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living dangerously

Recipe: milk tea boba

I did not expect the volume of comments and emails in response to my last post. At some point, I plan to sit down and reply to you when I can carve out a chunk of time and clear some space in my brain. I suppose that is the main issue – time… okay, time and priorities. All of the other gobbledygook just feeds into the priorities (which ultimately translate into time allocation). Hopefully changes, if any, will be implemented behind the red velvet curtain and relatively transparent to you. But thank you for your kind words of support and well wishes. It was not my intention to alarm anyone, just to vent some observations (frustrations?) that have been bugging me like floaters in my eye. I think it’s healthy to regularly assess where you are, where the heck you’re going, and why.

This past evening, like every evening, we let Kaweah out to do her business in our yard. And like every evening, we put her glow collar on before letting her outside. Black dogs in the black of night who like to dawdle in the blackest of shadows scavenging for inedible things to eat get glow collars in this house. I did a few long exposures to see what manner of light trail Kaweah would create for giggles.

at first, she didn’t (jeremy’s figure(s) to the right)

but look what happens when you say “treat”

Kaweah reacts to the word “treat” the way Jeremy does to the word “coffee”. One of his favorite places for caffeinated beverages in Boulder is Atlas Purveyors. That’s pretty convenient as I tend to have meetings at Atlas and grab a latte to go for Jeremy if I’m going to pick him up from work. I like Atlas. I like the people who run Atlas. I like the people who work at Atlas. I like the patrons at Atlas. They were one of the sponsors of the Food and Light photography workshop we held last summer.

But I don’t drink coffee. Couldn’t tell you the difference between the worst coffee and the best coffee. The first time I stood at the counter trying to find something non-coffee to order, Chris – one of the owners and a really swell guy, rattled off all manner of teas that might interest me. I spied boba on the chalkboard. Oh, I love me my boba. A milk tea boba, please (also known as bubble tea). And I’ve been hooked ever since. Atlas is where I go to get my boba fix and Chris has been sneaking in bits of tea education to boot. I wanted to make my own milk tea boba, so I asked Chris if I could purchase some of that lovely black tea.

black tea from atlas purveyors

5-minute boba

Boba is giant pearl tapioca. Each pearl is soft and chewy with a slight sweetness. I refer to boba as my favorite choking hazard snack because it’s not that difficult to accidentally suck a boba up the big straw and down the wrong pipe. You need to either be mindful of how you consume the boba or enjoy it in the company of someone who will perform the heimlich on you. Back in the day, I purchased the old-fashioned kind of dried boba which took a long time to cook (boil, simmer, cover, wait). These days, they carry 5-minute boba in my local Asian grocery store. It takes five minutes to cook!

top the boba with some ice

pour the brewed black tea

Atlas prepares my milk tea boba with rice milk, per my request. Being completely ignorant of coffee culture, I was overwhelmed with all of the dairy alternatives. It’s Boulder, after all… While milk makes for an unhappy tummy, I like the taste of soy milk. However, I have to watch my soy intake (per my oncologist’s instructions), so rice milk it is. You can use whatever you like or skip the “milk” altogether. I made this one with non-fat milk for Jeremy.

add milk


This is the basic milk tea boba. You can get fancy with all sorts of flavors and add-ins at boba tea joints. They have coffee, thai tea, passion fruit, strawberry, kiwi, honeydew, azuki bean, taro – just to name a few. Kaweah has her “treat”, Jeremy has his “coffee”, and I have my “boba”. I love to bite down on each pearl – my teeth practically bouncing off the chewies, releasing the mild flavor of the tapioca. It’s like a favorite childhood activity that I never experienced until I became an adult. I bond with friends and family over boba – just ask Lisa or Todd and Diane. Good times!

milk tea boba

Milk Tea Boba
[print recipe]

1 tsp black tea
8 oz. water, boiling
sugar (optional)
1/4 cup boba (pearl tapioca), cooked per package instructions
milk (optional)

Steep the tea leaves in a cup of boiling water to desired strength (about 5 minutes for me). Remove the tea leaves. If you want your tea sweetened, add sugar to taste. Let the tea cool. Place the boba in a large glass. Fill the glass with ice. Pour the tea over the ice. Top with milk. Makes one 16-ounce serving.

70 nibbles at “living dangerously”

  1. Pei Lin says:

    How cool is this?! I think good tea leaves make a lot of difference to the milk tea. And I actually get irritated by the boba because I just want to drink. So I just order milk tea these days. Homemade must be pretty swell though!

  2. Belinda @zomppa says:

    I’m a tea drinker too, so this is definitely my kinda drink. That long exposure is super darn cool!!

