How to make boba at home…without ruining any pans, making yourself ill, or ending up with a soggy, blobby mess

Last year I was diagnosed with ADHD, which was a great surprise to me (if no one else). Since then I have been trying to pay attention to things I do that might be, let’s say, outside the norm. One of those things is, apparently, food.

I tend to fixate on one food at a time. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first and only thing I crave. When I’m hungry, I’m dying for it, and I don’t really experience cravings or desire for other foods, although I will eat them to be polite. The phase tends to last for…six months to two years? and then it shifts to something else.

The target of my appetite has been, at various times in the past: honeycrisp apples with peanut butter (I was DEVASTATED when honeycrisp season ended; other apples weren’t the same), dry cheerios with freeze-dried strawberries, chopped broccoli with sharp cheddar, a cashew chicken dish at a now-defunct Thai restaurant, etc.

One year it was manhattans (makers mark, sweet vermouth and bitters) and I seriously worried I was becoming an alcoholic. 🙈

But since September 19th, 2019, the only thing I have been interested in eating is … boba. Those little brown tapioca balls. I can rattle off to you the top boba places in every city I’ve visited since then (LA has some seriously adventurous ones). And when the world strapped in for quarantine, I was on the verge of panic. What to do??

I finally figured out how to make my own boba. This was NONTRIVIAL. It took the sacrifice of countless pans and far too many nights doubled over with nausea and stomach cramps (read my buying tips, I cannot this stress enough), and months of trial and error. But here is how to get the plump, chewy, slightly sweet boba of your dreams.

(Just the boba. Drinks are up to you. I recommend The Boba Book.)

Buying boba.

Do not buy any boba from China. Do not buy any boba labeled “quick cook”, or boba with instructions that are on the order of 5 minutes. Do not buy any flavored boba. I got violently ill from about half a dozen different brands I ordered randomly off Amazon, all made in China. Some had an odd aftertaste.

Supposedly, the Boba Guys are planning to let us buy the stuff they make domestically in California “soon”. Until then, stick to the stuff that is made of tapioca flour only, and manufactured in Taiwan or The U.S.

Also, the little balls are very fragile and turn to powder in the mail unless they are packed very tightly. This boba, from The Tea Zone is what I buy and recommend buying. Pick up some large diameter straws if you don’t have a stash at home.

Equipment.

You need a big-ass pot of boiling water. The biggest pot you’ve got. I use a big soup pot that holds like 16 or 20 quarts.

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Big Ass Pot

If you only have a few quarts of water, you will ruin pans. The tapioca dust turns to gummy that sticks to the sides and bottom and gets baked on like a motherfucker. You want a ratio of SHIT TONS of water to a handful or two of boba.

Cooking.

Fill it up with water to within an inch or two of the top — Bring it to a fast boil, then put your boba in — a cup or two or three, whatever you think you need. Let it boil for 20-25 minutes… only reduce the heat if you have to to keep it from boiling over.

Uncooked boba will have these little white spots in the middle. Once you see only a few of those in a sea of black pearls, turn off the heat. Let it sit in the hot water for another 20-25 minutes.

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Spot the uncooked boba

Then take the pot to the sink, pour off the excess water, fill it back up with cold water, swoosh it around to rinse; pour, fill, rinse a couple times til the balls are rinsed and lukewarm. You don’t have to drain them dry-dry; leave a small bit of water in the pan.

Flavoring and eating.

Add some sweetener — I like brown sugar, but honey is good too, or molasses and white sugar — and let the balls soak for another 30 minutes so they absorb the flavor. Now they are ready to eat. They will only keep for about a day, and don’t refrigerate them or they get gross.

**If you want the syrupy consistency of the gourmet boba shops, leave a little extra water in there, add the sugar, then simmer on low and STIR CONSTANTLY for 5-10 minutes or until it gets syrupy. I cannot stress this enough: rinse the boba first, and do not stop stirring, if you enjoy your pans and want to use them again

The easiest possible recipe (besides eating from the pot with a spoon) is, fill a glass 1/3 of the way with boba, add milk, add brown sugar simple syrup to taste. Add a couple ice cubes if you like your boba on the firm side. Also, try adding a little bit of rum and Frangelico for your bedtime boba.

Cheers!

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Boba, milk, frangelico
How to make boba at home…without ruining any pans, making yourself ill, or ending up with a soggy, blobby mess

One thought on “How to make boba at home…without ruining any pans, making yourself ill, or ending up with a soggy, blobby mess

  1. Onanda Park says:

    Thanks for the entertaining saga of discovery. I noticed someone on Twitter had total disgust and aversion to Chinese boba and knowing nothing of tapioca other than the 1960’s boxed kind, I failed to see the critical importance. I admit being clueless about Bubble Tea. But now, I see why this ingredient is important.

    I too know hyperfocus and fixation on an ingredient, food or drink. I feel your devastation with apples, Your self-depreciating writing style is very humorous. Take care and be filled!

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