Boba (or bubble tea) has become a worldwide phenomenon. From its humble beginnings in Taiwan as the classic Milk Tea, boba has evolved into a drink that has some form of tea and some form of pearls that sink to the bottom of your cup.
Nowadays, there is a huge variety of boba flavors, and many kinds of boba pearls have emerged, including clear, black or flavored tapioca balls, crystal boba (made from konjac instead of tapioca), and the latest trend, popping boba!
Popping boba pearls have become popular because once you bite them they burst, releasing delicious juices, adding another dimension to your boba! They are made using a process called spherification.
It might be difficult for you to buy these if you don’t live in a large metropolitan area, so we are here to show you how to make popping boba at home.
It might sound intimidating, but it’s simpler than it seems. Plus it’s a super fun activity to do with your children or friends!
Let’s get bobbing!
Popping bobas are unique pearls that have a thin membrane surrounding some type of juice. When you put them in your mouth they burst, releasing heavenly flavors of fruits, such as mango, green tea, strawberry, melon (and many others).
They differ from regular boba balls in their texture (i.e. they burst), and in their ingredients. Popping boba does not contain tapioca or konjaku. Instead, they are made of water, fruit juice or syrup, sodium alginate and calcium lactate (more on that later).
They are made using a process called reverse spherification from molecular gastronomy.
Spherification is a technique from molecular gastronomy that takes advantage of the gelling properties of some substances. One example of such a substance is sodium alginate (a salt), which is derived from alginate, which in turn is a hydrocarbon (more specifically, a polysaccharide, a long chain of sugars found in seaweed).
This type of molecule has the ability to gel a water-based liquid (like a juice) when exposed to ions (for example, calcium or potassium).
There are two main types of spherification. There is direct spherification, which is when the gelling agent is added to the flavorful liquid, and then is added drop by drop to a bath that contains calcium. This causes a membrane to form surrounding the flavourful juice of your choice.
Reverse spherification is when the bath itself contains the gelling agent, and the flavorful liquid contains the calcium.
We will use the direct spherification process to make popping boba at home. Before we get started, you will need the following:
You will need just 4 ingredients.
As the spherification process relies on a chemical reaction, you should be fairly accurate in your proportions. We recommend the following few basic tools to ensure success!
Before we go into the recipe and how to make popping boba at home, if you would rather make popping boba the shortcut way, then click here to learn how!
Or you can just buy some already-made popping boba from Amazon:
If you would rather make popping boba the shortcut way, then click here to learn how! Or you can just buy pre-made popping boba from Amazon:
Admittedly, butterfly pea tea does not have the intense flavors we are looking for, but it has some interesting color changing properties due to its high anthocyanin content.
Let's see under better lighting conditions! The color changes from blue to pink depending on the angle you look at it.
To improve the flavor, we could try to make a reduction of the tea. Or perhaps we could use purple tea (a true tea) to make the tea base of the bubble tea. Purple tea also has lots of anthocyanin; this changes the color of the drink when you change the pH of the drink.
Let us know if you have any ideas below!
There are many products out there that can be used to help with the spherification process. One of the struggles is that it can be quite time consuming to create a good amount of pearls.
We recommend the spherificator below. You won’t need to use a syringe or dropper with shaky hands. It also comes with some of the ingredients you will need for your popping boba!
It might be fun to make popping boba from time to time, but you may not get perfect results unless you practice a lot. Plus it’s time consuming!
The good news is that you can purchase popping boba! We recommend these popping boba by Mayde. They sell popping boba in 3 packs of different flavors. I’ve tried the tropical fruits one (kiwi, mango and passion fruit) and they were delicious! See below for more information.
Many! The traditional ones are tapioca boba balls, which can be infused with different flavors such as brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, just to name a few. There are also crystal boba balls which are made with konjac instead of tapioca. There are also different sizes, such as mini boba. As you can see, there is a great variety of pearls for you to choose from!
Boba comes from Taiwan, introduced as the classic milk tea. There is some debate on its exact origins. Hanling Tea Room insists they came up with the idea, and Chun Shui Tang insists it was one of their employees, Lin Hsiu-hui who came up with the idea.
We hope you have found our recipe useful, and at the very least, we hope you have discovered a new way of having boba or bubble tea with the help of molecular gastronomy!
Let us know in the comments how it turned out. Once I get a chance I will try reverse spherification or cold oil spherification and report back!