How to Make Boba From Scratch at Home

Updated on: March 4, 2022
Author: Nick
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how to make boba

Boba has become increasingly popular in the past few years. People are always looking for how to make boba at home, or how to make boba without a machine. This post will help you learn how to make boba from scratch at home!

We will start by discussing how many types of boba there are and where they originate from. Then we will go over a simple recipe to make boba pearls for your favorite drink!

We will also talk about how to store your homemade boba pearls so that they last longer, as well as how long the average batch lasts before it starts deteriorating. Finally, we'll talk about whether or not boba is healthy for you, and more!

Happy bobbing!

What is Boba?

Depending on the context, boba can refer to the bubble tea drink, or the pearls that sit at the bottom of your drink.

For example, if your friend says "Let's go get some boba", that usually means you are getting bubble tea.

But if you are at the store choosing the toppings, you will notice that some of the toppings are called black boba, crystal boba or popping boba. In that case, boba refers to the chewy pearls that we all love!

To add to the confusion, there are many other names people use to refer to bubble tea, such as boba tea, milk tea, pearl milk tea, and so on. Check our post if you want to learn more about the differences between bubble tea vs boba.

So to summarize, boba can mean bubble tea, which is a drink usually made from a milky tea base (but not necessarily, such as fruit bubble tea or taro milk teas), some sort of sweetener, ice, and some sort of chewy or squishy pearls sitting at the bottom of your cup. Or it can mean the different types of boba pearls.

By the way, the most popular type of boba pearls are tapioca pearls made of dark brown sugar.

This will be the focus of this post.

Where Does Boba Come From?

Boba is originally from Taiwan, and since its introduction in the 1980s, it has grown in popularity over the years. Besides that, we don't know much about the origin of boba, because different people claim they invented it.

You can also thank the Dutch, as they brought tapioca starch (from the cassava root, a South American plant) to Taiwan in the 1600s.

Or maybe don't thank them, colonization was a horrible thing but tapioca pearls are a silver lining here!

How Do You Make Boba At Home?

Now that you know a bit more about boba, let's make homemade tapioca pearls!

In this recipe, we will make black tapioca pearls (brown sugar boba) featuring a heavenly molasses flavor. We will also prepare a brown sugar syrup to add to your milk tea and to store any remaining tapioca balls.


This is a recipe for 6 servings. You can proportionally reduce the ingredients, but we recommend larger servings because making boba from scratch is time consuming (and you want it to last for at least a few days!).

Also, this recipe is less forgiving for a smaller batch. For example, if you are making boba for a single serving, a small mistake in the measurements can make a big difference!

For the boba pearls

  • 100 g of tapioca starch (to make the dough)

  • 2 tbsp. of tapioca starch (to prevent a sticky mess)

  • 60 g of black sugar (muscovado, dark brown sugar or regular brown sugar also work but you will get instead brown boba)

  • 6 tbsp. of water

  • Black food coloring (optional)

For the brown sugar syrup

  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of water

Preparation Instructions

Now that you have gathered the necessary ingredients, let's get started. This is going to be a bit tedious but the results hopefully make it worth your time.

Making the tapioca dough

  1. To a small pot, add the brown sugar and water and heat over low heat. Mix well until the sugar is fully dissolved.

    TIP #1: Low heat is used to minimize the amount of water that evaporates.

    TIP #2: We recommend you chose a pot with low heat retention (for example, chose a light pot instead of a cast iron one)

  2. Bring the water and brown sugar mix to a boil.

  3. If you do not have black sugar, but want black boba, add a few drops of black food coloring.

  4. Once the water and brown sugar mix is boiling, add 1/2 of the tapioca starch and immediately start stirring.

  5. After 5 to 10 seconds, turn off the stove and add the remaining tapioca starch. Immediately mix. Keep on mixing until you get a gelatinous mass. It doesn't need to be perfect, you will have some starch lumps. We will get rid of these when we work the dough.

