There are some delicacies best left to chefs and special equipment.  Creme brûlée and baked Alaska come to mind. Paella — that perfect marriage of taste and texture — is yet another.  That has not prevented the ever-expanding kitchen gadget market from selling a few million diminutive blow torches, or resulted in the online recipe racket urging caution.

At least once per month, I shop at the Asian market in Portland.  Fresh organic tofu, baby bok choy, and sweet mochi are always on my list.  Staples — brown jasmine rice, roasted seaweed, and fresh kim chee — are purchased as needed.  Invariably as I ferry my purchases to the car, I stop at the whimsical storefront offering boba, or bubble tea.  I LOVE BUBBLE TEA! A sixteen ounce serving of this sweet delight separates me and $4.75 (plus tip!) forever, saddling me with the guilt of possessing a plastic cup and special wide plastic straw.  Made from the simple ingredients of strong cold-brewed black tea, milk, honey or sugar syrup, ice, and a few tablespoons of “boba” — prepared tapioca pearls — this refreshing beverage is a winner.

What separates this delightful treat from sweet, milky iced tea is those tablespoons of boba.  These pea-sized marbles of tapioca are invariably of the black variety when one purchases the prepared drink.  Asian markets often carry matcha-flavored (green), rainbow colors, and the familiar black pearls. Using a special wide straw, the sensory pleasure of sweet, cold black tea and chewy bubbles is a unique and joyful experience: So much so that my sojourns to the Asian market increased in their frequency.  

Learning that a 12-ounce bag of tapioca pearls cost about half the sum of a prepared beverage, I purchased a bag of the black pearls as well as a bag of the lovely “green tea flavored” pearls; both of which promised “Ready in 5 minutes!”  As per my usual habit, I purchased a prepared drink on my way out. After all, I needed a baseline to compare my effort… as well as one of those special double-wide plastic straws.

Now working on my third bag of pearls, I have learned several key truths about preparing boba at home.  The first truth is that the five-minute promise on the bag is a lie. My cabin on the Hood River sits at just 500 feet above sea level, but the boba require ten minutes at a gentle boil as well as ten minutes covered off the flame if you like your boba to have the gentle “chewsomeness” of the commercial product.  Second, plan to use the prepared pearls right away. If you attempt to prepare them even a few hours ahead of time, they will rapidly harden into a trip to the dentist.

If you intend to make boba tea a regular treat — whether you prepare your own or buy prepared from a vendor — consider purchasing these stainless steel boba straws to decrease your carbon footprint.

If any reader has discovered the secret for keeping the prepared boba shelf-stable, I would welcome the insight.

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