Bubble Tea Take Two: Homemade

I wasn’t crazy about the bubble tea I had when I was out, but I didn’t want that to turn me off to bubble tea. I love experimenting with tea, have plenty of it, and I bought the tapioca pearls anyway so one afternoon earlier this week I took on the challenge.

The recipe I used is adapted from Rick Rogers’ Tea and Cookies. It was a  Christmas gift from my aunt and I browse through it from time to time looking for some inspiration and this time I found his bubble tea recipe, though I tweaked a few things here and there.

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Ingredients:

3 tablespoons pearl tapioca

Simple syrup to taste

3 rounded teaspoons of your choice of tea

½ cup milk

Ice cubes

I’m still obsessed with the same spring teas I wrote about for my school newspaper earlier this semester so I decided to use two teas from House of Tea. The first is an herbal tea, Fruits of the Forest, and the second is a green tea with green rooibos and ginger.

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The tapioca pearls were hard and starchy. They reminded me of little balls of chalk- quite a contrast to how squishy and sweet they were when I was slurping them through a giant straw in Chinatown.

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Directions:

First, boil 1 ½ cups of water and then add the tapioca pearls. Let them simmer for about 30 minutes or until the pearls are tender and squishy.

While the pearls were simmering, put a second pot of water on for the tea. When that boils take it off the heat for a minute and then add  it to a measuring cup with the tea to steep and cool. I used two different teas, so I used two different measuring cups.

In a third pot prepare a simple syrup (1 cup of sugar stirred into 1 cup of boiling water). Once the sugar dissolves place it aside to cool.

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When the pearls were tender,  them cool for about 15 minutes, strain them, and rinse them with cold water.  Then, put them into a small bowl and pour enough simple syrup over them to be covered.

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I didn’t have a shaker to combine the milk and simple syrup with the tea but I had two different sized cups and I filled the larger one with milk, some ice cubes, and the tea. Because I used two teas I added ¼ cup of milk both times.

I pushed the smaller cup inside, held both together and shook it over the sink until the ice melted and the mixture was foamy. I scooped the tapioca pearls into each of the glasses and poured the tea mixture over them. Don’t forget the big straws to slurp up the bubbles! I saved and washed the straws from my Chinatown outing, but they are available at an Asian grocery store, like the one I went to.

This process takes a little over an hour to set up, prepare the pearls and wait for the tea to cool, but I found some things that can be cut to shorten the preparation time. The recipe called for a beverage syrup (like a simple syrup but fruity) but I did not use it, instead I used some of the simple syrup, which could also be cut in half (I had extra, but I also never add sugar to my tea).

The green tea was sweet at first but had a strong ginger aftertaste. I’ve had this tea iced before and enjoyed it plain but the milk added a subtle creaminess even though I used skim milk instead of whole milk. The herbal tea was very sweet and fruity with a prominent strawberry aftertaste.

Using ingredients I already had (water, tea, milk, sugar), saving the straws, and buying 16oz of tapioca pearls for $1.38 it was much more cost efficient to make bubble tea at home, though I’m not giving up on Chinatown just yet.

Bubble Tea and Chinatown

Somehow over the last several months, I’ve left Chinatown unexplored. Bubble tea was something that came up multiple times when I searched “tea in Philadelphia,” and it led me right to Chinatown. I had no idea what bubble tea was, except that it has Taiwanese origins and involves tapioca pearls and large straws.

Most times when I go on an excursion, I bring a buddy so this time I brought my friend Abby who has been waiting in line to go on a tea adventure. It was nothing less.

Originally I planned to begin with Tea Talk, a tea house on 10thstreet, but when we arrived it was closed– literally locked up behind lime green bars. Luckily there is more than one bubble tea house in Chinatown. Tea Dó, a contemporary tea house, was only a few more blocks up 10th street. It was bustling with customers squeezing in and out with different colors and types of bubble tea.

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We ordered two types of bubble tea: with milk and without milk. After a long wait (it was a very busy place) we began our teas hesitantly just outside the tea house. The idea of purposely slurping “bubbles”  out of a drink was a curious concept. Each time a bubble made it up the straw it was exciting, yet terrifying. I’d look at Abby and she’d look at me and we’d giggle or gasp in surprise (clearly not caring about the people passing us by on the sidewalk).

