For many people, bubble tea (also known as boba tea) is an indispensable part of their everyday routine.
It’s sweet, chewy, and when mixed with green tea, it makes for an amazing and refreshing beverage. Boba tea was introduced and made famous in Taiwan and since then it has taken on many forms.
From bursting pearls to regular boba, crystal boba, and more—there is something for everyone! For this guide, we will be discussing the crystal boba variety and how it stacks against other boba teas.
This guide is meant to be a beacon of hope for people who know nothing about the boba experience!
If you are someone who has heard the term “bubble tea” but thought of it as tea infused with flavors of bubble gum then this topic is just for you.
Also, for people who already love boba, this guide will cover different ways of making boba tea, the differences between boba and crystal boba, and show you how you can ditch store-bought boba and make your own at home.
What is crystal boba? Crystal boba tea is made using agar powder, which gives the pearls a translucent white color and a soft and chewy texture. Other ingredients include white sugar, cold water, and oil.
If you want to learn more about crystal boba and its many uses then read on to learn more!
What Is Crystal Boba?
Regular boba tea is made using boba pearls – these pearls are made using tapioca starch. Crystal boba, however, has a slightly different set of ingredients. Instead of corn starch or tapioca, crystal boba is made using white agar powder.
This gelling agent is what gives the crystal boba pearls their texture and shape.
Crystal boba is known to be white and slightly gelatinous when compared with regular boba.
They are naturally white and, when cooked, they will become transparent.
The term “crystal” comes from the fact that the boba pearls are completely white and translucent and have a slightly reflective exterior.
These balls have the ability to take on any color you add to them, which opens up a lot of ways to experiment with different types of teas and even juices.
Crystal boba can be found in multiple varieties in supermarkets and you can also make them at home using household ingredients.
First, let’s discuss the basics of crystal boba.
Crystal Boba Ingredients
There are many ways to make boba but the basic set of ingredients is as followed:
- Agar powder
- Gelatin powder (which is optional, it just makes the pearls more gelatinous)
- White sugar
- Cold water with oil
This is the basic list of ingredients for making typical crystal boba pearls.
However, there are many variations that you can use to make your boba pearls different.
We will discuss these options a bit later, lets’s first look at what each ingredient does and how to make crystal boba the right way.
Unlike regular boba pearls which use tapioca starch, crystal boba pearls are made using agar powder or other gelling agents. This ingredient is a naturally occurring gelling ingredient that is derived from marine algae.
Agar powder works as a vegetarian gelling powder that can be used for a range of purposes. Regular boba is made using brown sugar, tapioca starch, and other ingredients and then kneaded into a dough.
The dough is then cut into small balls and then cooked to turn it into boba pearls.
With agar powder, you won’t need to knead anything because you will be using the liquid to make the pearls, but there’s a technique to this – we’ll come to that in a bit.
Regular boba pearls use brown sugar but to keep the crystal boba pearls white and translucent, crystal boba uses white sugar.
You can use any processed white sugar since you will be boiling the sugar in hot water until it is uniform and the entire mix is homogenous.
Some people may also use a bit of coconut water along with sugar for extra flavor. As mentioned above, crystal boba can be thought of as a blank canvas and you can use many ingredients to change its flavor.
Cold Water And Oil
Cold water is used to form the pearls and a bit of oil is also added to the water so that the boba balls don’t stick to one another when the hot mix is poured into the cold-water bath.
How Crystal Boba Is Made
Now that you know what crystal boba is made of and how it is different from regular boba tea, it’s time to look into how to make crystal boba at home.
To make a batch of crystal boba:
- Fill a pan with 1 liter of water and boil it for 10 minutes or until it bubbles.
- Add ½ cup of sugar to the mix and give it a good stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.
- Add agar powder or other gelling ingredients to the mix and keep stirring until fully incorporated – let’s call this the “boba mix”
- Cook for about 5 minutes then turn the heat down. Simmer for another 5 minutes then turn the heat off.
- Now, in a separate bowl, fill the bowl full of room temperature water and add in enough ice cubes to bring the temperature down and cool the water. You aren’t looking for anything specific when it comes to temperature, it should just be as cold as a glass of chilled water. This is also the step where you will add 2 tablespoons of any neutral oil to the ice bath. (Cheap oil will work fine too)
- Take an empty condiment bottle or a dropper and fill it up with the hot boba mix.
- Drip the hot boba mix over the cold water bath and try to always drop the hot boba mix at random locations around the bowl. The boba mix will clump up and float at the surface of the water bath and then sink once cool, forming pearls.
