This isn’t a recipe for making bubble or boba tea. What I want to do is to make the boba pearls from scratch. It seemed pretty straightforward: tapioca, water, and a bit of food coloring. I soon found that tapioca starch in Thailand is not the same thing as tapioca flour elsewhere. The recipes on the internet use the terms flour and starch interchangeably but this is wrong. Tapioca starch must be cooked in order for it to become a dough. The starch looks like cornstarch/cornflour and like cornstarch, it is used as a thickener. It is fine and silky but it does not absorb liquid. It clumps into fine grains when water is added but it doesn’t hold together. But heating the starch with water changes it into a dough. Then each boba must be hand-rolled, a labor-intensive endeavor. The added brown sugar provides a deep amber color and a slightly sweet flavor.
Homemade Brown Sugar Boba Pearls (adapted from 3thanwong)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups tapioca starch (not tapioca flour)
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Take it off the heat and add the brown sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Add the tapioca starch and mix it until no lumps remain. Return the pan to the stove over a low heat and cook the mixture, turning continuously to prevent the tapioca from sticking to the bottom and the sides of the pan. It’s best to use a non-stick pan for this. Cook until the mixture forms a ball. Transfer the dough to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth.
Using the same medium saucepan, heat 6 cups of water to boiling. Then reduce heat to simmer.
While the water is boiling, cut the dough ball in half, quarters, and eighths. Take one-eighth and set aside. The rest can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until later. Roll one-eighth into a rope about 12 inches long. Fold it in half and cut it with a dough scraper. Roll each half into thinner ropes, about 1/4 inch in diameter. Using the dough scraper, cut each rope into small pieces. Then roll each piece into round balls. I found it easier to do this on the work surface. Repeat the process with another one-eighth of dough. And so on.
Return the simmering pot to a rolling boil over high heat and add the tapioca balls. Boil the pearls for 5 minutes on high heat then reduce the heat to medium. Cook the boba for 25 minutes or until the balls are translucent and chewy. They came out with a dark brown color without any food coloring at all. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pearls to a bowl of cool water. The pearls can be used right away. Put them in a glass of homemade iced tea, about 2 tablespoons per glass. One-eighth dough makes enough for two glasses. The boba can be stored in a covered container with honey and water or a simple syrup to prevent them from sticking and drying out.
Cook’s Note: Unused boba dough can be wrapped airtight in plastic and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before rolling and cutting.