    TIP #1: This is perhaps one of the most critical steps of the recipe. Tapioca starch when mixed with cold water forms a non-Newtonian fluid which won't mix to make a dough. So on step 4 we made a base dough, to which we add the remaining tapioca.

    The dough cannot be either too hot or too cold, which is why we turn off the stove before adding the tapioca starch. If your pot has good heat retention (is heavy), then turning off the stove won't do much since the pot would remain hot for a long time.

  6. Sprinkle your work surface with a bit of the remaining tapioca starch.

  7. Transfer the dough to the working surface and knead until you obtain a smooth and soft dough.

    TIP #1: The dough will be hot, so be careful or wear gloves.

    TIP #2: You will need to work quickly, as the dough will cool quickly and become unworkable.

  8. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a long string of about 1/4" diameter, then cut into 1/4" bits cross-wise.

    TIP #1: Make sure you wrap the other 3 portions with saran wrap, otherwise they will dry quickly.

    TIP #2: Make sure you compare the 1/4" diameter with the straw you will be using (from your reusable boba cup, cause you are environmentally responsible!). The tapioca balls will expand when cooked but then contract when cooled. So if you are unsure, aim for a smaller diameter and avoid the mistake I made.

    Let's just say it was quite disappointing to find out my boba did not fit my straw.

  9. Repeat Step 8 for the 3 remaining portions.

  10. Add 1 tbsp. of tapioca flour to a large shallow plate.

  11. Using your hands, round each of the 1/4" x 1/4" bits and place in the large shallow plate with the tapioca flour.

    TIP #1: This is when you may want to request help from the kids or some friends while you "manage them".

    TIP#2: Since this is a time consuming task, some of the cube bits could start to dry out. You can wet your finger with water and moisten the dough a bit. This should help.

  12. As you place the uncooked boba pearls to the plate, gently shake the plate to make sure the brown sugar tapioca balls are evenly coated with the tapioca flour. As you add the uncooked boba balls, add the remaining tapioca flour as needed to ensure they don't stick to each other.

  13. Shift the uncooked tapioca pearls to a shift pan for drying purposes. Let dry for half a day, returning every couple of hours to roll them to allow them to dry evenly. This is an optional step if you plan on cooking all the tapioca pearls you made. But if you want to store them it's best to let them dry, otherwise condensation could occur in the freezer creating in turn unwanted ice.

Cooking the tapioca pearls

Phew, that took some time! The worst is over, and now it's time to cook the pearls!

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil.

    TIP #1: You want to boil enough water to make sure it fully covers the uncooked tapioca pearls, while giving them some space to move around. Aim for a 1:6 boba to water ratio.

  2. Add the uncooked tapioca pearls to the boiling water. Stir to ensure they do not stick to each other.

  3. Eventually the pearls will rise to the surface. After they rise cook for 20 to 30 minutes. The time cooking time will depend on the size of the boba pearls, so make sure you try some. When the boba become slightly translucent, they should be good to go!

  4. While the tapioca pearls cook, add cold water to a large bowl.

  5. Once the boba are cooked, using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to the cooked tapioca pearls to the bowl of cold water. Let the cooked pearls rest for a few minutes.

Making the brown sugar syrup and finalizing

Almost there, this final set of steps should be relatively easy!

  1. In a medium pot (large enough to hold all the boba just made) add the 3/4 of sugar and 1 cup of water.

  2. Over medium heat, cook the water and brown sugar mix while stirring.

  3. Once it boils, continue stirring for a couple of minutes until you get a slightly tick consistency (similar to maple syrup).

  4. Drain the boba and ensure no water remains. Transfer the cooked tapioca balls to the pot with the brown sugar and water mix.

  5. Let the boba cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, while stirring.

  6. Turn off the heat, and let cool for a few minutes.

  7. Once cool enough to safely handle, transfer the cooked brown sugar tapioca balls and the brown sugar syrup to an air-tight container.

