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Ultimate Guide to The Best Milk Tea (Boba or Bubble Tea)

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Have you been wondering what “milk tea” is, if it’s the same as boba or bubble tea, and if you can make it at home? This guide will answer all of your questions!

boba mil tea

Milk tea is one of my favorite beverages. I’m a huge coffee fan but milk tea (as in classic black tea + milk) is what I drink every morning. And in the afternoons I vacillate between decaf coffee lattes and tea lattes. Hot in the winter, iced in the summer.

So when I discovered bubble tea (also referred to as boba tea or milk tea) I was already in love. It’s so creamy and delicious and there’s such a wide variety of flavors and toppings you can add make it even dreamier.

While I do enjoy picking up a bubble tea from my local bubble tea shop, that gets expensive quickly! So I make most of my milk tea drinks – both with and with boba – at home.

I’m not a huge fan of sweet tea drinks (or coffee) but I do like to experiment with various types of tea (I have way too many kinds in my pantry) and different flavors, which is why you’ll find an ever expanding number of tea recipes on this site.

And why I always show you how to make tea drinks sweet or unsweet (as we say here in the US south). That way you can make your milk tea exactly as you like.

I keep a bag of boba pearls in my fridge and like to add them to my milk tea every once in a while (not every day because of the added sugar and starch). If you make simple syrup in advance and get the quick cook boba it only takes about 7 minutes to make and cool a batch for your homemade milk tea.

What Is Milk Tea?

In its simplest form, it’s exactly what you’re thinking it is…tea with milk (or cream, half-and-half, plant milk, etc). Many people automatically think of the classic black British or Irish tea in a tea cup or mug with a splash of milk. But there are so many different kinds of milk tea to be explored!

Chai Milk Tea, for example, is a favorite among tea lovers. Though chai literally means tea in India, in Western countries it’s usually referring to the spiced masala chai. The key ingredients of this chai tea are strong black tea and milk. It also includes spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, or ginger. They can be enjoyed either hot or cold depending on what you prefer.

Thai Milk Tea is a popular drink served in Thai restaurants in Southeast Asia and has become popular around the world. Its traditional main ingredients are black tea, condensed milk, and crushed ice.

A more popular method is using Thai Tea mix, which gives it its typical orange coloring. The mix is black tea with hints of star anise, cardamom, and tamarind. This mildly spiced tea is then mixed with sweetened condensed milk. And to top it all off, you can add brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls.

If it sounds too sweet, you can easily opt for regular milk but for the most authentic flavor, sweetened condensed milk is a must. This creamy, sweet milk tea is the perfect drink of choice to balance out spicy Thai food.

And then…there’s the world of bubble tea!

bubble tea with topping

Milk Tea, Boba & Bubble Tea

Boba milk tea or bubble tea is such so awesome because it can be made hot or iced and in so many different ways:

  • Using different types of tea bases (black tea, green tea, fruit tea, matcha, etc)
  • Combining tea and fruit flavors made from fruit juice, fruit syrups, and fruit purees
  • Mixing fruit flavors and milk or cream
  • With dairy milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Or vegan alternatives (soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk or non-dairy creamer)
  • Using different kinds of sweetener (simple syrup, sweetened condensed milk, etc)
  • With or without boba (those delicious chewy tapioca pearls that area soaked in simple syrup)
  • With or without added flavorings and toppings like jelly, pudding or whipped cream
  • With or without a cream cheese cap (a delicious foamy topping made by whipping together cream cheese and whipped cream)

What’s fun about bubble milk tea is that once you know the basics, you can get super creative with it. The possibilities are deliciously endless!

classic boba tea

What Are Different Kinds of Milk Tea?

There are so many! Basically, when ordering or making bubble tea you decide:

  1. Whether you want it hot or cold (some, though, are typically only served cold)
  2. What kind of tea base you want (and some don’t actually have tea in them)
  3. How sweet you want your milk tea and what kind of sweetener you want (simple syrup, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, etc)
  4. What kind of milk you want (milk, cream, plant milk – and some fruit bubble teas don’t have milk)
  5. If you want toppings (like boba, jelly, pudding, etc)
  6. If you want a creamy topping (whipped cream, cream cheese cap, etc).

You can see how many different flavor combinations can be created! Here are some popular bubble tea flavors…

classic milk tea with boba

Classic Milk Tea

Classic Milk Tea is milk tea in its most basic and purest form. It’s the original flavor from Taiwan that started it all! Typically served cold, classic milk tea consists of black tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca pearls. It’s sweet, creamy, and a classic for a reason. You can never go wrong ordering this at your local boba shop!

Even though I like to try new kinds of milk tea, I’m always drawn to the original – or the similar but slightly different Earl Gray Milk Tea (make it at home with my easy recipe).

Earl Grey Milk Tea

This delicious drink is a variation on the Classic Milk Tea. It’s basically the same except that instead of using black tea, this tea drink uses Earl Grey. Known for it’s distinct bergamot scent and flavor, Earl Grey Milk Tea is delicious with brown sugar syrup and boba.

taro milk tea

Taro Bubble Tea

Taro has become one of the most popular flavors over the past years all over America and Europe. Taro is a starchy root with a mildly sweet taste and a texture quite similar to potato. Think of it as something similar to sweet potato but with more of a vanilla and nutty flavor. 

Taro Milk Tea can be made either with premade instant taro powder or fresh ground paste. With fresh ground taro paste, it will taste fresher and have a thicker consistency. Not to mention it’s all natural.

