Oolong milk tea is a rich, toasty, and flavorful drink that's incredibly simple to make at home. With a base of oolong tea, milk, brown sugar, and tapioca pearls, you'll be enjoying a delicious boba in no time at all!
Table of Contents
🍵 What is oolong milk tea?
As the name suggests, oolong milk tea consists of steeped oolong tea served with milk. It may be enjoyed hot or cold, depending on your preferences. This beverage also varies considerably in flavor based on the oolong tea varietal.
Different mix-ins include sweeteners, like brown sugar, or tapioca pearls. When these ingredients are added, this drink is also known as oolong bubble tea.
When you visit a bubble tea shop, you can purchase milk tea with or without pearls and at varying levels of sweetness.
🍃 Oolong tea
Although oolong tea comes from the same plant as black or green tea (Camellia sinensis), it belongs in its own category — oolong!
What differentiates the colors and flavors of these teas is the oxidation process. Simply put, oxidation refers to the amount of time tea leaves are exposed to air in their drying phase.
For oolong tea, short oxidation produces mild and floral flavors. Strong, toasty notes are formed the longer the leaves are oxidized. Most people describe the taste of oolong tea as a mix between green and black tea.
Some of the most common types of oolong tea include:
- Phoenix Tea (Dan Cong)
- Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
- Wuyi Oolong Tea (Da Hong Pao)
- High Mountain Oolong Tea (Gaoshan)
- Milk Oolong Tea (Jin Xuan Tea)
The tea variety you choose is based on personal preference. We often find ourselves reaching for bold, full-bodied oolong as it works perfectly in milk tea.
Oolong tea has been grown and produced in the Wu Yi Shan region of China for thousands of years. It is said that this tea originated as a result of tea prohibition during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
The original forms of tea (tea cakes) were outlawed for over 150 years to mitigate corruption and black markets. Undeterred, Buddhist monks began roasting loose-leaf tea over fires, thus creating the first forms of oolong tea.
Today, oolong tea is primarily cultivated in the Wu Yi Mountains of China, and also in Taiwan. Chinese oolong is typically more oxidized than Taiwanese oolong, but both produce many varietals.
🫖 Milk tea vs bubble tea
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are a couple of differences between them:
Milk tea — Milk tea is tea with milk served in it (e.g. oolong milk tea). It can be made plain or sweetened.
Boba — In general, boba describes a drink made from tea or juice with tapioca, fruit, jellies, or other bits added in.
Bubble tea, boba tea, pearl milk tea — Different names (depending on the region you're in) for tea with milk and tapioca pearls.
🥛 Milk oolong vs oolong milk tea
Not to be confused with each other, milk oolong and oolong milk tea are actually two different drinks:
Milk oolong — A varietal of oolong tea that carries milky, buttery notes. Despite what you may be thinking, it does not contain any milk ingredients.
Oolong milk tea — Oolong tea served with milk. You can technically make oolong milk tea with a base of milk oolong! Confused yet?
🌱 Is milk tea vegan?
It is more traditional to serve milk tea with dairy-based milk, but bubble tea shops and tea houses have begun offering more dairy-free options in recent years.
For our oolong milk tea, we prefer soy milk because its creamy consistency pairs well with the earthy, toasty notes of oolong tea. However, you can use other plant milk varieties like oat, coconut, or almond.
🛒 Ingredients & substitutions
Oolong tea — We use loose-leaf oolong tea, but you can also use tea bags. Careful not to let it steep past 5 minutes to avoid a bitter taste. For different flavors and characteristics, try light, medium, and dark oolong varieties.
Milk — Our preferred choices for oolong bubble tea are soy, oat, or coconut milk. For a lighter consistency, use almond or rice milk.
Sweetener — We use brown sugar to sweeten both the boba and oolong. Adjust up or down depending on your preferences. The brown sugar can be replaced with other sweeteners like maple syrup, piloncillo, or agave.
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 brown 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 a few 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. Brew the oolong tea for 1 minute for a lighter flavor and up to 5 minutes for a stronger flavor, then remove the tea leaves.
Step 6 — For 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 — Pour the oolong tea up to about halfway or slightly more, then top your cup off with soy milk or another plant milk.
Step 8 — For 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 this oolong bubble tea recipe, check out our FAQs or leave a comment down below!
🧋 How to drink bubble tea
For oolong milk tea with boba, it's best to use a wide-mouth straw made for bubble tea. There are many materials and designs to choose from, but we really love glass bubble tea straws.