  8. You can immediately use your black boba pearls and brown sugar syrup to make your favorite bubble tea. Any pearls you didn't use can be stored in the fridge for a few days as long as they are submerged in the brown sugar syrup you made.

Thank you for the Recipe, but I want Clear Tapioca Pearls!

Thankfully you can easily modify the above recipe to make clear tapioca pearls! Just swap the brown sugar with white sugar.

I'm not much of a sweet tooth so I would reduce the amount of sugar if using white sugar, since white sugar is sweeter than brown sugar. However, if you love sugar, by all means...

How about Green Tapioca Pearls?

Well, this one will require a bit more work than the clear tapioca recipe modification. But it's still straightforward. Use these ingredients.

For the boba pearls

  • 100 g of tapioca starch (to make the dough)

  • 2 tbsp. of tapioca starch (to prevent a sticky mess)

  • 55 g of black sugar (muscovado or regular brown sugar also work but you will get instead brown boba)

  • 6 tbsp. of water

  • 5 g of matcha powder

Then replace Step 1 from above by:

"To a small pot, add the white sugar, matcha powder and water, and heat over low heat. Mix well until the sugar is fully dissolved."

That's it, not too hard right?

Brown Sugar Boba

What is the Difference Between Fresh vs. Store-bought Boba?

Homemade Boba

First, making boba from scratch at home will give you more control. For example, you can set the size of the boba pearls, how sugar you want to use, and how chewy you want them to be!

Over time, you will be able to experiment and fine-tune the recipe above to make the best brown sugar boba for YOUR taste buds.

Another advantage of making your own boba is that you know exactly what goes into them. Some of the pre-made or store boba may contain additional preservatives and additives that we simply cannot pronounce.

Store-Bought Boba

The advantage of store-bought boba is of course convenience. You won't have to spend a big chunk of your day making these!

Another advantage is consistency. I'm not a chef by any means, so sometimes the boba pearls turn out to be really good, sometimes not so good.

If you want to simply make classic pearl milk tea without the fuss of manually hand-rolling the pearls, we recommend these pre-made boba pearls by WuFuYuan. They take about 5 minutes to prepare!

WuFuYuan Black Tapioca Pearls

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How do you Store Boba Pearls?

There are two ways to store them. The first one is to let the uncooked tapioca pearls dry out first, then put them in the freeze in an air-tight container. Under these conditions they can last for 2 to 3 months.

However, if you already cooked your homemade boba pearls, and made the wise decision to not have them all in one go, you can still store them for a few days. Just make sure you store them in the brown sugar syrup and put them in the fridge, or even more appropriately, a boba mini fridge! They should last for 2 to 3 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are tapioca boba pearls healthy?

Not really, we wish they were! Their main ingredient is tapioca, a starchy carbohydrate, packing lots of calories. They also pack lots of sugar. So make sure you consume them in moderation!

According to the USDA, 16 ounces of boba contain 299 calories, 38 grams of carbs, and 38 grams of sugar (1).

You can make your boba healthier by using less sugar. An alternative is opting to have crystal boba, which is made from Konjac and packs less calories. However, this is an entirely different recipe.

What bubble tea do brown tapioca boba pearls go with?

The classic boba milk tea of course! I really like the molasses flavors combined with a strong black tea

They are many other boba tea flavors that go well with brown sugar boba, such as taro milk tea, and boba latte (yes, latte, with coffee!)

What teas go well with brown sugar boba?

You should use a strong black tea, such as a Ceylon, Assam or an Earl Grey blend.

How do you make boba tea without tapioca pearls?

You can use instead crystal boba, which does not contain tapioca. Or you could choose popping boba instead. Check our popping boba recipe here.

black boba pearls

Bottom Line

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that you give making boba pearls from scratch a shot!

Let us know how they turned out. We are curious to see how our recipe stacks up to your favorite boba shop, and we are always looking to improve.

Happy bubble tea making!

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Do not consume any type of tea if you are allergic to it. The information in this article is not intended to treat serious medical conditions. Please seek professional medical advice before using home remedies.

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