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.

Bubble_1

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.

20140506_120449 (1)

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.

20140506_121443 (1)

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.

20140506_125100 (1)

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.

20140506_131953 (1)

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.

Bubble2

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.

 

TeaDo2
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.

 

 

 

Some tea in D.C.

For the first part of Fall Break a group of my friends and I went to visit a friend who is interning in Washington, D.C.

We did a lot of walking, site seeing, and admiring everyone taking photos of themselves in front of the government shutdown signs. We may have taken a few of our own…

Anyway!

My goal in D.C. was to find a great place for tea but some of the places I drooled over did not have weekend hours…so that made me sad. But I knew that we were planning to go into Chinatown for dinner and I knew that the Chinese love their tea so I was satisfied knowing I’d most likely run into a few kettles in Chinatown. And I was right.

At the end of our long day, Dawn, the same friend from my last post, decided to take us on a hunt for authentic Chinese food. I think according to her we came close, sort of. We decided on a place called Chinatown Express Restaurant and what do you think they served us before our meal? Jasmine tea!

20131012_184852
Jasmine tea!

She told me that many people in Northern China drink jasmine tea with meals. It is usually served in a restaurant before diner so people do not sit down to drink this tea like they would green tea.

I would have loved this tea much more if it was stronger but overall it was delicious. By the way, I am sorry I do not have a picture of the tea leaves, they were taken out of the pot before it made it to the table.

While I did not get my ultimate tea experience in D.C. to share with you, I did encounter a little bit of tea culture. It has inspired me to look for this in other places, especially Philadelphia. This has raised lots of questions for me, including:

 

What is our tea culture, if we have one?

If we don’t, why not?

And why did coffee become such a dominant drink in the U.S.? We have a dominant “coffee culture.”

Is tea making a comeback? Will there be more cafes that are mainly about tea, like Steap and Grind?

While it might be a common practice to be served tea in China and in the UK (yet another post on the way), what can the U.S. have?

Do you sit down with your friends and have tea?

Is it a ritual you have in the morning or before bed?

 

These questions have helped me focus in on a goal, a goal that I originally started with when I began my blog and that was to find the tea culture in Philadelphia.

It is places like Chinatown Express that help create a sense of a tea culture and it is my hope that places like that have some kind of influence on the people who have eaten there.