Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My love affair with boba

There are few pleasures quite as childishly delightful as drinking boba tea. The slight astringency of the tea, the milky sweetness of the flavoring (be it taro, lychee, or simple milk tea), and of course, the slippery, chewy balls of boba themselves.

Although it's called tapioca, boba is actually made of sweet potato starch, and its long chain carbohydrates give boba its unique sticky texture that Asians crave. I recently made my first visit to a boba shop in Cambridge at Boston Tea Stop in Harvard Square. The boba there was ok. At least the boba wasn't limp or slimey as truly bad boba can be, but it was nothing special. My favorite boba shop is still Boba World in Alhambra, California, which I lived within walking distance of for a whole year. Boba world's high turnover meant that the boba were always fresh and cooked to perfection, and it offered a mind-boggling variety of fresh and delicious flavors. Although some of their flavors were from powder, they were high-quality powders and they added touches like fresh fruit, fresh whipped cream, and authentic oreo cookies. At one point I probably spent $15 a week on boba alone. Boba World also adjoins Noodle World, my favorite late-night Asian diner offering comfort-food noodles and other dishes from around the continent.

But the best boba I've had probably comes from Tea Station, also in Alhambra. Tea station uses tea from TenRen, one of the better tea purveyers available in the US (available at Ming's and the larger Super 88's in Boston). Although Tea Station charges about a dollar more for boba tea than Boba World. You can really taste the quality of the tea, and they offer several kinds of tea along with your milk and flavoring. My favorite was the sweet and herbal chrysanthemum.

But alas, heart-achingly good boba just cannot be found in Boston. But the good news is that you can have fun and save money by making boba yourself.

You can find dried boba at most larger Asian supermarkets, including Ming's and the Super 88's in Dorchester, Allston, and on Harold St. in Boston (see my markets page for store info). I got this 2.2lb package of dried boba at Ming's for $2.99! While you're at Ming's pick up some green tea or Thai tea powder for your drinks. While Ming's has the best tea selection in Boston, the Super 88 in Dorchester has by far the best selection of boba tea flavoring powders. These supermarkets also usually carry the jumbo straws needed to drink boba tea (these can also be found on the internet). Flavored syrups such as those made by Torani and Monin also work well with boba tea.

Making boba is also incredibly easy, and I usually make a pretty big batch at a time to satisfy my boba fix for a week at a time.
  • Take a few cups of dried boba, cover it generously with water in a large pot, and soak for about three hours.
  • Turn on the heat and bring the boba and water to a boil
  • Boil for about 10-15 minutes, testing every five minutes for doneness. The boba should not be dry or crumbly in the center, and it should be chewy without being slimy.
  • If you're not using all of it immediately, you need to store the boba in a refrigerator with some sugar syrup. The sugar will help the boba keep its shape and prevent it from forming a gigantic sticky mass. Use about 1/4 cup sugar (or green tea / thai tea powder containing sugar!) mixed with 1/2 cup water for each cup of cooked boba. You can substitute honey, maple syrup, or flavored syrup for the sugar syrup. Cool completely before storing in the refrigerator
The boba can become a little hard in the fridge, so simply heat it gently on the stove or in the microwave with a little milk or water to enjoy it in its full glory. I actually also love to eat boba on its own without the tea as a jumbo version of tapioca pudding.

Super 88 - Dorchester (South Bay Center)
(617) 541 2288
101 Allstate Rd.
Dorchester, MA 02125
Monday - Sunday 8:30am - 11:00pm

Ming's Supermarket
(617) 338-1588
1102 Washington St
Roxbury, MA 02118


Kenny said...

Well I guess I have to give boba another try. I am assuming I've only had bad boba my entire life because I never really cared for it. Time to search for a quality one in NYC then I guess.

Chuck Eesley said...

Hey, thanks for the comment! Yes, Once was a really good movie. I'm a boba fan as well. :)

Erin said...

There's more boba in Boston than the Tea Stop, you know! Besides the many Asian restaurants around town that do decent boba and more besides, Dado Tea in Harvard Square (a few steps away from Boston Tea Stop) has variable but often fantastic boba, made with *excellent* tea. (I like the plain Keemun black tea with soymilk, which gives it just enough sweetness.)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how to store cooked boba at home, so thanks! The 5-minute boba are sure convenient. I always have leftover boba when I finish my tea, so I put a little coconut milk over it and crunchy sugar on top for a yummy, chewy dessert. I'm gonna have to hit Quickly this afternoon since it will take several hours to cook my dry boba :(

Michelle said...

Hi! Love your blog! Do you have any online suggestions for purchasing these products? The ones I have found are either pricey or have outrageous shipping.. Thank you!