  3. Bethany says:

    Haha! I grew up with a dog who reacted that way to the word “treat.” She would do a very good impression of running away (usually after a squirrel), and then storm back into the house when she heard the magic word. This makes me miss her very much!

  4. Eunice says:

    this is ridiculously easy to make!! wow….*gulped* =)
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kate says:

    So funny! I was under the assumption that “dawdling when your person is waiting because your supposed to hurry” was a general pet rule of conduct. Along with selective deafness.

    I’m a picky coffee drinker generally don’t get coffee when I’m out. Occasionally indulge in a latte made with chocolate rice milk, a hint of caramel topping.Recommended by the barista when she found out I have dairy allergy. Just discovered Boba last summer. And lychee flavored coconut jelly in small jars at the Thai grocery store. (Gallon size was too big for just me.) I had been using the Boba tapioca in jelly for years not realizing it was for beverages!

  6. Stephanie says:

    Lovely! I love a good glass of boba tea. Unfortunately, you can’t find a whole lot of them over here in MI, but now that I know I can make my own, I am not worried. :-p

  7. Margie says:

    Miss K’s antics are adorable, and mimicked as well. It never fails, “Treat!” get’s ’em in gear! Again, I am amazed at how you shoot, and forever mesmerized by the depth of your talent(s)!

    I’ve had a green bubble tea, but haven’t extended my boundaries much. This coffee addiction of mine is some serious stuff. ;)

  8. Kirsa says:

    I’m not a fan of bubble tea. I can only drink iced tea. and it has to be homemade (I’m picky on my tea). My mother in law has one kick ass recipe.

    I guess I’d try with almond milk, I wonder if it’s any good or if it will clash with the flavor.

  9. LML says:

    I’m glad you received a lot of positive comments about your previous post. I find that your voice has changed, I sense a lot of self-editing [censoring?] and wonder if that is leaching some of your pleasure. I began reading your blog in 2007 and marveled at your gung-ho spirit throughout your treatment; at 39 I just sobbed my way from start to finish.

  10. Caitlin says:

    Those pictures are gorgeous- I love how you caught the tea swirling with the milk.
    I love bubble tea, especially like this, with black tea and milk. Unfortunately even our local asia grocer doesn’t seem to carry the darker boba. I bought some white tapioca pearls from them, but it’s just no the same.

  11. Mike says:

    That looks so good! I want one right now. Found you through tastespotting.

  12. Broderick @ Savory Exposure says:

    Wow this looks really easy, I need to try this!

  13. Nan says:

    Your blog is your voice. That’s what a blog’s supposed to be, in my estimation. Sometimes I think mine is a little too much my voice but again, that’s what I think it’s supposed to be. I don’t care if anyone else likes it or reads it. I write because I like to write, shoot because I like to shoot, cook because I like to cook. It’s a perfect amalgam of loves. And I can review my life to make it more of a chuckle. It can all be so serious sometimes — way too serious. I like your voice…

    Love the light trail. My Westie Beau gets lost in the snow at night — he blends too but on the other side of the spectrum. In the winter he needs a collar like Kaweah’s.

    And, last but not least, my daughter loves bubble tea. I had no idea how to make it. Now I do — thanks!

  14. Karen at Globetrotter Diaries says:

    haha favorite choking hazard snack– so true! Love the recipe and always forget that I can make it at home!

  15. Bing Chou says:

    I’ve avoided boba for years because it looks so ridiculous, especially in the cheap plastic cups that they usually come in. That said, your “add milk” and “swirly” photographs have convinced me to give the home made version a try!

  16. Rad says:

    Boba tea is something I have come to love recently. It was he who introduced me to it and would surprise me by bringing it home…. Now that I know how to make one at home, I can surprise him by making one!
    I followed the tastespotting photo trail back here…that picture makes me want my bobba tea right here right now!

  17. wgfoodie says:

    My husband and I crave one of these pretty much everyday. We should really make our own at home. This will inspire me to do so :) It’s so easy and doesn’t use any artificial powders that some cafes use.

  18. Linda says:

    I love Kaweah’s trippy tracks! Sometimes our pups are just cartoons, aren’t they? I trained my lab Bailey with cheese. One day I was running on my little dead end road with her off the lead and my jack-a$$ neighbor came speeding around me on a blind curve. Bailey, who had never chased a car before, took off after him. I yelled, “Cheeeese!!!!” and it was almost as if claws sprang out and dug into the road as she screeched to a stop, and came trotting back. Got to love ’em.

