Go to any city around the world, and you’re sure to find a pastel-colored drink with a fat straw and black, springy boba pearls clustered at the bottom of the cup.
This sweet drink is called several things, depending on where you are. Whether you call it boba tea, bubble tea, tapioca tea, or pearl milk tea, you know it’s deliciously refreshing.
There are plenty of ways to get your caffeine fix, so what makes this particular drink so special? The secret lies in those boba pearls and their addictive texture peeking out of the bottom of the drink.
Boba tea is a special treat, and it can be expensive. That’s why it’s so frustrating to return to your bubble tea after an hour and to discover that the tapioca pearls are rock hard and impossible to chew.
Aficionados will let you know that boba tea is always best served fresh. However, there are ways to keep those chewy tapioca pearls softer for longer and soften them back up.
Read these detailed step-by-step instructions below to discover the best methods to soften hardened boba. These instructions will also work if you have made your own pearls at home and you have some leftovers that have hardened and lose their chewiness.
What Are Boba Pearls?
Originally invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, this tasty drink has now made it to all corners of the globe. Bubble tea is a fun drink that mixes sweet milk tea with tapioca pearls.
It is served with a sealed top, so you have to use the fat plastic straw to eat the tasty pearls. Black and green tea is mixed with yummy flavored syrup, frothy milk, or non-dairy substitutes like coconut and almond milk, resulting in a rainbow offering of chunky drinks.
There are so many varieties to choose from. Try pink strawberry tea, orangey peach teas, tasty green matcha, Assam black tea, or my favorite; supreme jasmine milk tea with tapioca and mango jelly. Those fun dark brown, almost black pearls in your bubble tea are made from tapioca starch balls mixed with sugar.
The starch from boba comes from the cassava root, also known as yuca. The starch composition of the pearls means they are naturally chewy and soft when fresh. However, starch reacts to coldness by hardening.
Since milk tea is served cold and often with ice cubes, you’re often in a race against time.
Softening Hardened Boba
The best way to make boba soft again is to warm the starch back up. Here is how to do it without ruining the pearls. Steaming the boba is an excellent way to heat the pearls back up and just takes a few steps.
- Add about one inch of water to a pot with a steaming tray or rack. (Use a tray or mesh with tiny holes).
- Bring water to a boil.
- Place the boba over the steaming rack, letting that hot steam revive the hardened pearls.
- Don’t steam them for too long! A few minutes is plenty. Sample the boba and bite into one to see if it is ready.
- Then simply put the boba back in your milk tea.
Another way to soften the hardened boba is by boiling it in a sugary syrup. This mimics the way it was originally made. To make the syrup, you can use white or brown sugar.
- Heat two parts of water to one part of sugar in a pot on the stove.
- Stir it until the sugar is melted and becomes thick, heavy syrup.
- Add the boba balls to the mixture.
- Mix the pearls in the hot syrup until they become softer.
- Put them back in your milk tea and drink up!
Do not overcook the pearls. Heating them for too long may cause them to become too soft and mushy.
How Long Does It Take For Boba To Get Hard?
Milk tea is always cold and oftentimes even has ice in it. When boba is placed in a cold liquid, it will become hard in just a couple of hours. Any sugar coating around the pearls will start to dissolve right away in the milky liquid. In the fridge or at room temperature, the pearls can stay soft for hours or days, depending on how carefully you preserve them.
Perfect Texture For Boba
The texture of perfectly cooked boba should be somewhat soft on the outside and slightly rubbery on the inside. It should take at least a few chews before biting through the pearls. If boba has a soft jelly-like consistency, then they are cooked too much.
Can You Keep Boba In The Fridge Overnight?
For overnight storage, you can keep your cooked tapioca pearls in the fridge. To help maintain their soft texture, keeping them immersed in sugar water. Even with all of these precautions, boba will still harden after two to three days in the fridge.
However, if you are going to eat your boba within four to five hours after making them, don’t put the pearls in the fridge. They will harden much too fast, and there is no need for refrigeration for that short amount of time.
Instead, store them at room temperature. Stir them occasionally since starch has a habit of lumping and the sugar coating also causes them to stick together.
Can You Microwave Boba?
Microwaving isn’t recommended for boba. It will ruin the structural integrity of the tapioca pearls. It becomes too hot too quickly, and the process is unnecessarily harsh for delicate boba.
However, this is a quick and easy trick to softening boba that uses the microwave. Simply heat up some plain water in the microwave. Then place the boba in hot water for 5 minutes. It should be softened by now and ready to be enjoyed with your bubble tea.
How To Store Cooked Tapioca Pearls?
Cooked tapioca pearls can be stored at room temperature for 4 hours or place in a simple sugary syrup and store in the fridge for 72 hours. For longer-term storage, freeze them in freezer bags for up to 6 months.
To use frozen tapioca pearls, put them in boiling water while constantly stirring, boil for 5 minutes. Try one before you stop cooking; it should be soft throughout the middle when biting. Then remove them from heat and let them sit for another 5 minutes before draining out the water. Using a fine-mesh strainer, rinse them under cold water and add them to your drink.
Keeping the boba balls immersed in a simple sugary syrup until they are ready to eat is a common trick that most Bubble Tea shops use. This ensures that they have nice, chewy pearls all day.
To make a simple syrup:
- Mix equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. (A good starting amount is 200g white sugar and 200ml of water).
- Then carefully heat the pan until the sugar completely dissolves.
- Then pour the hot syrup over the freshly cooked hot boba.
- Let it sit for a while before covering it with a plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container. If you aren’t going to use it in the next few hours, you can keep it in the fridge.
Bubble tea is a delicious drink, but it’s just not the same with hard tapioca pearls. If you make your own cassava starch balls, then cook them in small quantities at a time to ensure they remain fresh at all times, and none are wasted.
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