Thursday, January 6, 2011

Veggie Might: Have a Bubbly New Year!

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Gentle readers, I’ve missed you so. Hope you had a happy and delicious New Year celebration. Mine was on the down-low this year; CB and I were still shaking off scoundrelly colds that had already derailed his Christmas plans, and I was too tired to do much more than sit on my couch with a few friends.

However, I still wanted the evening to be celebratory and festive, even if we were just ordering takeout and playing board games. I asked my guests to bring dessert, and I provided the beverages. Since I don’t drink alcohol due to health issues, I am always trying to come up with fun alternatives to hootch.

On New Year’s Eves of yore, my beverage of choice was always champagne. I love sparkly, fizzy drinks: pop, sparkling water, effervescent cold medicine. Though I never tire of a seltzer with a twist, I wanted something special and unexpected on New Year’s Eve.

Bubble tea! While only metaphorically bubbly, bubble tea has the sparkle I wanted for my party and the bonus attributes of being relatively healthy, beyond easy, and incredibly inexpensive to make.

Bubble tea requires two special ingredients: the bubbles, which are black tapioca pearls or boba in Taiwanese, and wide straws that allow the pearls passage from glass to mouth.

I had my first bubble tea about five years ago with a friend. Bubble tea was at its peak trendiness, and I was convinced I would hate it, despite the fact that tea and seltzer consumption are on par. All the tea and coffee shops advertised the candy-colored drinks with fruity flavors that did not appeal to me and my fruit/milk hating taste buds.

Turns out, bubble tea comes in regular tea flavors, like standard black and green tea, as well as fruit concoctions like lychee, coconut, and mango. The gummy tapioca pearls live at the bottom of the cup and are sucked up through a fat straw along with the tea, which is usually sweetened and served cold with milk.

If you’re someone who loves Gummi bears or Swedish fish, bubble tea is likely right up your street. The texture of the tapioca evokes a love-it or leave-it reaction in most folks. I’m the exception to the rule, never having been a fan of gelatinous candies. But there is something weird and wonderful about bubble tea that has kept me coming back. Maybe it’s the fun straw.

At $4 a pop, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to put bubble tea to the DIY test, especially because it’s as simple to make as boiling water and stirring. Wait. I forgot the pouring. The hardest part was finding the tapioca pearls and straws, and even that was fairly easy. My go-to market in Koreatown had neither, so I had to try another store. But before I could make it to Chinatown, I happened by an outpost an Asian convenience store chain.

Five minutes later, I walked out with a 9 ounce bag of tapioca pearls and a package of 50 bubble tea straws for $2 each: the makings of a party for the cost of one tea-shop drink. If you don’t have an Asian market in your area, bubble tea components are just a few clicks away via the Marvelous Internet Machine.

The bubble tea was a hit on New Year’s Eve. I made the tea ahead of time so it could chill in the fridge, and then cooked the tapioca a few minutes before I served the drinks. The instructions on the package say to serve immediately, and I’ve since learned that they get sticky and hard if left to sit too long.

The recipe below is more of a guideline than a strict formula. Make tea you like to drink, add as much or as little milk and sweetener as you wish, and pour over a few tablespoons of tapioca pearls―whatever you like; it’s your party.

Gentle readers, I raise my glass in toast to an abundant, healthy, and sparkling new year. More whimsical beverages in 2011!


If you fancied this recipe, you may also enjoy:

Jasmine Bubble Tea
Yields 64 ounces/Serves 8

48 ounces water (6 cups)
4 tablespoons jasmine green tea, loose (or 6 tea bags)
16 ounces (2 cups) almond milk
6 tablespoons agave nectar (or more to taste)

32 ounces (4 cups) water
3 ounces (1/2 cup) tapioca pearls

1) Bring 48 ounces (6 cups) water to a boil in a tea kettle or large sauce pan. Pour boiling water over loose tea or tea bags in a tea pot or add tea to saucepan. Allow to steep for 3–5 minutes, but no longer. Green tea gets bitter quickly. Strain tea leaves or remove tea bags and pour tea into a serving pitcher. (If you’re using glass, take care that the glass is tempered for hot beverages. If you’re unsure, allow tea to cool before pouring into serving pitcher.)

2) Add sweetener and nondairy milk to tea and stir well. Chill for at least an hour; two hours is ideal.

3) When you’re just about ready to serve, bring to a boil 32 ounces water (4 cups) in a medium sauce pan. Slowly add tapioca pearls, stirring gently. After a few minutes, the pearls will become plump and begin to float to the top of the water. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until all the pearls are floating on the top of the water.

4) Remove lid and carefully scoop out the tapioca pearls with a slotted spoon or wire mesh strainer. If you’re serving cold tea, run the pearls under cold tap water to chill.

5) Divide cooked pearls evenly among the glasses and pour tea over them. It’s best not to add the tapioca pearls to the tea pitcher; they will sink to the bottom, only to be retrieved with a long spoon or tongs. Serve with fat straws and whimsy.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
95 calories, .75g fat, .25g fiber, .25g protein, $.36

4 tablespoons jasmine green tea: 16 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.28
2 1/2 cups almond milk: 80 calories, 6g fat, 2g fiber, 2g protein, $1.00
6 tablespoons agave nectar: 360 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.96
3 ounces tapioca pearls: 300 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.66
TOTALS: 756 calories, 6g fat, 2g fiber, 2g protein, $2.90
PER SERVING (TOTALS/8): 95 calories, .75g fat, .25g fiber, .25g protein, $.36

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