    No I’m on a new quest for boba milk tea. I’ve never even seen it, much less tasted it. And the dark tapioca looks cool! Not sure I’ll be able to find it in the pokie old Poconos.

  19. Megan says:

    You need some of those fat straws!

  20. Bri says:

    I love the long exposure shot of Kaweah’s collar. She certainly made a beeline for her treats. My pup won’t react that way to “treat,” but whisper “cookie” under your breath and he’ll be right there by your side should you just happen to drop something. They’re helpful that way.

    I guess I’ll have to try boba tea now. I’ve always been scared off by the giant tapioca pearls, guess it’s time to suck it up (no pun intended).

  21. moowiesqrd says:

    There’s 5-minute boba? Yes! I’m definitely going to have to look for it in my Asian grocery store. I never wanted to make the stuff at home because it was so time-consuming. Oh, and love the glow collar… Bear needs one, too.

  22. Christine says:

    Oh how I love boba. I’ve never seen the five minute variety though, so I guess I’m going to have to do a better job hunting at some of our local Asian markets!

  23. Kavey says:

    Oh I had no idea they were also called Boba!
    I’ve come across them as pearls or bubbles.
    I bought some too (same packet make too I think, judging from our photos).
    I made a weird peanuty drink, I loved it!

  24. vanillasugarblog says:

    that last photo is stunning. art to me.

  25. Sharlene says:

    Adore boba.

  26. Sabi says:

    i love that they are called boba, we are fans at our house. my son loves going to a tea bar and getting rooibos bubble tea at a local tea house, it would be fun to make it at home. i love your photo of “treat” tracks. thanks for sharing your vision.

  27. dario @ foodpixels says:

    Love the dog-glow in the dark-collar long exposure !
    and the milk tea boba is very graphic and stylish, yet so simple to make; great idea!

  28. Tara says:

    Never thought about making this stuff at home! Dangerous…oh, and your time-lapse photo of Kaweah is priceless!

  29. Krista says:

    Do you know of any stores that sell the wide straws? If I can’t find anyI might have to steal a fistful next time I go to the only boba place in town!!

  30. Amy says:

    Thai tea milkshake with bubbles. Yummm! The bubbles will freeze, so good. Have you tried almond milk? Ooohh, chocolate almond milk would be great! I gag at the smell of coffee, lol.

  31. rumana says:

    what beautiful shots..simply thats a cup of tea id wanna drink with my eyes first..ur v vv talented jen..
    wudnt wanna to c stop blogging..

  32. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking says:

    Gosh, your photography is just SO beautiful. What a wonderful little millkshake treat, too. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Alison says:

    Hooray, boba! To anyone who’s tried it and didn’t like it, be sure to have it made from scratch like this. Many places use a nasty powder mix that doesn’t do justice to the real thing.

  34. kiyomi says:

    I had no idea they made 5 minute boba pearls!!! I will have to look for them the next time I go to my Asian grocery store!

  35. Lisa says:

    Ha Ha, if I can find the 5-minute boba peral in the Oriental grocery store, I will make my own boba milk tea and enjoy it with a book in hand, sit in the sun room. Year ago, I tried once to make my own boba from the scratch, and it did not turn out the way suppose to be. Sadly, all of them went to the garbage.

  36. Diana Banana says:

    my mom once told me that “boba means boobies” in those exact words. i love boba tea, but the only time i ventured to another flavor was boba thai iced tea, and i really didn’t like it for some reason. so i’ve just stuck to boring ol’ boba milk tea.

    i tried making 60-minute boba at home before, but like lisa, it all got thrown away because they became 1 gigantic boba. also, where do you get the giant straws to drink it?

  37. Andrea says:

    Oh my! I love the tapioca pearls in bubble tea!! I never realized it would be so easy to make at home. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  38. Mei Teng says:

    Love those tapioca pearls. Pearl milk tea used to be the rave a couple of years ago over here. But the trend has since died down.

  39. Shannon says:

    I decided that I will try bubble tea at the next opportunity. I have always been afraid of the tapioca pearls, but your pictures and knowing a little more about it makes it more accessible to me. :)

  40. amy says:

    mmmm…..boba tea….Love the stuff. Thanks for sharing : )

  41. Tina says:

    I bet that would be a delightful drink to make… I always love to try new recipes in my simple little kitchens. And actually, I do it usually with my kids. They help me in the preparation etc. I bet this one would be interesting for them. We never done any beverages together.

  42. Bubble Tea « More Than Barbecue says:

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  43. Joy says:

    I love milk tea boba. This is probably the only way I would drink milk in my tea :D.

