablespoons of milk to each. If you like your milk tea creamier, you can add more. Add ice, if desired, then serve with a wide-mouth straw and enjoy!
- Tapioca Starch: Essential for boba, find it easily on Amazon or at Asian markets.
- Mascavado Dark Brown Sugar: Use for a deep color. Lighter sugars work too but result in lighter pearls.
- Tea Bags: Black tea is common, but feel free to use your favorite tea or drink.
- Don't Overcook Dough: Turn off heat when mixture thickens, add rest of starch. Soft, elastic dough is good; dry or cracked is overcooked.
- Account for Expansion: Cooked boba expands slightly, so keep this in mind so they fit in your straw.
- Freezing and Storing: Cook only what you need. Freeze uncooked pearls in airtight containers for up to 6 months. Cook from frozen in boiling water, no need to thaw.
Exact calculations may vary. For the most accurate nutritional information, use your preferred nutrition calculator, actual ingredients, and quantities used for the recipe. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian if more precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.