Bubble Tea, part 2

Joined Feb 24, 2009
So I've had a little time to come up with some fun stuff for our farm market business. My latest endeavor is to develop a bunch of bubble tea drinks using local fruit as a base.
A couple of problems arise. In my searching of sites that offer bubble tea supplies, all the offerings have artificial flavors, colors and other icky ingredients. Not so bad though, since I can forgo all that and use the fruit I froze from last summer.
However, I can't figure out what makes the tapioca pearls black. I bought tapioca pearls in various sizes from my asian supermarket and once cooked, they are clear or translucent.
The bubble tea joints sell pearls that are black after cooking and really show up in the drink, but I don't want to use them if there's a bunch of artificial crap in them just to turn them black. Packaging is of no help as the ingredients just say "tapioca pearls."

What do any of you know about the black pearls?
Joined Oct 19, 2009
I don't know if BDL can shine more light on the matter, but I live in China and the pearls are just about everywhere. They are made from tapioca and carageenan (but you already know that) and SHOULD be coloured with caramel, however depending on the brand, are coloured and flavoured by just about everything; coffee, spices, rice... I guess the cheapest non-soluble pigment they can get! And surely not all natural!

Personally I would reccommend making your own- its fairly simple, its a process known as ion-induced spherification (not nearly as complicated as the title).

You need two salts; the most popular would be Sodium alginate and calcium chloride.

Take your liquid, and blend 0.5% sodium alginate until salts disolve. Cool.

Take some plain water and heat it with 0.5% calcium chloride until dissolved. Cool until very cold. This is your setting bath.

Drop some ice cubes into the water and drop in your sodium alginate liquid from a table spoon into the setting bath. It will immediately form a sphere. Leave for half an hour or so, and it should come out like squishy pearls. Wash them and they're ready to go.

Hope that helps.
Joined Feb 24, 2009
Thanks for the info and instructions Chris.

I know this drink is popular in China. Do you ever see it with large tapioca in its natural color-kind of clear and translucent?

With all our other stuff that we prep for the markets, making my own pearls would really take up too much time, though again, thanks for the illuminating info.

I guess what I'm asking is if anyone thinks that our clients would be disappointed if the pearls are not black, but a clear, translucent color.

To me, it makes them look more bubbly in the drink instead of having a load of what looks like black marbles in the bottom. More subtle, and prettier from my point of view.

I just want all our products to be natural, without artificial gunk in them.
Joined Oct 19, 2009
well please correct me if I'm wrong but I'm under the impression that pearls in tea, are somewhat of an acquired taste for the western palette, and irrelevant on colour its mainly the texture that people can't seem to get on with the most.

Personally I love them, and I don't mind what colour they are. And yes, you can see them here with no colour, although it is rare (in China, once a profitable product is established, very few people are prepared to change until its deemed necessary).
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Happy New Year.

It seems like you've done a lot of research on your own; and also that you're getting a lot of insight from Chirs. I did a little research myself after reading this thread, and still know less than either of you. Sorry, wish I could be of more help.

More happy, more new year,
Joined Jan 3, 2010
There's tapioca pearls, and then there are tapioca pearls. Not all are made equal. I suspect your local Asian supermarket carries tapioca pearls that are meant to be used in various sweet soups. The ones usually used in bubble tea drinks are specifically tapioca made with brown sugar (or, they're supposed to get their color from only brown sugar if they are all natural). This is what gives them the darker color.

Now, there might be ways around this. One thing that most people don't know is that tapioca used in bubble tea is not just tapioca. After the tapioca is cooked, wash it first so that the tapioca pearls are not stuck to each other, then put them through cold (or even ice) water so that it goes through cold shock. After the cold shock simply dump the pearls in brown sugar water (yes, your friendly neighborhood bubble tea shop does this too) and let soak for fifteen to thirty minutes. In theory the brown sugar water should impart SOME color to the transparency, but it won't be the rich blackness seen normally.

If you really can't find tapioca made with brown sugar, then work with what you have. Bubble tea comes in many forms. The transparent tapioca works very well with green tea or jasmine tea and is usually a very welcome change after the intense sweetness found in your typical bubble tea. ADDENDUM: Got some aloe around? Throw those in for the ultimate summer drink. Chilled green/jasmine tea with tapioca and aloe... mm...
Joined Aug 29, 2000
I first encountered this when a Hmong student brought this to my classroom for a party. The Hmong call it "nava". my student used ripe papaya puree as the flavoring. The pearls were translucent, not colored. I know the texture of tapioca is off-putting to some people, but just about everyone liked the bubble tea.

Here's an interesting article about Hmong food, including nava: Hmong International Market: A Little Bit of Laos in Saint Paul - tc foodies
Top Bottom