Powdered taro is great too since it’s much quicker to prepare and tends to have a more vibrant purple color (I order bags of it here). And you can use it in other drinks (like smoothies) and recipes. But either way, Taro Milk Tea with its light purple color, looks as good as it tastes!

If you want a super sweet drink, use condensed milk. But it also tastes great with coconut milk, which enhances the taste of taro. For toppings, the popular choices are brown sugar tapioca pearls or even taro boba pearls.

tiger milk tea

Tiger Milk Tea

Tiger Milk Tea is another trendy and popular boba tea flavor. It’s also known as Brown Sugar Milk Tea since brown sugar syrup is the key ingredient. The drink actually gets its name from the tiger-like stripes that appear when the syrup is smeared on the inside of the cup. You can really see the contrast once the milk is poured in. 

This delicious drink actually doesn’t contain any tea, meaning there’s no caffeine. It’s basically a milk base with brown sugar syrup and black tapioca pearls. Because of its simple ingredients, it tastes very rich and sweet with a deep caramelized flavor. It has a very silky and creamy consistency, making for the perfect dessert or sweet treat!

Mango Milk Tea

Fruit Bubble Tea is another delicious take on milk tea. You can find a variety of flavors using fresh fruit ranging from lychee, peach, passion fruit, and many more. These refreshing drinks are perfect for summers and hot days and mango milk tea is one of the best ones! 

This type is usually made with pure mango nectar or even freshly squeezed mangoes for the best flavor. You can order it with your milk of choice. Some places also serve it with green tea. Fruit teas like this one go great with popping boba, which are fruit flavored boba balls instead of tapioca pearls. Get Mango Boba for an even richer flavor!

Oolong Milk Tea

As its name suggests, Oolong Milk Tea uses oolong tea as its tea base. Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese drink that’s commonly served steeped in water but there are also other variations like adding dairy and sweetener.

Depending on the cultivation method of the tea leaves, oolong can either be sweet and fruity with honey undertones or more woody and earthy. As a milk tea, you can enjoy it either cold or hot. It goes best with brown sugar and tapioca pearls.

Strawberry Milk Tea

Strawberry Milk Tea is another well liked fruit tea. Most boba places prepare this drink using fresh strawberry syrup or strawberry milk, which yields a thicker texture almost like a smoothie or milkshake. As always, you can opt for whichever milk you prefer as any will go well with this drink. Regular strawberry milk tea often uses green tea as its tea base but you can also opt out of it if you don’t want caffeine.

For add-ons, you can’t go wrong with the classic chewy tapioca pearls. But other fun toppings include cream cheese foam, fruit jelly or strawberry mousse.

matcha milk tea

Matcha Milk Tea

Matcha Milk Tea, like any other matcha drink, is made from Japanese green tea powder. It’s made with hot water and your milk and sweetener of choice. Honey or brown sugar are great options. With the tapioca pearls, it all comes together to form a well-balanced drink with a mild, sweet and earthy taste. 

Jasmine Milk Tea

Jasmine Milk Tea is a simple but delicious milk tea flavor. Jasmine tea is a beloved classic tea, known for its fragrant aroma and mild sweet taste. It’s most commonly made with a green tea base, but white tea or black tea are also used.

The subtly sweet and floral taste still remains but with the addition of milk, jasmine milk tea will have a rich, creamy texture. Typically condensed milk or whole milk are used. Honey is great as a sweetener and of course, tapioca pearls are a must.

fruit bubble tea

Can I Make Milk Tea At Home?

Yes! It’s very easy to make all kinds of hot and iced milk tea in your own kitchen. You’ll find easy and delicious milk tea recipes here.

What Do I Need to Make Milk Tea At Home?

You only need a few simple ingredients and kitchen tools to make milk tea. You probably have most of the ingredients already.

  • Tea bags, sachets or loose leaf (black, Earl Grey, matcha, fruit, etc)
  • Milk or a milk alternative for vegan versions (you can use whole milk, 2%, almond milk, etc)
  • Simple syrup (my brown sugar syrup is delicious in milk tea – that’s my favorite)
  • Or sweetened condensed milk
  • Boba pearls (I get these quick cook black tapioca pearls on Amazon)
  • Ice if making an iced milk tea
  • Other flavors (taro, fruit, etc)

For basic bubble milk tea, the two things you’ll likely need to buy are boba (those little chewy tapioca balls) and a wide straw made specifically for drinking boba.

milk tea with boba pearls

For certain flavors you might need to buy additional ingredients, like taro powder for Taro Milk Tea or matcha powder for Matcha Milk Tea. To add a cream cheese cap to your homemade milk tea, check out my tutorial here.

What Type of Tea Do I Need To Make Milk Tea At Home?

Black tea is the most popular but you can use all kinds of tea like Earl Grey, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, fruit tea, matcha, etc.

Does Milk Tea Always Have Boba In It?

Milk tea traditionally comes with tapioca pearls. But you can always customize your drink so you can order or make it without boba.

Is Milk Tea Sweet?

Yes, most milk tea is sweet in taste (that’s why it’s so good topped with a salty cream cheese cap). But it largely depends on the flavor and you can always customize sugar levels in most milk tea places.

Where Can I Buy Milk Tea

At bubble tea shops! They’re becoming more and more popular in the United States (and elsewhere) so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding one.

Are There Different Names for Milk Tea?

Yes, milk tea goes by a handful of names! In the US you’ll see milk tea, boba tea, bubble tea, pearl milk tea, and boba — these names are all typically used interchangeably and refer to the same thing.

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