Bubble Tea - that one time ubiquitous beverage from Taiwan that got the whole Asian market smitten over its bouncy starch balls. For the lack of a better vocabulary to describe the texture of the bubbles, the Taiwanese have even coined a term of their own, describing the slightly chewy and bouncy bite as 'QQ'. I remember when this became popular about 10 years ago, franchise stalls of Bubble Milk Tea (珍珠奶茶) spawned like shoots after a rainy season. When everyone wanted a piece of the action, fierce competition set in, resulting in price erosion, unsustainable profits and eventually businesses folded like a pack of cards.
I suppose it was a relatively easy drink to make - it doesn't take much to figure out the recipe - Tea, Flavoured Syrup, Milk and of course the Starch balls. The ones that still remain in Taizhong, where this originated from invariably gain their popularity for their milky tea variety. I've heard how people had commented that they prefer the beverage from a particular shop because the milk tea is more fragrant.... well, this doesn't really appeal to me because I am not a milk tea person. I always take my tea and coffee black. Hence when I order a Bubble Tea, it is always a flavoured clear tea - for me, the pleasure in taking this beverage is chewing on the QQ tapioca starch balls (粉圆).
Recently I noticed a little revival of the Bubble Tea in my neighbourhood when a Taiwanese Bubble Tea chain store, KOI Cafe,(check out LadyIronChef's review) opened its outlet here. I didn't try to go near the shop for a few months because everytime when I passed it, there was a long queue and there were people sitting on benches waiting for their order.... Finally one morning last week, on my way to the National Library, I took advantage of the thin crowd at the early opening hours of the store and ordered my first KOI Bubble Tea. I ordered a Passion Fruit Green Tea Bubble Tea with sugar content reduced by 50%. (Yes, you are allowed to select if you want the sugar to be reduced by 50%, 25% or no sugar addition) As I waited in anticipation with my queue number, I watched the very young crew work behind the counter. Almost immediately, I began to wonder if this shop is all about gimmicks. I began to suspect that the long queues that I had seen before may not be due to the outstanding drink recipe - but rather the result of a deliberate attempt by the crew to stall time as they move about listlessly, chatting, poking fun at each other, without giving a care about the 10+ odd customers standing around like puppies, holding on to their queue tickets... waiting. I got really impatient, my brows furrowed, my lips pursed into a tight unfriendly line. When I finally got my order, it didn't blow my mind away, in fact it tasted syrupy and coyingly sweet. If not for the starch balls, I would have thrown the drink away. Well, maybe my judgement wasn't fair - perhaps they are better at the milk tea formulations. If anyone has tried their milk tea, please do share your views.
Anyway, the good thing that came out of this was that I was reminded of a packet of Starch balls which I have in my drawer. I thought I had bought this in Taiwan but the label behind the package had the address of the Singapore distributor and a $2.50 price tag. I strained my mind to recall where and when I had gotten this but my mind is blank. Curious if it is possible to achieve the same QQ texture as the shops with these, I followed the instructions and tried my luck.
And dear readers, if like me, you are going primarily for the starch balls in these drinks, stop spending $3 for the drink - you can get a whole load of starch balls with this little packet. I brewed one of my favourite green tea (Gryphon's Jasmine Pearl Tea Infused with Rose) , blend it with the Lemongrass Passion Fruit Cordial which I had bought early this year from Jones Grocery, loaded it up with the Starch balls and I couldn't be more satisfied!
Now, all I need to do is to remember where I got these starch balls from... if anyone has seen it somewhere, do share - otherwise there are 2 actions I can take : call the distributor ; stock up during my next trip to Taiwan!
And oh, a gentle reminder : go easy on these store-bought milk tea - because they are laden with sugar and creamer - a cup a day expands waist line by 4 inches!!!
Starch Balls 100g
Tea Bag 1
Water 500g (adjust strength according to personal preference)
Sugar 1-2tsp (adjust sweetness to taste)
Lemongrass Passion Fruit Cordial (from Jones) 1/2 tbsp (adjust according personal preference, other cordials can be used)
1. Boil 600g water in a pot. Add Starch balls in to boiling water. Stir and wait for water to come to boil again. Remove from heat once boiling begins again and transfer content into an electric rice cooker. Cook in the rice cooker for about 1 hour until balls are cooked through. (Overcooking will result in soft mushy starch balls. Undercooking will render the center of the ball uncooked)
2. Drain and pour starch balls into ice cold water to prevent starch balls from sticking together.
3. In a separate pot, boil 500g water and add tea bag. Boil tea bag for 1 min, add sugar and turn off heat and let tea bag steep until desired strength is achieved. Cool down tea.
4. Add tea, ice cubes and cordial into a cocktail shaker. Shake well to blend and pour into a glass with starch balls. Enjoy drink.