The Thai Milk Tea was sweet and creamy, but it was a little too rich. I was hoping for something fresh, or closer to an iced tea with milk. This had the tapioca bubbles. They were squishy and a little slimy but I didn’t hate them, I was more curious than anything. Imagine gummy bears but with an outer layer of gel.

The Mango with passion fruit popping bubbles did not have milk. The bubbles were clear and burst in your mouth releasing a refreshing pop of passion fruit, complimenting the mango. This drink was a twist on traditional bubble tea, using actual bubbles instead of tapioca pearls.

 

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芒果 Mango with passion fruit popping bubbles and 泰式奶茶 Thai Milk Tea. Each drink was $3.5 for a regular.

Our bubble tea excursion did not end there. I had an itch to attempt making bubble tea myself so we went to an Asian grocery store, Asia Supermarket, just around the corner to buy some tapioca pearls. Though the sign outside said “Asia Supermarket,” the room inside looked like an electronic repair shop. Some people walked out with grocery bags, so we walked in and down a set of stairs and were greeted with a strong odor of seafood. Various types of sea life were in tanks, and I think they made eye contact with Abby.

I was grateful that we walked in with our bubble tea to show the cashier the tapioca pearls I was looking for because she did not speak much English. We did not linger much longer after I found the pearls but I might return to browse their tea aisle, which was packed. It was a major change in atmosphere but it was refreshing to be in an environment that made me think twice about how to communicate.

 

 

 

Blue Lady Infused Cupcakes

When I went home for Easter Break, I was feeling the need to bake something, which means I was probably stressed because I bake when I’m stressed.

Teetering on a chair, I rummaged through some of my mom’s cookbooks above the microwave and I finally found an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook. Some of the pages were matted with caked on flour, especially the pancake pages. I found a simple white cake recipe and a brown sugar-based icing. A perfect blank canvas to start with.

 

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From left to right: Green tea with green rooibos, Blue Lady, and Fruits of the Forest

I brought home several spring teas I wrote about in The Hawk and I wanted to incorporate them into the cupcakes. A quick way to freshen up a cupcake or cake recipe is to infuse it with tea, and thankfully it only requires an extra step.

For tea I used one of my favorites of the bunch, Blue Lady, an herbal-black tea with an aroma of grapefruit, from The House of Tea. Because it is a black tea, and on the stronger side (a few of them were light green and herbal teas) I figured the flavor would successfully translate into the cupcakes.

Infused tea

 

Infusing is very simple: steep the tea in butter required for the recipe. My recipe called for about a half cup of butter but I ended up using closer to a cup. Usually one teaspoon of tea yields eight ounces of water for a cup of tea but for this recipe I used a couple teaspoons of tea.

In a pot I melted the butter on medium heat (make sure not to burn the butter) and then added about two teaspoons of tea. I let it steep for about five minutes, constantly stirring. I then strained the butter and poured it into the batter.

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The finished cupcakes were light and airy with hints of grapefruit and citrus that complimented the rich icing. So I baked a couple dozen, just enough to forget about the homework load I had…let’s just say I neglected to do any homework but I did make some fabulous treats with tea.

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Tea and Sympathy: Afternoon tea in Greenwich Village

New York City was bitter cold on March 13. My friends Joe, Erin, and I were searching for a Greenwich Village tea house I recommended we try during our visit. The sky was, for the most part, clear and the wind was strong. This was a day for sunglasses and scarves and I lacked the former. A cup of tea was necessary to thaw my hands.

Turning onto Greenwich Avenue from 8th Avenue, we pushed through the wooden framed door of Tea & Sympathy into what looked like someone’s living room turned dining room. The tables were small and close together, but we were welcome to sit anywhere that would fit the three of us.

A little bit of Britain in Greenwich Village
A little bit of Britain in Greenwich Village

After peeling off our hats, gloves, scarves, and jackets, we sat down to a table in the corner. I could see straight into the kitchen window and watch as the plates were put up and ready to go. I could also see the front end of the kitchen area where the teapots are prepared.

Authentic is the word to describe this place. Not only was it established by British owners, but its staff is also British, some of whom have been working there for over 10 years.

As we looked at the menu, Erin was a bit taken aback at the number of teas. While she is new to tea (this was literally her second time trying tea), she was up for the challenge. Our waitress recommended she try a pot of chocoloco, a decaf chocolate-inspired tea. I think this tea has the potential to satisfy any chocolate craving. Erin then ordered chicken noodle soup, a wise decision for such a harsh day (you can see the steam from the soup in the picture below). Little did we know we would later complete about four miles in the city before contemplating a subway ride back to our hotel—so Tea & Sympathy was a necessary refueling stop.

