Thai tea boba is an ice-cold, creamy bubble tea filled with authentic spices like anise, cardamom, and cinnamon. Try recreating this delicious bubble tea from the comfort of your own home!
Table of Contents
- 🧋 What is Thai tea boba?
- 🧡 Why is it orange?
- 😋 What does it taste like?
- 📜 History
- 🍃 Homemade vs spice mix
- 🫖 Thai tea boba vs Thai iced tea vs milk tea
- 🌱 Is Thai milk tea vegan?
- 🛒 Ingredients & substitutions
- 📝 Instructions
- 🧋 How to drink bubble tea
- 🌡️ Storage
- ♻️ Variations
- 🧑🍳 Top tips
- 💬 FAQ
- 🍴 More recipes like this one
- 📋 Recipe
🧋 What is Thai tea boba?
Thai tea boba is a popular beverage from Thailand consisting of black tea, condensed milk, evaporated milk, and tapioca pearls (also known as boba).
In Thailand, this tea is called "Cha Yen," meaning "cold tea." In its most basic form, the mixture is tea and evaporated milk. As with many tea-infused drinks, the original recipe eventually caught on and has since spread to other regions.
Nowadays, there are many variations of Thai tea. Some call for spices like star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom, while others include scoops of tapioca pearls for a chewy drinking experience. The one thing they all have in common is a characteristic orange hue.
🧡 Why is it orange?
The unique color of Thai tea is due to food coloring being mixed into the dry mixture. On its own, Thai tea appears a vivid red color. Once you add condensed milk, it transforms into a beautiful orange hue.
Most people believe dye was originally used to differentiate Thai tea from Thai coffee, which is very similar in color.
Another popular theory suggests people would often reuse steeped tea leaves. Since the second brew resulted in a weaker tea, they added tamarind, spices, and colors to achieve a similar effect.
😋 What does it taste like?
Thai bubble tea varies in taste depending on the spices used, quality of tea, and milk added. Typically, this drink has a bold, earthy flavor from the black tea with hints of cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon.
Adding milk, sugar, and boba gives it a creamy sweetness with a chewy texture. As you can imagine, it pairs incredibly well with spicy foods to balance the heat.
Tea was introduced to Thailand in the 80s by China as a way to eliminate opium plants and drug trafficking. The tea industry blossomed and became popular to serve alongside meals.
Most food historians speculate Pibul Songkram, a prominent Thai leader, invented the first version of Cha Yen. Countless different recipes have stemmed from the initial Cha Yen, spreading to other parts of the world.
🍃 Homemade vs spice mix
We prefer making our Thai teas from scratch because it gives us more control over the end result. Plus, we don't have to worry about any artificial flavors or colors.
In Thailand, the most popular Thai tea mix is The Number 1. You'll find tin cans of it stacked on shelves of tea shops and stall vendors. We've recently found a Natural Thai tea mix you can try instead of making your own.
At the end of the day, it comes down to preference and convenience!
🫖 Thai tea boba vs Thai iced tea vs milk tea
There are many different names for this type of drink, but here are some of the most common terms associated with milk tea:
Milk tea — An umbrella term for tea with milk. It may be plain or sweetened.
Thai tea boba & Thai bubble tea — Thai iced tea with tapioca pearls (boba) added in. This recipe is both a milk tea and a bubble tea.
🌱 Is Thai milk tea vegan?
In Thailand, Thai milk tea or Thai tea boba is almost always served with condensed milk and evaporated milk.
However, it's rather simple to swap in plant-based options like coconut or soy milk for a similarly rich and creamy tea.
🛒 Ingredients & substitutions
Black tea — We use loose-leaf Assam tea, but you can use Darjeeling, Ceylon, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, or any strong black tea bags you have on hand. Don't let it steep too far past 5 minutes to avoid bitter flavors.
Milk — For Thai bubble tea, we prefer the full-bodied consistency and flavor of coconut milk. For a lighter flavor and mouthfeel, use soy, almond, or oat milk.
Spices — We use cinnamon, cardamom, and anise for flavor. The turmeric provides a signature Thai milk tea color without artificial ingredients. Plus, turmeric carries many health benefits from the curcumin found in it.
Tapioca pearls — Also known as boba, uncooked tapioca pearls can easily be found at Asian food markets. If you are short on time, purchase quick-cooking boba. You can also try making your own pearls from scratch if you're up to it!
Sweetener — We use cane sugar to sweeten the boba and tea. Feel free to use more or less depending on your preferences. If you don't have cane sugar, use another sweetener like agave, brown rice syrup, or beet sugar.
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 cane 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 Thai tea.
Step 5 — While the tapioca pearls are soaking, add water, black tea leaves, star anise pods, cardamom pods, cinnamon, and turmeric to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Step 6 — Strain the tea to remove the spices and loose-leaf Assam tea. Add in the simple syrup and mix the tea to combine everything.
