Hokkaido milk tea is a popular Japanese drink full of rich and creamy flavors. Prepared with black tea, full-fat milk, light brown sugar, and tapioca pearls, this boba tea can easily be made at home!
📖 What is Hokkaido milk tea?
Hokkaido milk tea is a type of royal milk tea from Japan. Royal milk tea is generally made with strong black tea, milk, and sweetener simmered together.
The main difference with Hokkaido milk tea is the milk itself. It is produced in the Hokkaido prefecture, which makes up a large region of the country.
The most common way to prepare this Japanese milk tea is by combining black tea, sanonto sugar, and Hokkaido milk. Sometimes, tapioca pearls (boba) are added as well for more texture and flavor.
The end result is a rich, creamy, and velvety-smooth drink with subtle hints of vanilla due to the natural flavors of Hokkaido milk.
Milk tea has been around for centuries, but Japan put its own twist on this beverage by incorporating Hokkaido milk.
As you may have guessed, Hokkaido milk tea (also known as Nidashi milk tea or royal milk tea) received its name from the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Not surprisingly, this name translates to “Northern Sea Region.”
Being the northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido is known for its beautiful landscapes and snowy mountains. It also happens to produce over 50% of the milk for the entire country.
🥛 What is Hokkaido Milk?
Hokkaido milk is no different from regular cow’s milk, except that it specifically comes from cows on the island of Hokkaido. It’s a similar concept to how sparkling wine is known as Champagne in Champagne, France.
Hokkaido milk is renowned around the country for its high quality and creamy flavor due to the agricultural conditions. It is sold in different percentages of milk fat, but the most common variety is 3.6%.
Hokkaido milk is not only used for milk teas, but it’s also used in ice creams, cheeses, pastries, and even beer.
🌱 Hokkaido milk substitutes
Hokkaido milk is of course a dairy-based product, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying a plant-based version of this tea!
We use full-fat plant milk or plant-based creamer in its place. We also like to add a little vanilla to emulate the flavors of Hokkaido milk.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how smooth and creamy the end result is!
🍵 Royal milk tea vs traditional milk tea
Unlike other milk teas, royal milk tea has one of the highest milk-to-tea ratios. It appears much lighter in color and has a creamier mouthfeel than other varieties.
While royal milk tea can be sweetened with any sugar or syrup, sanonto sugar is the typical choice in Hokkaido milk tea. This sugar is gently caramelized and lighter in flavor than brown sugar.
We stray away from sanonto because it is made from refined white sugar, which is not always vegan. Instead, we prefer light piloncillo (panela), turbinado, or demerara sugar.
🌏 Hokkaido milk tea vs Okinawa milk tea
Both hailing from Japan, Okinawa and Hokkaido milk tea are very similar. However, there are a few subtle differences between the two.
Milk — Okinawa milk tea makes use of regular milk, while Hokkaido milk tea is made only from the milk of that prefecture.
Sweetener — Okinawa milk tea is sweetened with kokuto, which is an unrefined sugar made in Okinawa. Hokkaido milk tea is almost always sweetened with sanonto, which is lighter and more delicate in flavor.
Temperature — While it is common to serve Okinawa milk tea cold, Hokkaido milk tea is more commonly served hot. But, both can be served hot or cold.
🛒 Ingredients & substitutions
Black tea — Assam tea is the most common variety, but you can use Darjeeling, Ceylon, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, or any strong black tea you have on hand.
Milk — Hokkaido milk is quite high in fat, so we like to replace it with full-bodied plant milk (like NotCo whole milk), dairy-free creamer mixed with regular plant milk, or plain oat milk.
Vanilla — To emulate the vanilla notes provided by Hokkaido milk. Use a vanilla bean pod, vanilla paste, or pure vanilla extract.
Light brown sugar — The typical choice for sweetening Hokkaido milk tea is sanonto sugar. If you don’t have access or don’t want to use refined sugar, replace it with turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, or light brown piloncillo.
Tapioca pearls — Also known as boba, you can purchase dry tapioca pearls from an Asian food market or supermarket with an international aisle.
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Step 1 — Bring the water for the tapioca pearls to boil in a medium-large saucepan. Once boiling, add in the tapioca pearls and lower the heat to just under medium.
Step 2 — Simmer for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook time will depend on your specific pearls. Make sure to check your package for instructions, but ours took 30 minutes.
Step 3 — Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan and whisk them together. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes, or until the sugar has fully dissolved. Remove from heat and reserve about 4 tablespoons, then add the rest to a medium mixing bowl.
Step 4 — Strain the tapioca pearls through a fine-mesh strainer, rinsing them lightly. Transfer the pearls to the mixing bowl with the syrup and stir to combine. Set aside to soak while you make the tea.
Step 5 — While the tapioca pearls are soaking, bring water for the tea to boil, then let it cool for a few minutes (it should be 180-200°F). Brew the tea for 4-5 minutes, then remove the leaves.
Step 6 — For a hot milk tea, scoop 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls into your cup. Next, add 2-4 teaspoons of syrup, or to taste.
Step 7 — Add vanilla extract, then pour the black tea up to about halfway. Top your tea off with plant milk.
Step 8 — For a cold milk tea, let the tea cool down to room temperature. Repeat the same steps, but add ice cubes into your cup first. Happy drinking!
If you have questions about how to make this royal milk tea, check out our FAQs or leave a comment down below!
🧋 How to drink milk tea
If you are serving your milk tea with boba, you’ll want to use a wide-mouth straw made for bubble tea. There are a lot of different materials to choose from like bamboo and metal, but we tend to prefer glass bubble tea straws.