My other friend, Joe, enjoyed cream tea with me in Leicester Square, London last spring while we were abroad, so he couldn’t wait to get his hands on some clotted cream spread over flaky scones and black tea with milk. He only needed a few moments with the menu before he decided on cream tea (two scones with jam and clotted cream).

Cream tea
Cream tea

I ordered the afternoon tea, which, I warn you, is not cheap. But I went for it anyway, in case my friends wanted to help themselves if they wanted to try a sandwich. Erin was more than happy to try a scone with clotted cream and a tuna sandwich. She’s totally been converted.

Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea

My meal consisted of two scones with jam and clotted cream, finger sandwiches (at least three each of cucumber, egg and tuna), and a large piece of sponge cake on top. I swear there was clotted cream on everything. Joe and I shared a large steaming pot of Earl Grey.

A couple hours and a couple pots of tea later we decided to head out. By the time we left all the tables were filled. Tea & Sympathy really does have an authentic British restaurant feel because they did not rush us out like most restaurants do in the states. They would actually love if you stayed all day, so long as there isn’t a wait for a table (according the their menu).

Before we turned the corner, we stopped in to see their store. It was filled with British products like Digestives, Ribena, Coleman’s Mustard, ginger beer, and of course, lots and lots of tea. How could I resist? I walked out with a full belly and a new blend of black tea.

Calmer Sutra Tea Tasting

Finally, a moment from my studies–my apologies for the hiatus. I went home this weekend, thankful for a break from school so I could focus on tea. Coming home from school for a weekend always has its benefits; one of them is improved photography with the variety of tea ware, better lighting, and more space.

Recently I received a few samples from Calmer Sutra Tea, based in Brooklyn, New York (originating from Melbourne, Australia). Thankful for the opportunity to try a new tea, I’ve decided to share my tasting.

After tearing open my package, I found three teas: Floral Fields Tisane (Chamomile), Peppermyntle Tisane (Peppermint), and their signature chai, Spiced Masala Tea.

From left to right: Chamomile, peppermint, chai
From left to right: chamomile, peppermint, chai

 

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Floral Fields Tisane

Floral Fields Tisane is a chamomile tea with hints of rose petals and lavender. Other than looking delicate with pink rose petals and bits of lavender added to the chamomile flowers, this herbal tea actually smells floral too.  I added a couple of teaspoons to my infuser and let it steep for about five minutes. Go ahead and let it steep longer for enhanced flavor. Like any chamomile tea, this tea is caffeine-free, good for right before bed (when I tried it actually), or if you just need a moment to yourself.

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Peppermyntle Tisane

Peppermyntle Tisane is an herbal peppermint tea with lemon myrtle and subtle citrus notes. Before even drinking this tea, smell it. This is the perfect tea if you’re feeling under the weather– one sniff and it clears your sinuses (and not in a wasabi way). The first sip is immediately invigorating. It floods the mouth and nasal passage, leaving a lingering clean feeling on your tongue.

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Spiced Masala Tea with milk

Finally, Spiced Masala Tea, Calmer Sutra’s signature chai. The chai was much different than what I am used to, though I’m no chai expert. The leaves were wet, because it is infused with honey (please keep refrigerated after opening). The smell reminded me of warm, soft gingerbread cookies. It is an infusion of black tea, with Indian spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger root, and is perfect for cold weather. I tried it both with and without milk. As a chai latte it’s creamy with accents of honey (without adding any extra), cinnamon, nutmeg, and black tea.

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Spiced Masala Tea without milk

Usually when I try tea I add nothing to it, so I had a second cup without milk to get a better idea of how the tea tastes, hoping to catch the ginger highlights from the ginger root that the milk might have masked (or I just didn’t brew it correctly). The spices were much more pungent. I think this tea would compliment a big bowl of oatmeal, either as a drink on the side or brewed with the oats for a chai oatmeal.

Stay warm and hopefully spring weather is sooner than we think! Until then, brew yourself a hot pot of tea.

Cheers!

 

Disclaimer: Calmer Sutra Tea provided me with complimentary tea samples but did not ask for a review.