Brown Sugar Milk

brown sugar milk in a glass with a metal straw

The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu

  • Total: 16 mins
  • Prep: 1 mins
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Assembly Time: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 drink

It doesn't matter if you call it boba or bubble tea, we can all agree that the combination of sweetened milk tea with chewy tapioca pearls is delightfully refreshing. Many variations of the Taiwanese drink exist, from creamy versions like coconut and taro to fruit-forward ones infused with passionfruit or peach. This brown sugar milk is another popular treat, though it comes with a twist—there's no actual tea!

True to its name, it's a blend of milk, bubbles, plus a boiled brown sugar syrup that's extremely easy to make at home—just combine two parts dark brown sugar with one part water and boil until it thickens. While you can simply stir the cooled syrup together with milk to create the drink, the fun of bubble tea is shaking everything up until it's nice and frothy. To do so at home, just break out a tool from your drink-making arsenal—the cocktail shaker—and put in a little arm work.


  • 1 package dried tapioca pearls
  • For the Brown Sugar Syrup:
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • For the Drink:
  • 1/4 cup cooked tapioca pearls
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar syrup, plus more for the glass
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup ice

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Cook the tapioca pearls according to the package instructions.

    uncooked and cooked tapioca pearls for bubble tea in bowls
    The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu

Make the Brown Sugar Syrup

  1. As the pearls cook, prepare the syrup. In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar and water over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let it bubble until the mixture has thickened slightly, around 5 minutes. It will continue to thicken as it cools.

  2. Transfer the syrup to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Assemble the Drink

  1. Pour half of the brown sugar syrup into a squeeze bottle and use it to line the sides of a milkshake glass with "stripes."

    adding brown sugar syrup to a glass
    The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu
  2. Spoon in the cooked tapioca pearls.

    cooked tapioca pearls in a glass next to a bottle of brown sugar syrup
    The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu
  3. In a cocktail shaker, combine the milk and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar syrup (you can add more or less depending on your preference). Add the ice and shake well.

    cocktail shaker being shaken
    The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu
  4. Strain the chilled brown sugar milk into the syrup-lined glass.

  5. Serve with a bubble tea or smoothie straw and enjoy!

    brown sugar milk in a glass next to a brown sugar syrup in a bottle
    The Spruce Eats / Jerry Leu


  • Tapioca pearls are available at most Chinese supermarkets and also online. They come as dehydrated marble-sized "bubbles" that will soften when boiled. Once cooked, the pearls should be bouncy with a slight chew, a texture that's affectionately known as "QQ" in Taiwan. One package will make enough bubbles for several drinks and should be used within a few hours of cooking since they will harden if kept out for too long.
  • The brown sugar syrup can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge overnight.

Recipe Variation

  • While the classic version of brown sugar milk doesn't have any tea, many shops include it and you can do so at home by mixing your favorite homemade milk tea with the syrup.

Recipe Tags: