Bubble Milk Tea

Bubble tea in a glass with straw

​The Spruce / Cara Cormack

  • Total: 70 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Serving: 1 serving

Bubble tea is a popular drink invented in Taiwan in the 1980s. Called zhen zhu nai cha in Mandarin—which literally translates to pearl milk tea—the beverage gets its name from the chewy tapioca, or bubbles (boba if you're from the West Coast), that get mixed in.

If you love going out for bubble tea, you can use this easy recipe to make a batch of your own at home. It'll not only save you money but going the DIY route will also allow you to flavor the tea to your liking. A classic version calls for black tea, milk, syrup, and tapioca, but you can reduce the amount of sugar or use soy or almond milk in place of regular dairy.


  • For the Syrup:
  • 3 parts water
  • 2 parts white sugar
  • 1 part brown sugar
  • For the Tapioca Pearls:
  • 4 parts water (or more)
  • 1 part tapioca pearls
  • For the Tea:
  • 3 ounces tapioca pearls (from recipe below)
  • 1 cup brewed tea (cooled)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 ice cubes

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this bubble tea is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Sugar Syrup

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for syrup
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  2. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the sugars.

    Water and sugar brought to a boil in a pot.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar crystals are dissolved. Remove from heat.

    Wooden spoon in saucepan with boiled liquid.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Make the Tapioca Pearls

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for tapioca pearls
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  2. Boil the water in a large pot. Add the pearls and boil for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the pearls are not sticking to each other or to the pot.

    Tapioca pearls in a pot with a wooden spoon.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  3. Turn off the heat and let the pearls steep in the water for another 30 minutes with the lid on.

    Lid covering saucepan.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  4. Drain the tapioca pearls and rinse with cold water to cool them down.

    Pearls draining in a colander
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  5. Place them in the sugar syrup. Make sure that the pearls are covered and stir the pearls well.

    Pearls placed in saucepan with wooden spoon.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Make the Bubble Tea

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for bubble tea
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  2. Place 3 ounces of tapioca pearls in a large glass.

    Tapioca pearls placed in a glass.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  3. In a cocktail shaker, combine the tea, milk, and ice cubes. Shake well.

    Cocktail shaker with tea, ice, and milk.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  4. Pour the shaken mixture into the glass over the tapioca pearls.

    Person pouring liquid into a glass with tapioca pearls.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  5. Serve with a thick straw.

    Bubble tea in glass with a straw.
    ​The Spruce / Cara Cormack


  • Tapioca pearls are the key ingredient in bubble tea. The pearls are small balls of tapioca starch that develop a wonderfully gummy and chewy texture when cooked. The balls expand considerably during the boiling process, so make sure you use a large pot. As a general rule, the more pearls cooked, the more water should be used.
  • Feel free to experiment with the ratio of white sugar to brown sugar and the ratio of the sugar to water.
  • Popular alternatives for black milk tea that are often offered in bubble tea shops include green tea sweetened with honey or fruit syrups, but you can substitute with any variety of tea.
  • Other potential add-ins include pudding, nata de coco, and aloe.
  • You can also process the drink in a blender instead of mixing in a cocktail shaker, but that's not nearly as much fun!​

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