BOBA BY THE BAY:
A Brief Guide to Bubble Tea

When Edible East Bay’s teenage intern Kiani Laigo told us of her bubble tea obsession—like, with an “it changed my life” kind of enthusiasm—we had to admit to our huge dearth of knowledge on the beverage sensation also known as boba tea. We asked her to fill us in:

Edible East Bay: What is bubble tea, or is it boba tea?

Kiani Laigo: It’s a milk tea, hot or iced, with chewy black gelatinous balls in it. The balls are made of tapioca. People refer to them as “boba,” which is a Chinese slang word for breasts. It first appeared in Taiwan in the 1980s and started becoming popular in the United States in the ’90s.

EEB: When did you learn about it?

KL: I was around 6 or 7. We used to order a pistachio blended drink at a frozen yogurt place called Limon in the San Pablo Market, where my family sometimes shopped. It was a family member who suggested adding boba. The chewy balls stimulate your senses, which makes the drink more like dessert. I like trying different types of tea and different toppings like lychee jelly, coconut jelly, red beans, pudding, and coffee jelly.

EEB: What are your favorite places to go for bubble tea in the East Bay, and what do you recommend trying?

KL: It’s mostly offered at chains like T4, where I like the roasted oolong milk tea with boba made from agar jelly. At Quickly I get warm taro milk tea with regular boba. At i-Tea, I usually order a jasmine green tea with regular boba. When I go to Purple Kow in downtown Berkeley, I get the oolong milk tea with lychee jelly. You should try it!

EEB: Have your tried making bubble tea at home?

KL: Yes. It’s easy to do. For this recipe I used a roasted milk tea, which contains milk powder, but you can use any tea or beverage you desire, hot or cold. You can find all the ingredients at most any Asian grocery store.

Heat 10 cups of water, and once it starts to boil, slowly pour in one cup of tapioca pearls (boba) and stir. When the boba float to the top, turn heat to medium and let sit for 2–3 minutes. While you wait, set up a medium-size bowl full of cold water and another (dry) bowl with sugar. When the pearls have reached a consistency you like (chewy or harder), turn off heat and take boba out, dropping them into the cold water for 20 seconds, then transferring them into the bowl of sugar. Mix boba to coat. Now brew your tea to desired strength and then let it cool to desired temperature.

When the tea is cooled enough to pour into a glass, you can add the boba—as much as you like—and adjust sugar to taste. If you’re not using roasted milk tea, you might add milk, along with any other flavorings you desire and enjoy!

Kiani Laigo, a junior at Nea Community Learning Center in Alameda, is completing an internship with Edible East Bay. Photo by Kiani Laigo