Since 2020 has taken so much from all of us already, I figured I might as well bravely come forward with the admission that I have a finnicky relationship with milk tea.
Or bubble tea. Or boba. You know what it is.
Before you cancel me, hear me out—back in the early 2010’s, during what I’d call the “first wave” of the milk tea craze, I loved it. I loved it so damn much, I would leave my wallet in the car just to avoid buying a drink from the milk tea place next door to my then-office.
Did it work most of the time? Yes. Did I also have co-workers who were enablers and convinced me to get one when they were craving for milk tea? Also, yes.
Being in journalism and with milk tea being such a relevant topic, of course a story has to be written about it. And of course I had to be one of those who did. Thus began an entire week of drinking nothing but milk tea.
It sounds like a pipe dream, and to some extent it was, drinking milk tea day to night. But in reality, it messed up my appetite for food, triggered my lactose intolerance (which only kicks in when I’ve had too much dairy), and by day seven I was so over it, I swore off milk tea for years.
(Unfortunately, these Dark Ages also covered my trip to Taiwan, so I’ve been to milk tea land but did not care much for it then, oop. #PattyIsOverParty)
Fast forward to 2020 and here I am, making my own milk tea. Talk about a plot twist.
I rekindled my love for it during a 2019 trip to Hong Kong, and my friend Joanna wanted to check out Tiger Sugar. So there we were along with other friend Zeke, loitering in the rainy streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, each with an ice-cold drink in our hands.
I slurped down mine, thought, “Ah, milk tea,” promptly forgot about it the rest of the trip until I landed in sunny Cebu days later, my first glimpse of blue skies after almost a week. The massive craving for milk tea hit, and it hit hard.
Over the quarantine period, milk tea has been an accessible source of comfort thanks to delivery services like GrabFood. Perfect, especially, for the ridiculously hot Philippine summer afternoons when I was melting in a puddle of my own sweat, and also for when I was stressed after each episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s final season (f*ck all those Malick stingers when all we ever wanted was Fitz to show up which he didn’t until episode 12 of a 13-episode season sksksks whyyyy).
Part of the appeal of milk tea was that, unlike coffee, it wasn’t something I could readily make at home. My head canon is that they are treats for ordinary occasions and for when I need to indulge.
Well, we’re throwing all that away.
My Aunt, ever crafty in finding cheaper alternatives for literally anything, found that you can actually buy milk tea ingredients from the wet market, and came home one day with these:
Now, besides my mind going all “NOOOO, MILK TEA IS SOMETHING I DON’T MAKE MYSELF!!1!” twitch twitch hiss, a big reason for my hesitation was actually serving size: These were 500g worth of instant milk tea mix and 1kg of pearls, which are a lot in one go. Not to mention, the pearls won’t actually hold for too long once cooked.
I know I could quarter the recipe, but look, I failed Math one semester and it gave me a lot of self-esteem issues. It took me a while to figure out the correct ratios and conversions, and even longer to be confident about them.
And so yesterday, I was legitimately bored but also needed to get some things off my mind, I ventured into the kitchen and finally gave this a shot.
Since the actual milk tea was a powdered mix, I was most worried instead for the pearls. Being a stickler for rules, I read and reread the instructions like 20 times: Dump in boiling water, stir until they float, simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, take off heat and cool for another 30 minutes, then strain and rinse under cold water.
I was able to follow most of them to a T, except I don’t know if our stove just doesn’t do heat low enough or I miscalculated and put too much water, but the pot kept spilling over. I took it off the stove around eight minutes too early.
Besides (or despite?) that little hiccup, the pearls actually came out rather nicely! Soft and chewy and delishush. I dumped it all into a pitcher where I had already prepared the milk tea, except for a couple spoonfuls which I placed directly into my glass bloop bloop bloop (
please don’t cancel me for that, I’m not G*na C*rano, also Fennec Shand > Cara Dune I said what I said).
The pearls were one thing, the milk tea mix we got was another: It had a sickly-sweet, too-artificial taste I didn’t care for. Diluting it with water made it more palatable, I think, although my brother liked it as it was. This just might be a matter of personal preference.
Would I do it again when I finish the leftover ingredients? I’m a little ehh on that. It’s too involved and time-consuming for my liking, when I can have milk tea delivered in less than 30 minutes. The store-bought ones also taste much better.
On the other hand, it’s good for making a big batch that will be consumed right away, like for a big family, or even for small (and social-distanced!) gatherings. That would make it worth the time and effort.
And I will say this: It IS a very satisfying quarantine activity, much like baking. So if that appeals to you, go right ahead. I think next time I’ll make the actual milk tea from scratch—I’ve added milk to a cup of earl gray and that was so much more enjoyable.
Besides, you’re making milk tea from scratch anyway, what’s a couple more extra steps, right?
In case anyone wants to make their own milk tea, we got our ingredients from the market, but you can also find them on almighty Shopee #notsponsored:
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