I went to the Big Island in the late spring. After a hike on the lava one day, we stopped at a coffee shop and, on a whim, I ordered Thai tea with boba. I hadn’t indulged in Thai tea for a long time, but its burnt sugar acid/sweet bloomed in my mouth and set a hook. When I got home and realized you can get almost all the ingredients for the tea around Anchorage, I started brewing it all the time and keeping it in the fridge. It’s a perfect drink for pushing through a grueling work afternoon. I keep boba around for a special treat and eventually even found some wide bubble tea straws so I can get the full bubble tea experience at home.
The hardest part of this recipe is the shopping/sourcing. The first thing you need to find is restaurant-style Thai tea mix. It’s basically a black tea and spice mixture with added annatto to give it a rich orange color. (You can also make your own Thai tea, if you like.) I like the Pantai brand tea mix, mainly because it is widely available at Asian markets around Anchorage. The next ingredient is a little trickier. You want to find instant boba or large pearl instant tapioca. The instant part is key. The pearls should be packed soft, and the cooking time should be in the 3- to 5-minute range. I’m partial to WaFuYuan brand, black sugar flavor, if you can find it. Boba can be found at Asian markets and some large grocery stores including, sometimes, Walmart. (You can also order it.)
Restaurant teas are often made with cream or evaporated or condensed milk, which is pretty indulgent for regular drinking. I’ve found that extra creamy oat milk is a great substitute — and vegan! — for when I’m drinking tea on the reg. This recipe calls for white sugar, which is traditional, but I substitute maple syrup and go a little less sweet than this recipe calls for. You could also try agave, stevia or brown sugar. Thai tea keeps well in the fridge, but boba don’t. You’ll need to use them within a couple hours of making them.
Thai tea with boba
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 cups boiling water
1 cup Thai tea mix
¾ cup white sugar or other sweetener
1 cup instant boba
Brew the tea: Add tea mix and sweetener to a large pitcher. Pour in boiling water, stir and let steep for 12 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a second pitcher. (Alternatively, you can put tea in a large cloth or disposable tea sack and you won’t have to strain.) Refrigerate until very cold. In a saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add instant boba pearls — some brands have different cooking times so consult the package to double-check. Simmer for 3 minutes or until the pearls are soft but still toothsome. Strain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Compose a glass of tea. Add about ¼ cup soft boba pearls to the bottom of a 16-ounce glass. Add a large handful of ice, filling the glass about two thirds full. Fill roughly half the glass with whole milk, half-and-half or alternative milk. Add tea. Stir. Wide boba straws are recommended for sipping.