How To Feed Your Boba Addiction on a Student Budget

Although I had an affinity for boba before college, I didn’t reach boba-connoisseur status until I began attending UC San Diego, where boba is the substance of the gods. Dare I say ~boba culture~ has been so intertwined with my college experience –- reaching for it and making plans around it, like coffee –- that I can’t imagine its absence during these four years. Bold, I know. Outliers exist, but are few and far between. Stocked fridges and happy taste buds as a result of boba exist all around. Stressed about midterms? Boba. Drowning in homework? Boba. Procrastinating listening to recorded lectures? Boba. Out and driving or walking by a boba stop? Boba. Ok, I think the message is clear.

Too long without boba in your bloodstream is bound to result in a crash or a 404 error message. Addictions must be fed. However, feeding your addiction doesn’t have to result in a hurt bank account. Ever wonder how you could continue to feed your boba addiction while on a student budget? Here I pose two main solutions:

Boba Semi-Homemade (yes, like Food Network’s Sandra Lee):

This method will partially save your wallet and, unlike the other option below, save you time. 

Purchase premade, but uncooked tapioca pearls at your nearest Asian market and cook as directed. Standard-size eight-ounce packages will make four to six servings. Coat with a sugar or honey syrup and add to your drink of choice. You can also find popping boba in common flavors such as mango and strawberry, and jellies that are often topping options at boba places in flavors such as rainbow, coffee, lychee, or aloe. If you are an avid boba consumer with limited time, feeding your boba addiction this way will be more money-conscious than buying from shops every other day. Flavored powders for the milk tea, such as for taro, honeydew, mango, and all the above, can also be purchased at Asian markets or through websites like Amazon and will pay off for the long-term boba drinker. If you are a Thai-tea fanatic like me, you can buy a cost-effective large bag of Thai tea leaves at an Asian market such as Ranch 99 Market and add in your favorite dairy or nondairy milk or creamer after brewing.

Tapioca Pearls From Scratch:

Tapioca pearls have a sort of mysteriousness to them that leaves many wondering how exactly they’re made. Besides a special few, most restaurants and cafes buy their boba premade, which saves time, only requiring them to boil the pearls and bathe them in the sugar or honey syrup after they boil. Have you ever thought a step beyond that? It turns out that a bag of tapioca flour, which makes multiple batches of boba, can be purchased at Asian markets for around $1.00–$1.50. The other ingredients you probably already have on hand, such as water and brown sugar, making the only factor between you and an endless boba supply some time to master the recipe. If it takes you many rounds of trial, keep going. I promise it’s worth the frustration. Trust me, it took me many, many times to somewhat nail the recipe, and even still I have a lot of improvement to make. The following is a recipe adapted from a friend who is one of my boba-making coaches.

Tapioca Pearl Ingredients:

1 cup (135 g) tapioca starch , + 2 Tbsp. + more for adjusting and coating

6 Tbsp. (90 ml) water

60 g Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar Syrup Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/3 cup (100 ml) water + 1.5 Tbsp.

In a small pot, heat the 6 tablespoons of water on medium and dissolve the 60 grams of brown sugar over lowest heat to avoid too much water loss. Keep on heat until sugar is dissolved. Now, add 1/2 of the tapioca starch in, and mix quickly. Mix until it has thickened to a consistency that is thicker than before you added the tapioca starch in. Remove from heat and add the remaining 1/2 of the tapioca starch. Mix until gathered. Work quickly. 

Generously sprinkle tapioca flour on a cutting board. Transfer the smooth paste and knead into a dough. At first, it might be slightly sticky, but continue kneading until smooth. Work quickly, as the dough becomes hard to control when cooled down completely.

Divide the dough into four portions and cover the other three with plastic wrap. Shape into a long log (around 1.5 cm in diameter) and cut the log into small cubes. Roll into small balls. Yes, this will take a while, so make sure you have a good playlist going.

In a small pot, dissolve brown sugar with 100 ml water. Heat until there are large bubbles and liquid thickens into more of a syrup.

On a large plate, spread some flour and coat each tapioca ball with enough flour to avoid them sticking to each other. After the pearls are coated, shift the extra flour off. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pearls for 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the balls into a cold-water bath. Drain and mix with the brown sugar syrup.

Assemble by adding boba into the bottom of a cup, swirling it around to let the syrup coat the sides before adding tea or other drink of your choice. Now you’ve reached boba-connoisseur status.

I hope this article helps you along your boba and college student journey to happy tea drinking! If you try any of the suggestions from this article, email us at [email protected] with feedback.

Art by Andrew Diep

4 thoughts on “How To Feed Your Boba Addiction on a Student Budget

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  2. This is the exact article I needed to wake up reading on a Thursday. Also I am so excited to try making boba

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