How to make bubble tea

Two glass bottles with a tan colored tea and black tapioca pearls at the bottom on a table. Contains orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.
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Bubble tea cafes have popped up in many cities across America. If you’re not familiar with this fun drink, you may be wondering why there are black looking marbles in the bottom of people’s drinks!  Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s. Those black beads at the bottom are normally tapioca pearls, a chewy prize at the end of the drink. There are so many flavors and variations that it can be a bit overwhelming to look at a boba café menu. However, the most basic bubble tea usually consists of four elements: brewed tea, milk or milk alternative, sugar or flavored sweetener, and tapioca pearls. The mixture is shaken with ice and served with a big fat straw. 

Bubble tea is typically loaded in sugar. They’re sweetened with powders, syrups, or other sugars. While the tapioca pearls themselves are made with the starch of cassava root and contain no added sugars, they are usually sweetened by soaking them in a simple syrup or tossed with brown sugar. According to the USDA, a 16 oz. glass of boba tea contains 40 grams of sugars, over most women’s (24 grams) and men’s (36 grams) added sugar limit per day. Reduce added sugars by requesting low sugar options at the café or simply make your own. Add just a touch of sugar, honey, or artificial sweetener to your bubble tea, and avoid adding sugar to the tapioca pearls themselves. Look for tapioca pearls at Asian grocers or online. So…what’s in your boba?


Simple Bubble Tea

(Printable PDF)

2 cups water

1/4 cup dried tapioca boba pearls

1 cup freshly brewed strong black tea

1 Tablespoon sugar or honey

¼ cup almond milk or skim milk


In a medium saucepan, heat water over high heat to boiling. Add boba and stir until it floats. Reduce heat to medium and cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let pearls sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, brew a strong cup of tea. If using sugar, add while tea is still hot to dissolve. Let cool in the refrigerator. Once tea and boba is cooled, add tea, honey (unless using sugar), milk and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake. Place tapioca pearls in bottom of cup and pour milk tea over top. Serve immediately.

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 80 calories, .5 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium, 18 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 0 grams protein


Source: Venturini, B. Drink trends 2022: What exactly is bubble tea and why is it successful? EHL Insights.


PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Rosaline Chang on Unsplash

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond. 


This blog post originally appeared in the Pantagraph on April 27, 2022.