Once your tea is made, simply slurp up some tea with a few boba and enjoy! Note: Careful not to sip too quickly to prevent choking on the tapioca pearls.
🌡️ Storage & reheating
For the best flavors and texture of the boba, make sure you drink your Hokkaido milk tea right after making it.
Fridge — If you store the tea without the tapioca pearls, it will last in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
Freezer — If you have leftover milk tea, you can freeze the rest in ice cube trays to chill your next batch!
Prep in advance — If you are making a cold royal milk tea, you can prepare the black tea in advance and chill it in your fridge overnight. You can also make the syrup in advance and store it in your fridge for up to a month.
Extra sweet — Add more brown sugar syrup until your tea is sweet enough for your liking.
Non-sweet — If you prefer your milk tea “au naturel,” omit the syrup altogether.
No tapioca pearls — If you don’t like the texture of boba, make a more traditional Hokkaido milk tea without any tapioca pearls.
Different boba — Try adding white tapioca pearls, popping boba, or flavored jellies like coconut and coffee to your tea.
Foam — For an extra rich and creamy version, steam a little plant milk or creamer and add it to the top.
🧑🍳 Top tips
Steep time — Steep black tea for a maximum of 4-5 minutes to avoid a bitter drink.
Tea quality — While you can definitely use tea bags for royal milk tea, we find loose-leaf tea provides a more complex, deeper flavor.
Boba — Make sure to prepare and consume the boba immediately for a soft and chewy texture.
Pure vanilla — If you’re adding vanilla, make sure it’s a pure extract or paste for the best taste.
Traditional Hokkaido milk tea is made with milk made from cows, so it is not vegan. However, it is extremely easy to make plant-based with a dairy-free alternative.
Yes, Hokkaido milk tea is generally gluten-free. If you are unsure about your plant milk (like oat milk), always check the ingredients to confirm.
Yes, Hokkaido milk tea contains caffeine due to the black tea. Each cup of black tea contains approximately 40-45 milligrams of caffeine.
🍴 More recipes like this one
If you enjoyed this Hokkaido milk tea recipe, be sure to try some other delicious tea-infuse drinks:
- Taro milk tea: A vibrant purple boba made with jasmine tea, taro root, milk, and tapioca pearls.
- Jasmine milk tea: Creamy, floral, and delicately sweet milk tea made from jasmine green tea, coconut milk, cane sugar, and boba.
- Honeydew milk tea: Ripe honeydew melon, green tea, plant milk, and pearls served chilled.
- Oolong milk tea: A rich, toasty, and flavorful boba featuring oolong tea, soy milk, and tapioca balls.
- Thai tea boba: Refreshing Thai tea infused with spices and served with boba.
- Dirty chai latte: A rich, creamy, and perfectly spiced tea latte with espresso.
Hokkaido Milk Tea
- Medium saucepan
- Small saucepan
- Mixing bowl
- Boba straw
- ½ cup uncooked black tapioca pearls ($0.70)
- 6 cups water
- ⅓ cup light piloncillo* ($0.12)
- ⅓ cup water
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1 tablespoon loose-leaf Assam tea ($0.35)
Hokkaido milk substitute
- 2 cups plant-based whole milk substitute* ($1.10)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract ($0.21)
- Bring the water for the tapioca pearls to boil in a medium-large saucepan. Once boiling, add in the tapioca pearls and lower the heat to just under medium.
- Simmer for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook time will depend on your specific pearls (check the package for instructions — ours took 30 minutes).
- In the meantime, prepare the syrup. Add sugar and water to a small saucepan and whisk together. Bring to a simmer for about 3-5 minutes, or until the sugar has fully dissolved. Remove from heat and reserve ¼ cup, then add the rest to a medium mixing bowl.
- Strain the tapioca pearls through a fine-mesh strainer, rinsing them lightly. Transfer the pearls to the mixing bowl with the simple syrup and stir to combine. Set aside for 30-40 minutes to soak.
- While the tapioca pearls are soaking, bring water for the tea to boil, then let it cool for a few minutes (it should be 180-200°F). Brew the tea for 4-5 minutes, then remove the tea leaves.
- Hot — For a hot milk tea, add 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls to your cup. Add 2-4 teaspoons of brown sugar syrup, or to taste. Add vanilla, pour the black tea to ⅓ – ½ of the way up, then milk the rest of the way.
- Iced — For a cold milk tea, let the tea cool down to room temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls to your cup, then a handful of ice. Add 2-4 teaspoons of brown sugar syrup, or to taste. Pour the tea to ⅓ – ½ of the way up, then milk the rest of the way. Happy drinking!
- Steep time — Steep black tea for a maximum of 4-5 minutes to avoid a bitter drink.
- Tea quality — While you can definitely use tea bags for Hokkaido milk tea, we find loose-leaf Assam tea provides a more complex, deeper flavor.
- Boba — Make sure to prepare and consume the boba immediately for a soft and chewy texture.
- Pure vanilla — If you’re adding vanilla, make sure it’s a pure extract or paste for the best taste.
- We use NotCo “Not Milk Whole” for our Hokkaido milk substitute. You can also use Oatly “Oat Drink Whole” or regular plant milk with a few tablespoons of dairy-free creamer mixed in.
- *Since sanonto sugar is made from refined white sugar, it is not possible to determine if it is vegan-friendly. For a sanonto sugar substitute, try light piloncillo (panela), turbinado, demerara, coconut, or date sugar.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe to recipe. All prices are in USD.