- Repeat step 7 until you have enough boba pearls.
- Clean the boba pearls by running them under tap water so that they don’t have any oil or residue on them. You can store the pearls indefinitely by freezing them or you could also use them immediately.
Also, there are a few optional steps that you can take to change the color and texture of the boba pearls.
For example, adding other gelling powders in the hot mixture will result in chewier boba pearls that will also be noticeably more gelatinous.
You may also add in food color within the hot mix and then form the boba pearls too. Remember, the size of the pearls will be dependent on how big the drop is when it is placed in cold water.
Empty ketchup bottles make for a great option as pearls made using them would be larger in size.
Drippers also work great but you will get smaller balls. Please note that the size of the balls will also determine the width of the straw that you will use to drink the tea.
How Crystal Boba Is Used
Crystal boba has many uses. There are several recipes that you can follow to make different types of teas and beverages. Crystal boba can be used in green tea, black tea, cold coffees, mojitos, and much more.
The best way to have crystal boba is with milk tea. We love the sweet and delicate textures that the boba pearls add to this type of tea and would also recommend that you start here.
To make crystal boba milk tea, simply measure out a glass of milk in a saucepan and heat it. Add any type of tea and let it simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the tea is fully extracted.
Then add in sugar and creamer of your choice. You can also skip the creamer if you don’t have it handy.
Let the mix sit for a while until cool. Meanwhile, take a tall glass and put it in the freezer for about 12 minutes or until the glass is thoroughly chilled.
Take the cold glass out and then drip in some chocolate syrup. A great way to decorate the glass with syrup is to drip it at an angle while rotating the glass.
This will cause the syrup to run around the walls of the glass and the cold temperature will solidify the syrup as it is poured. Put the glass back in the freezer for about 5 minutes.
Now, take a heap full of crystal boba pearls and drop them in the cold glass, and then pour in the tea on top. You may now add in different toppings.
Our favorite is with delicate dust of brown sugar over a generous pile of whipped cream. You may also serve with berries or a sliced strawberry for texture.
Colored Crystal Boba Pearls
Crystal boba pearls have the ability to take on any color of your choice. Unlike regular boba which only usually has a light-to-dark brown exterior because of the caramelized brown sugar.
Colored crystal boba pearls are excellent for a range of beverages and can also be added as decoration on many desserts. To make colored crystal boba pearls, simply pour them into a glass of water and add in food color.
You can add in as much color as you’d like. We recommend that you use non-flavored colors so that the balls only take on the color and not any flavor.
The color of the boba pearls can be according to different drinks, for example, you can make green balls if you are using them in a mojito.
Bursting Crystal Boba Pearls
Crystal boba pearls can also be used to make bursting boba pearls.
A note for purists: We know, this isn’t technically a technique used for typical crystal boba pearls.
However, we guarantee that this method will help unlock a level of creativity that you can apply to all future recipes. Crystal boba pearls are like little chameleons that can take on any color and flavor.
Hence, you can make crystal boba pearls with any flavoring you want!
For example, to make bursting cranberry crystal boba pearls, just follow the steps above but instead of water, you will be using cranberry juice to mix the agar powder and cook the mix.
You can use either fresh or bottled juice, that is up to you.
The point is, you can use any fruit juice as a base for the crystal boba pearls to give them a unique flavor and color. This is something that you can’t typically do with regular boba pearls.
Crystal Boba Vs Boba
Regular boba tea is made using tapioca starch and has a slightly different preparation method. Unlike crystal boba which mostly uses agar powder as a gelling agent, regular boba is first kneaded into a dough.
Here is a list of ingredients to make typical boba pearls:
- Brown sugar
- Tapioca starch
You may have noticed that these ingredients are different from the crystal boba recipe we mentioned above. This is because instead of agar powder we will be using tapioca starch as a gelling agent to make the pearls.
The Difference Is In The Technique
To make boba tea, simply melt brown sugar in water and reduce it until slightly thickened, then slowly add tapioca starch while the mix is on low heat. You will be adding in small quantities of starch until the mix becomes crumbly.
Take out the crumbled mix on a dough mat and then sprinkle some more tapioca starch and start kneading the dough.
You would want to form a neat-looking dough that is completely homogenous on all sides and has the look of typical wheat dough.
Now divide the dough into 4 parts and roll it into an elongated log. You will then cut the log into small pieces and then roll the pieces individually to form small balls.
The size of the balls is dependent on you but we recommend that you make 8-10mm balls—just know that any size will do.
Remember, you will have to be quick because as the dough cools down it will become harder to knead.
