Bubble tea in a roasted barley black tea (boba tea 珍珠奶茶)

Posted on 6 March 2012

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese beverage that has become quite a popular drink. It is also known as pearl milk tea, boba tea and boba milk tea and originated from tea cafes in Taichung (central Taiwan) during the 1980s.

In Cape Town you can actually buy these tasty Taiwanese drinks in the northern suburbs. On a daily basis, Live Mart Taiwanese Supermarket in Durbanville make bubble tea in various flavours and on weekends 96 Taiwanese Supermarket in Monte Vista make the traditional roasted barley black tea version.

The ingredients can easily be purchased in almost any Chinese or Taiwanese supermarket. The one I usually buy is a DIY Taiwanese brand, as seen in the original post.

There are a wide variety of tea flavours, such as pudding, almond, vanilla, green tea and fruit, but the original flavour is a milky black tea with roasted barley and tapioca pearls. This is one of my favourite treats and is quite easy to make. The texture of the bubbles is unique and amongst Taiwanese folk, we call it ‘Q,’ which is a chewy, al-dente texture.

Most kitchens in South Africa probably don’t have this steamer, so the recipe provided will help you make bubble tea simply using the stove.

Serves two


  • 1 cup tapioca pearls
  • 3 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp of barley
  • 2 black tea bags (Ceylon or 5 Roses tea)
  • Milk to taste
  • 3 cups ice (cubes)


  • Boil a medium-sized pot of water and put the tapioca pearls in once bubbling.
  • Leave the pearls to boil for an hour, checking at 15 minute intervals, then mix to prevent them from sticking to the pot.
  • Once the pearls are cooked, strain them and place them into a bowl of ice (2 cups) immediately to cool.

While waiting for the pearls, brew the tea:

  • Lightly roast the barley in a pan.
  • Boil 2 cups of water in a saucepan, then add the barley and tea bags – boil for 5 minutes, take the bags out and add the sugar into the pot and mix.
  • Once the sugar has melted, sieve the tea to separate the bags and barley.
  • Allow the tea to cool.
  • Place the tapioca pearls into glasses.
  • Pour the roasted barley black tea into the glasses
  • Add milk to taste and ice blocks to serve.
See pictures of how the tapioca pearls should look like once cooked here.


When we buy bubble tea, we often purchase them in cup containers with a thick straw to drink the tapioca pearls through. If you can’t find the straws, simply offer a long handled dessert spoon.

Originally posted on Butterfingers.

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