Once your tea is made, sip some tea with a few tapioca pearls and enjoy! Note: Careful not to drink too quickly to prevent choking on the boba.
If you have any leftover oolong milk tea, follow these storage tips:
Fully assembled — We always recommend drinking a fully made bubble tea right away as the tapioca will start to harden as it sits.
Fridge — You can store oolong milk tea without the pearls for up to 48 hours.
Freezer — We recommend freezing the leftovers (without the boba) in ice cube trays. You can use the ice to chill your next cold oolong milk tea.
Prep in advance — To save time, you can always prep your tea a few days in advance. The syrup is also fridge-stable for up to 3 weeks.
Dry tapioca pearls — Keep uncooked tapioca pearls in a cool, dry container for up to 6 months. Consume them within a few hours once they're cooked.
Different oolong — Try different oolong varieties for more pronounced flavors. Da Hong Pao has a very smoky flavor that would be great to try in milk tea.
Caffeine-free — If you're looking for a caffeine-free option, purchase a decaf oolong tea.
Other boba — Use popping boba, coconut jellies, or mini boba for a fun twist on black tapioca pearls.
Low-calorie sweetener — Replace brown sugar with stevia or monk fruit. Or, leave it out altogether for a sugar-free option.
Whipped — For an extra special boba, top it with coconut whipped cream!
🧑🍳 Top tips
Brew time — Optimal brew time for oolong tea is between 1-5 minutes. If you prefer bold tea, make sure it's steeped closer to the 5-minute mark.
Drink immediately — For optimal flavors and textures, drink your oolong milk tea immediately after making it.
Choose the right straw — Straws designed for bubble tea will provide a much better drinking experience. You won't be able to fit boba in a regular straw!
High-quality oolong — Opt for a premium oolong tea brand for the best flavors.
Depending on the level of oxidation, oolong tea can range from light and floral to bold and toasty.
Yes, oolong milk tea contains caffeine. The actual caffeine content sits somewhere between green and black tea at an average of 37-55 milligrams per eight ounces.
Oolong milk tea can absolutely be a part of a well-balanced diet. However, if your goal is lowering your caloric intake, then it should be consumed in moderation.
🍴 More recipes like this one
If you enjoy this oolong milk tea, be sure to check out some other popular bubble teas:
- Taro milk tea: Fresh taro root mixed with milk of your choice, sugar, and tapioca pearls.
- Hokkaido milk tea: A Japanese milk tea that's extra creamy and filled with chewy boba.
- Honeydew milk tea: Fresh melon mixed with green tea, plant milk, and pearls.
- Jasmine milk tea: Sweet and floral jasmine green tea with milk and boba.
- Thai tea boba: Thai iced tea served with chewy tapioca balls.
Creamy Oolong Milk Tea
- Medium saucepan
- Mixing bowl
- Bubble tea staw
- ½ cup uncooked black tapioca pearls ($0.70)
- 6 cups water
- ⅓ cup brown sugar* + ⅓ cup water ($0.09)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 6 teaspoons loose-leaf oolong tea balls ($0.35)
Milk & sweetener
- 1 cup soy milk ($0.25)
- 3-4 tablespoons brown sugar syrup
- Ice to serve optional
- 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 take 30 minutes).
- In the meantime, prepare the brown sugar 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 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 oolong tea for 1 minute for a lighter flavor up to 5 minutes for a stronger, more earthy flavor, then remove the tea leaves.
- Hot — For hot milk tea, add 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls to your cup. Add 2-4 teaspoons of syrup, or to taste. Pour the oolong tea to ½ - ¾ of the way up, then soy milk the rest of the way.
- Iced — For 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 syrup, or to taste. Pour the oolong tea to ½ - ¾ of the way up, then soy milk the rest of the way. Happy drinking!
- Brew time — Optimal brew time for oolong tea is between 1-5 minutes. If you prefer bold tea, make sure it's steeped closer to the 5-minute mark.
- Drink immediately — For optimal flavors and textures, drink your oolong milk tea immediately after making it.
- Choose the right straw — Straws designed for bubble tea will provide a much better drinking experience. You won't be able to fit boba in a regular straw!
- High-quality oolong — Opt for a premium oolong tea brand for the best flavors.
- Not all brown sugar is vegan-friendly, so double-check the brand or use organic brown sugar whenever possible.
- 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.