The classic combination of sweetened black tea, milk, and tapioca balls is the very definition of bridging cultures with a drink. However much you tweak your milk tea with different syrups, milks, or teas, you just hear that same beat underneath and you know what it is. It’s like Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” It’s in “Ice Ice Baby” and a million other songs, but no matter who’s spitting rhymes, you’d never mistake it for something else.
After testing all the possible combinations of black teas that would make the perfect base for a classic boba, we finally landed on the perfect combination: mellow and round, slightly astringent, and fiercely strong. It’s delicious and zippy and powerful enough to stand up to the milk and sweetness. Assam is the maltiest of the famous black teas. It has a very smooth tea taste to it, but it’s a little mellow on its own. The reason we use Ceylon, which is from Sri Lanka, is that it has more of the tannic quality you associate with tea and adds a punch the Assam doesn’t bring. Ceylon is also the most popular variety for traditional milk teas. Yunnan teas tend to be a little smokier. This gives our black tea blend a complexity we just love.
Our house sweetener is rich with a nice background of depth from the brown sugar. Still, it’s got a pretty clean flavor for our classic teas. If you’re feeling ambitious, we recommend making syrups out of black sugar, rock sugar, or even Japanese Kuromitsu. That’d make your milk tea next-level next-level. You can keep this sweetening syrup on hand in the fridge for a month, so it makes sense to prepare more than you’d need for just one drink.
The way you control the texture of the boba itself is through the boiling time. Don’t use boba that’s labeled “quick cook”—that kind of boba has a hardening quality in the starch that isn’t properly QQ. We want straight-up tapioca for this milk tea recipe. Remember to stir throughout the cooking process. Don’t let the boba stick to the bottom of the pot, since that might cause some of the balls to burn or scorch. The next key is the syrup bath, which adds the flavor. Some places keep their boba in a syrup bath over heat, which is a personal preference. We like our boba to be at room temperature for our drinks, so it doesn’t melt the ice in our milk tea and thus dilute the flavors of the ingredients and toppings. Speaking of toppings, feel free to add prepared grass jelly, coffee jelly, matcha pudding, konjac jelly, sago, or aiyu to your heart’s content—or serve your milk tea without them.