If your dough is too hard to work with, simply reheat in a microwave for 2 minutes or until soft and pliable. Once the dough is easy to work with again, continue making the pearls.
You can make as many pearls as you’d like and keep them in an airtight container in the freezer. If you plan on making boba tea then pour some pearls into a pot full of boiling water and cook for 30-40 minutes.
The dough will become slightly gelatinous with a translucent exterior and a dark interior. Take the boba pearls out and run them under tap water. Now, in a saucepan, put in tightly packed brown sugar, a bit of water, and molasses.
Cook with high heat and then reduce using low heat until the mixture turns into a syrup. Turn the flame off and mix in your cooked boba pearls. Voila, you now have the base for any boba tea.
Make any type of tea and pour in a tablespoon of the boba pearl and syrup mix. That’s all it takes to make homemade boba tea!
In a nutshell, if we were to summarize everything, this is how boba tea is different from crystal boba:
|Crystal Boba||Regular Boba|
|Made using agar powder and other gelling agents||Made using tapioca starch or a mix of cornstarch|
|Pearls are made by dropping mixture in cold water||Pearls are made by kneading the mixture into a dough and then cooking them separately.|
|Fully translucent||Translucent exterior with dark interior|
|Sugary and subtly citrusy flavor||Light caramel flavor|
|Slightly chewy and soft texture||Chewy exterior with slightly crumbly interior|
Regular boba pearls can be used in any type of tea and their uses are different from crystal boba as you can’t add color to the pearls once they are cooked.
Also, the flavor of the boba pearls can not be altered by using additives after cooking them.
However, there are a few similarities between crystal boba and regular boba.
For example, while preparing the dough, you can also mix other flavoring agents or ingredients to slightly alter the flavor profile of the boba pearls when it is in a liquid state.
Just like you would change the base for the crystal boba pearls by swapping water with fruit juice. Also, while we are on the topic, we should also discuss the different types of boba pearls and how crystal boba compares to each.
Types Of Boba
There are 3 types of commonly used boba pearls and many people will use a range of different flavoring agents or ingredients to change the taste of their pearls.
The three types of boba pearls are:
- Regular boba pearls
- Crystal boba pearls
- Bursting boba pearls
Regular Boba Pearls
We have already discussed how regular boba pearls are made and how they stack against crystal boba. Regular boba pearls are the foundation for any bubble tea.
You will find many variations in boba and people will use them in all sorts of ways to express creativity. For example, boba pearls can be used as a topping and they can also be infused in desserts in a fun way.
Regular boba pearls come in all sizes and the demand for mini boba pearls has been steadily increasing too with many tea shops offering mini boba tea options with regular straws for more convenience.
Crystal Boba Pearls
Crystal boba pearls are different from regular dough boba pearls in how they are made and also in how they taste and look. Crystal boba pearls are a great way to express creativity and also a great opportunity to customize beverages.
They can take on the color and flavor of any base so you can use a wide variety of options to drastically change the flavor profile of the crystal boba pearls. They are typically translucent and have a gelatinous and chewy texture.
Bursting Boba Pearls
These types of boba pearls are like crystal boba pearls but they may have slight variations in what they’re made with.
For example, bursting boba pearls can be made with any fruit juice and are designed to contain a pocket of juice within them.
Bursting boba pearls can be found in many tea shops and you can also make them at home. They are made using a seaweed extract that creates a seal on the surface and traps the fruit juice inside.
They are called bursting boba pearls because of how they slightly pop with flavor when you bite into them.
You can use any fruit juice to create these boba pearls and can add them to different types of teas or beverages to create contrasting flavors. For example, using cranberry boba pearls in apple tea.
Now that we’ve gone over what crystal boba is, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
How is bubble tea different from boba tea?
Bubble tea and boba tea are the same thing. They are used interchangeably and you can find many shops with their own terminologies when it comes to boba.
Boba tea is also called “bubble milk tea” or “tapioca bubble tea” or “tapioca pearl tea”.
Where is boba tea sold?
Boba tea is sold all over the world and you can find a “bubble tea” tea shop near you by doing a quick internet search.
You can also make homemade bubble tea by either buying tapioca boba pearls from the supermarket or you could also make them from scratch using either tapioca starch or agar powder.
Can you mix boba pearls in any tea?
Yes. Boba pearls can be incorporated into any tea. Most commonly, they are used in a range of black teas and can also be used for green teas, milk teas, and more.
While more commonly associated with teas, boba pearls can also be used in other beverages like mojitos or fruit drinks with bursting boba pearls.
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