Step 7 — Let the tea cool, then scoop 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls into your cup. Next, add a scoop of ice to about halfway.
Step 8 — Pour the Thai tea up to about halfway or slightly more, then top your cup off with coconut milk or soy milk. Taste and adjust the sweetness to your liking. Happy drinking!
If you have questions about this Thai bubble tea recipe, check out our FAQs or leave a comment down below!
🧋 How to drink bubble tea
Thai bubble tea needs to be consumed through a wide-mouth straw made specifically for bubble teas. Although there are plastic or stainless steel materials available, we love our glass boba straws.
Once everything is prepared, slurp up tapioca pearls along with your milk tea. Just be careful not to drink too fast or it can become a choking hazard!
If you have extra Thai bubble tea, here's what to do:
Fully made — Consume your fully prepared boba tea immediately for the best texture and taste.
Fridge — Thai iced tea without tapioca pearls will keep for 48 hours in the fridge.
Freezer — Freeze any remaining tea (without tapioca) in ice cube trays to chill your next batch of Thai tea boba.
Make-ahead — Prepare the syrup up to 3 weeks in advance and brew your tea a few days before making a batch of bubble tea.
Uncooked boba — Uncooked tapioca pearls can be kept in a clean, airtight container for up to half a year.
Caffeine-free — Replace regular Assam tea with any decaf black tea or rooibos for a stimulant-free version.
Other boba — Try adding coconut jellies, mini boba, or popping boba for a different flavor and texture in your bubble tea.
Sugar-free — Instead of cane sugar, use a sugar-free sweetener like monk fruit or stevia, or omit it altogether.
🧑🍳 Top tips
Brew time — Black tea should be steeped for a maximum of 3-5 minutes. We recommend tasting it after 3 minutes to determine if it's strong enough.
Consume right away — Don't wait to drink your bubble tea! It's best consumed immediately.
The right straw — We recommend bubble tea straws if you serve your drink with boba. Regular straws aren't wide enough to fit them.
Staining — Thai bubble tea is the perfect color to stain clothes and tables. Just be careful as you're enjoying your drink.
Thai tea is often very sweet due to the high sugar content in pre-mixed packages. For control over the sweetness, make your tea from scratch like this recipe.
Yes, Thai tea boba contains caffeine since it's made with black tea. You can make a caffeine-free version with decaf black tea or rooibos.
Thai bubble tea is calorie-dense as far as drinks go, but it can definitely be part of a well-balanced diet. We recommend enjoying bubble tea in moderation.
🍴 More recipes like this one
If you enjoy this Thai tea boba recipe, be sure to check out some other popular bubble teas like these:
- Taro milk tea: Creamy milk mixed with taro root, sweetener, and chewy tapioca pearls.
- Hokkaido milk tea: A popular drink mixed with Japanese milk and black tea.
- Honeydew milk tea: Sweet honeydew mixed with green tea and soy milk.
- Oolong milk tea: Oolong tea, tapioca balls, milk, and brown sugar.
- Jasmine milk tea: Sweet, creamy, and floral jasmine green tea with boba.
Best Thai Tea Boba
- Medium saucepan
- Small saucepan
- Mixing bowl
- Boba straw
- ½ cup uncooked black tapioca pearls ($0.70)
- 6 cups water
- ⅓ cup cane sugar + ⅓ cup water ($0.05)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1 tablespoon loose-leaf black tea ($0.35)
- 2 whole star anise pods ($0.02)
- 2 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed ($0.02)
- 1 inch cinnamon stick ($0.03)
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric ($0.01)
- ½ - ¾ cup full-fat coconut milk ($0.23)
- 3-4 tablespoons extra simple 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 simple syrup. Add cane 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 3-4 tablespoons, 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, add water, black tea leaves, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Once steeped, strain the Thai tea into a heat-safe container. Add in simple syrup and stir to combine.
- Let the tea cool down to room temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls to your cup, then a handful of ice. Pour the Thai tea ½ - ¾ of the way up, then coconut milk the rest of the way. Happy drinking!
- Brew time — Black tea should be steeped for a maximum of 3-5 minutes. We recommend tasting it after 3 minutes to determine if it's strong enough.
- Consume right away — Don't wait to drink your bubble tea! It's best consumed immediately.
- The right straw — We recommend bubble tea straws if you serve your drink with boba. Regular straws aren't wide enough to fit them.
- Staining — Thai tea boba is the perfect color to stain clothes and tables. Just be careful as you're enjoying your drink.
- Milk — We prefer the full-bodied consistency and flavor of coconut milk, but you can use soy milk or oat milk.
- 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.