  44. Heidi says:

    I’m behind and just getting to your post from the other day. I have never commented before but read here often, and I just wanted to tell you how much I love your blog, both your photos–which often just take my breath away–but also your writing. I often think that I wished I knew you in real life because you sound so much like someone I’d love to be friends with. And that comes from the writing, not the photos. In any case, like many of your other readers, I also hope you figure out the best path that will make you happiest. Thanks for all the great posts that I’ve enjoyed over the past year and a half.

  45. jenyu says:

    Kate – oh yes, definite “selective deafness” here :)

    Kirsa – I think almond milk could work too.

    LML – well, I’m glad you got through it and that’ you’re here with us.

    Linda – your Bailey is WAY better behaved than my Kaweah ;) I believe there are mail-order places that sell boba. Search for “minute pearl tapioca” or something similar.

    Megan – I know! I love the fat straws :)

    Krista – I think you can find the fat straws at the same places that sell the boba online (look for minute pearl tapioca)

    Alison – yeah, I don’t like the powdery stuff either.

    Lisa – I’ll send you some if you can’t find it, Mom.

    Diana Banana – yup, I’ve cooked the heck out of the old boba and it was awful.

    Heidi – thanks :)

  46. doglover says:

    You can get the large drinking straws at Bed, Bath and Beyond. They’re marketed as “milkshake straws”.

  47. Rain says:

    Hi there, love your post!! Would you have any idea where I could buy the boba online? I live in Dubai and we don’t get such things here.

    I have such a craving for bubble tea now! It was my fave drink when I used to live in Malaysia.

  48. jenyu says:

    Rain – you can try – I’ve never ordered from them, but I’ve browsed their site. Good luck!

  49. John says:

    No matter what ratio of milk to black tea that I use I can not get it to taste like the regular milk tea in places like Lollicup. Any suggestions? Maybe they use some kind of flavoring, whatever it is I cant seem to recreate it just by mixing milk and black tea.

  50. jenyu says:

    John – a lot of the tea places add flavoring, yes. I think they also use quite a bit of sugar.

  51. Larry says:

    Hello Jenyu, I was just wondering if I could have your permission to use your image of the Bubble Tea for a client of mine who sells these drinks.

    The image is the one right under the word swirly.

  52. jenyu says:

    Larry – if you would leave a working email address for me to contact you, we can discuss usage and licensing fees. Otherwise, no, you do not have permission to use my image.

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  54. Ali Rodriguez says:

    So glad to have found this post, have always wanted to try to make this myself! Also, will try Atlas Purveyors since I live in Boulder too!

  55. Kayla says:

    Do you know how to make Taro tea? My favorite is Iced Taro Bubble Tea :)

  56. jenyu says:

    Kayla – no, I don’t. But I love the taro bubble tea too!

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  60. Frugal Hausfrau says:

    I came across you on pinterest – and so glad I did. I just had a mediocre bubble tea today – and now I learned they’re bobas (which I just may have thought referred to some part of the anatomy had I not found your post!) I can’t wait to try this – and I don’t think it will cost me five bucks!

  61. Boba says:

    Not really my favorite boba drink but your photos make it look super tasty. I’ve been experimenting with some other additives besides tapioca and some different flavors. I prefer the hot teas as the bobas in cold drinks tend to harden up and not be so tasty IMO.

    Anyway, nice post.

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  63. Evie says:

    Hi. I can’t here in Dayton, find th exact ingredients. I have found some Small Pearl Tapioca at Meijer by the company called Reese. And am just gonna use regular pre-packaged black tea. I might in the future be able to find the right kind of tapioca, but im gonna boil this and see how it works!

  64. Carman says:

    Discovered this page ( your blog) while looking for a boba tea recipe after trying it for the first time today.
    How delightful your writing is and pretty pictures to boot. Im a chef and a foodie with a soft spot for dogs.
    I think I might have to stop by from time to time. :)

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  67. Cathy says:

    Another Pinterest-linked person here- I live in your neck of the woods! Which Asian market do you go to? Any little neighborhood secrets?

  68. jenyu says:

    Cathy – the best Asian market in Boulder is probably Asian Seafood Market on 28th, just south of Valmont. If you are in Broomfield, Pacific Ocean Market (POM) has a much larger and better selection of stuff. Then the best one I’ve seen so far is HMart in Aurora – it’s huge in comparison and it has way more and better produce as well as all manner of meats, seafood, frozen, etc. etc.


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  70. Winnie @ BossenStore says:

    It’s so difficult to make a beautiful shot of bubble tea as you did. Wow. Very impressed.

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