My earliest memory of bubble tea is my first time trying it on a family trip to Shanghai. I was seven or eight years old and so obsessed with my new discovery that I couldn’t stop babbling on and on and bending my mother’s ear over how the Oriental Pearl Tower resembled the similarly spilled spheres in my drink. While in suburban Maryland high school, my friends and I took advantage of the open lunch guidelines and ran a few blocks away for Kung Fu Tea, where the lunch break rush was so intense we always risked it being late through fifth period (but it was worth it for the adrenaline rush alone).
To this day, I still drink bubble tea the way other people drink coffee or beer – sometimes with a meal, usually alone. It always kind of hovered on the periphery of my social life and served as an opportunity to meet a friend or a treat for myself. Bubble tea was something I took for granted and I certainly never considered it to be the complex cultural product it is.
Two things have changed at the same time to change all of that. When the pandemic forced New York and the rest of the country to lock down, many of my favorite bubble tea shops in town began to close (some of them permanently, others widespread for the months between spring 2020 and the first murmur of one Vaccine). Of course, if the worst thing I noticed during the pandemic was that I was being bothered a little by my inability to access a drinkI would have 1) been very lucky and 2) probably not talked about it yet. But there was also rampant xenophobia – think back to the start of the pandemic and the talk about wet markets in Wuhan – as well as a spike hate crimeand suddenly the foods I grew up with and the habits I would never have questioned took on a new meaning.
Partly out of spite and partly out of necessity, I started visiting Asian grocery stores across town to stock up on ingredients I’d previously used to take out at the restaurant: things like fresh okra and cellophane noodles and hot Pot mix. On a trip to H Mart in Koreatown, I came across a tempting looking package that promised ready-to-eat bubbles in 5 minutes. (For the uninitiated, the „bubbles” in bubble tea are made from a starchy substance called tioca, which is extracted from the roots of the cassava plant. A very satisfying, chewy addition to tea-based beverages.) Fascinated, I tossed them into my shopping cart and took them home with me. To my pleasant surprise, she actually kept her promise.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to refine my bubble tea making process, even though my favorite Boba spots have largely reopened (and stayed open). The whole thing is very simple, even for someone like me who is otherwise quite culinary challenged: I put mine on water heater To make tea, I use two sachets (decaf because I have the option to drink it before bed without getting nervous) of Lipton black tea, a splash of half and half – bubble tea purists will tell you that You should use lactose – free milk or powdered milk, but I prefer my tea a little richer – and a teaspoon or two of table sugar. With the kettle on, I use a small saucepan to bring about two cups of water to a boil and toss the bubbles in until they’re translucent. After they have been scooped out of the pot, they can be added to the milk-tea mixture. You are free to drink your bubble tea while it’s hot, although I find it much more satisfying to drink cold. That’s why I like to pour everything into a cocktail shaker, add a few ice cubes and shake it well.
I’m not saying that bubble tea triggered some kind of cultural reawakening, or that my identity and self-esteem revolve around that one thing – if I’ve learned anything in the past twelve months, it’s that it’s dangerous, a whole Reducing population to a few easily definable characteristics, and one of the most insidious ways to do it is to reduce people to the things they consume. To be honest, I’m looking forward to the day when I never have to think critically about what I eat and drink again. I just want to sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of bubble tea on a hot, hot day – all in peace.
The pearls that I use
Other things that I use for bubble tea
Boba Guys reusable metal straw
Just like some people carry metal straws around for cold brewing, at some point I decided to do the same for bubble tea. Many bubble tea stores have them in store, but if you can’t find an IRL, Boba Guys sells one on their website.
Lipton Black Tea Bags, Decaf, pack of 50 with 12 pieces
These are the tea bags I use to make bubble tea. I tend to double or even triple pockets for a stronger brew, but they’re so good and readily available that I don’t feel bad working through them quickly. In theory, you can make bubble tea out of any tea you want. So if you’re looking for something fancier, Qi founder Lisa Li is wrote about her favorite teas for the strategist. Everyone has their own fascinating backstory, and I really want to try them all out.