Kung Fu Tea. Vivi Bubble Tea. Boba Guys. These are small bubble tea chains in NYC that have stolen both my heart and my wallet.
For someone that harbored – and still harbors, to a point – issues with food textures, bubble tea has been something that’s grown on me over the past eleven-ish years. I still recall my first time having it: two of my high-school-era friends, Emilie and Colleen, were taking a quick Boston / Maine road trip after I graduated undergrad in the summer of 2006. Meeting up with another high school friend, Claire, we were taken to Boston’s Chinatown. I had never heard of bubble tea until that quick introduction inside of a multi-vendor warehouse. I don’t remember what kind I drank. I just remember my friends drinking it down, impressed by it, while I snacked on sheets of seaweed, which I wasn’t a huge fan of either. The next day, as Emilie, Colleen, and I made it to Portland, Maine, we came across another spot with bubble tea and Mahjong boards. I got another one, intrigued by how cool the concept of bubble tea was, but not really into those chewy tapioca bubbles dancing on the back of my tongue.
Colleen and Emilie at a bubble tea shop in Portland, Maine – August 2006; 2006 doesn’t seem like that long ago, but that’s another story, I suppose… *sigh*
Once I moved to NYC in 2009, it became relatively more common for me to drink bubble tea – like, two or three times a year – but over the past two years, I’ve become a fiend for it. My Upper East Side office is near a Kung Fu Tea location – my co-worker Felesea is an instantly recognizable face there – and there is a Boba Guys location near my therapist’s office; I oft choose to self-medicate with freshly-made matcha, creamy milk and tapioca pearls before spilling my guts for 45 minutes. (Ha!)
As with so many foods I come across, I think, “How can I make this?” Luckily, it’s pretty easy to get most any food product in this grand metropolitan area of ours. A quick search on Google led me to M2M, a well-known Asian convenience store. Their location near Columbia University yielded a big ol’ (read: 9 ounce) bag of dried boba, the outside of the packing excitedly claiming they’d be ready for consumption in just five minutes!
I followed the directions on the bag to a T, and, well, I was pretty damn happy with myself. Yes, I am absolutely tooting my own horn!
I did have to play around with ratios a bit, as I was developing a recipe for one. What I created worked well for me, though I encourage you to experiment if you want more boba in your tea, a stronger tea, a milkier tea, et al.
Needless to say, a $4 9 ounce bag of dried boba will save you a lot of money in the long run, assuming you want to make this regularly. While I don’t see myself making this regularly, the closest good bubble tea spot to where I live in Shiny Tea on 100th and Broadway, so a cool 100-ish blocks south of my apartment. On days I don’t feel like leaving my cozy nook in Inwood but that craving hits, I know I can take matters into my own hands.
(Serves 1; makes a roughly 16 ounce [2 cup] serving of bubble tea)
– 2 & 1/4 cups water (for boiling boba)
– 1/2 cup sugar, preferably Sugar In The Raw
– 1/4 cup black boba tapioca pearls
– 1 & 3/4 cup water (for steeping tea)
– 1-2 tea bags of choice (I used Harney & Sons SoHo Blend for these photos)
– 1 tablespoon dairy or non-dairy milk (optional; I used Malk Organics unsweetened cashew malk)
– Sweetener (optional; see note in Before We Get Started…)
Before We Get Started…
– If we can go back to our 4th grade science class and recall Archimedes’ principle, the addition of the boba will displace some of the water once added to the cup. If putting 2 cups of tea into a 2 cup glass, you bet it’ll spill over! Hence, I steeped the tea in 1 & 3/4 cups of water to allow space for the water to displace due to the addition of boba. (Too scientific? Ha!)
– This will be mentioned in the directions, but the simple syrup that will develop while boiling the boba makes for a great sweetener for the bubble tea!
– Half the fun of drinking bubble tea is having the proper wide straw! Either get one from your favorite bubble tea spot, or look for them, en masse, on Amazon. (<— Not an affiliate link, just a helpful link. Ha!)
1.) Add 2 & 1/4 cups water and sugar to small saucepan and bring to a slow boil, making sure sugar is dissolved. Add black boba tapioca pearls to water and reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Remove top; don’t be alarmed if the boba looks huge! Remove from heat and allow boba to sit in water for an additional 5 minutes. The water should be reduced by about 1/2 cup and will be a simple syrup.
2.) While boba is cooking, bring 1 & 3/4 cup water to a boil in vessel of choice; add tea bag(s) and steep according to tea’s directions. Discard tea bags when finished steeping.
3.) Add boba to a large glass, at least 2 cups. Slowly add steeped tea. Add milk of choice and sweetener and stir to combine, if desired.