Boba Tapioca Pearls are an essential part of bubble tea. Learn the foolproof method to make black boba pearls at home with no weird ingredients so that you can enjoy them without fear.
What are Boba Pearls
Boba Pearls are tapioca pearls that are often added to bubble milk tea. They are made from tapioca starch and have a bouncy, chewy texture with some softness.
You can find packaged boba pearls at Asian grocery stores, however they may contain additives and preservatives. There are also reports of unhealthy chemicals in tapioca pearls used at some bubble tea shops. Therefore, I have decided to make them (as well as boba tea) at home.
The main ingredients are:
- tapioca starch/flour: make sure you buy tapioca flour from Vietnamese or Thai brands. The flour should be very fine and lightweight (like cornstarch).
- cocoa powder and dark brown sugar: these two ingredients together give the pearls a natural dark color and a subtle flavor. No need to use food coloring (or any weird stuff).
When I make them with Vietnamese dark brown sugar, they will have a black color while if I make them with Western dark brown sugar, the color will be deep brown which is still very beautiful. So just grab dark brown sugar at your regular grocery stores.
How to Make Boba Pearls
Black boba pearls are not difficult to make at home. There are 3 main steps here:
- preparing the dough,
- shaping the pearls,
- boiling the pearls.
It is also possible to make ahead and we will discuss that later in the post. I strongly recommend watching the video below and then continue to read to understand the method.
Watch the Video
Preparing the dough
First, dissolve dark brown sugar into water and bring it to a boil. To create the pearls, tapioca flour is usually mixed with boiling liquid to make a kneadable dough. When I dumped all of the starch into boiling liquid (or vice versa), I found 2 potential issues:
- The texture may get weird, wet, lumpy and doesn’t form into a dough.
- If the mixture manages to form into a dough, it is a little difficult to shape the pearls. After cooking, they taste okay though. However, they will be hard chewy the next day (after being stored in the fridge) instead of pleasantly chewy with a bit of softness.
When starch is added directly to hot liquid, it can clump very easily. On the contrary, slurry can be added directly to hot liquid and incorporate more easily than starch. So the solution I came up with is using part of the flour to form a tapioca starch slurry first, then add it to the freshly boiled liquid while stirring to form a wet mixture. After that, gradually add the remaining flour and use a wooden spoon to combine and/or use your hands to knead into a soft and smooth dough.
This foolproof method works every time. Moreover, you can cook the pearls, then refrigerate, and they still have a great texture the next day after reheating in the microwave.
Shaping the pearls
Lightly dust a clean working surface and your hands, press the dough into a flat disk and cut into strips. Roll each strip into a long log and then cut into small pieces. I like to keep each piece not too big since the smaller they are, the fewer time needed to cook them. Don’t make them too small though, or it will take a lot of time to go through all the dough.
Now comes the time-consuming part, which is rolling the dough pieces into round balls. This sounds like a task for when you have a lot of free time or when you binge-watch Netflix :). You may also want to ask your spouse or kids for a helping hand. And don’t stress yourself out about making them perfectly round.
Boiling boba pearls
This is the easiest step out of all three. Just boil the tapioca balls in plenty of water until they are fully cooked.
Mine often take less than 15 minutes to cook. The exact amount of cooking time will depend on the size of the pearls.
Cooked boba pearls will need to be soaked in a simple brown sugar syrup (or honey) to avoid sticking as well as give them more flavors. So once the pearls are cooked through, transfer them to a bowl of cold water. Then drain and soak them in the syrup. The longer you keep them in the syrup, the darker their color will become.
How to Use and Store the Pearls
If you follow my method, after putting the pearls in the syrup, you can use them right away or store them in the fridge until the next day. When you want to use them, briefly microwave them until they become soft-chewy again and add them to your bubble tea.
Highly recommend: make my brown sugar milk tea recipe and enjoy with these homemade tapioca pearls. They may also be a great addition to matcha latte. In Vietnam, young people love adding these black boba pearls to tofu pudding (tào phớ/douhua) nowadays.
How to Make Ahead
After step 2 (shaping the pearls), lightly coat them with tapioca flour, place in a Ziploc bag, and freeze them. When you need to use them, just remove from the fridge and cook in boiling water and marinate in brown sugar syrup after that.
I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating (if you have tried it). New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Homemade Black Boba Pearls
For the Dough
- 4 oz tapioca starch (plus more for dusting)
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 6 1/2 tablespoons water, divided
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
For the Brown Sugar Syrup
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- In a bowl, add tapioca starch and cocoa powder. Mix to combine.
- Scoop out 3 tablespoons from the flour mixture and add them to a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of water, then stir until smooth to create a starch slurry.
- Add 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar and 3 1/2 tablespoons of water to a small saucepan. Place it over medium heat and bring to a boil, then immediately lower to low heat. Add the tapioca starch slurry while constantly stirring for 10-20 seconds until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from the stove immediately.
- Gradually add the remaining flour into the wet cooked flour mixture (2-3 tablespoons each time) and use a wooden spoon to incorporate. Once the wet flour mixture is fully coated with the raw flour, you can use your hand to knead into a soft, smooth, slightly sticky and bouncy dough.
- Lightly dust a clean surface. Press the dough into a flat disk and lightly dust both sides with tapioca flour. Cut into strips.
- Roll each strip into a thin log and then cut into small pieces. Then roll each piece into tapioca pearls. Cover the portion of dough that hasn't been used to avoid drying it out.
- You may want to lightly dust the pearls to avoid them from sticking to each other. At this point you can freeze them or cook them right away.
- Bring a pot with plenty of water to a boil and then add the boba pearls. Maintain a rolling simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes or until they are fully cooked. Boiling time will depend on the size of the pearls. Mine are slightly smaller than green peas.
- While cooking the pearls, add dark brown sugar and water for the syrup to a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Then transfer to a container to cool down.
- Once the pearls are fully cooked, transfer them to a bowl with cold water. Then drain and add them to the brown sugar syrup. You can use them now or store in the fridge up to 2 days. Remove from the fridge and microwave briefly until they are bouncy and chewy again.