Chai tea (masala chai) from India and boba (bubble) tea from Taiwan are two of Asia’s most beloved sweetened milky tea beverages. Their popularity has spread throughout the world and for good reason - they’re insanely delicious.
For the best of both worlds, this refreshing recipe for Healthy Iced Chai Boba Tea will hit the spot. This recipe combines delicious, fragrant, and spiced chai tea with the addicting creaminess and unique textures of bubble (boba) tea.
By making our own low-carb version of boba pearls and using Mānuka honey from Flora as a natural and beneficial sweetener, it’s healthy enough to enjoy at home any time you like.
What is Bubble Tea?
Invented originally in Taiwan in the late 1980s, bubble tea, also known as boba tea, is a popular drink made by blending tea with milk, and your choice of flavored syrups and add-ins like chocolate and custard. But it’s the sweet, dense, and chewy tapioca pearls in the cup's bottom you have to sip up with a special straw that makes boba tea unique.
While it may seem strange at first, the contrast of textures is downright addicting.
Is Boba (Bubble) Tea Healthy?
The problem with traditionally made boba teas is that they’re loaded with sugar. Aside from flavor syrups that can contain artificial flavorings and color, the tapioca pearls, which are made from cassava root starch that is made into a dough, rolled into balls, and boiled, contain few nutrients and are high in calories.
One-quarter cup of tapioca pearls without the syrup will cost you 136 calories and 34 g carbs. And that’s before adding any tea, cream, milk flavors, or sweeteners.
While boba teas from bubble tea shops should be an occasional treat rather than a daily beverage, this Healthy Iced Chai Boba Tea recipe is healthy enough to enjoy every day!
Instructions for making healthier low-carb “pearls” from either gelatin or agar are in the recipe card below.
What Is Chai Tea? Is it Healthy?
Masala Chai (spiced tea) or Chai Tea, is a delicious beverage made with black tea and milk simmered with warm aromatic spices like cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cardamom, black peppercorns, nutmeg, and sometimes vanilla.
While we should always eat sugar in moderation, black tea and spices like those in chai contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds that are great for the body.
Fun Food Fact: "Chai" is the Hindi name for tea and is not technically a flavor. So when we say chai tea, we're actually saying "tea tea". Masala chai is the spice blend that makes chai so unique and delicious.
INGREDIENTS YOU’LL NEED FOR THIS RECIPE
Use your choice of chai tea and brew it strong. You can use tea bags or loose-leaf teas. Note that Chai tea made with black tea contains caffeine. For less, choose a chai tea made with green tea instead, or just go decaf. Herbal Rooibos Chai tea is an herbal option with no caffeine at all.
Note that chai tea blends can vary widely in flavor. Some may have more cinnamon, while others may have spices like ginger or cardamom. Check the labels on the tea to get an idea of which flavors to expect. The recipe instructions include spices you can add for a much richer flavor if you find yours bland.
Use whichever milk you like! That includes whole milk, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, or coconut milk. The creamier the better!
For a natural and unrefined sweetener, we’re using our favorite,
100% authentic, sustainably sourced Mānuka honey from Flora, which has added benefits that sugar can’t compete with.
Intensely sweet and earthy with a minimalistic finish, this honey is a mono-floral (one-flower) honey made by bees that drink the nectar of the wild Mānuka trees (Leptospermum scoparium). These trees grow only in New Zealand and bloom for 2-6 weeks per year making this honey rare.
Also a powerful superfood, Mānuka honey has unique compounds (Methylglyoxal (MGO), Leptosperin, and Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)) that aren’t found in other types of honey.
Since Mānuka Honey is such a rare product, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of fakers out there. With Flora’s Mānuka Honey, you always know you’re getting the real thing. They’re licensed by the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association™ in New Zealand, an association that created a strict measuring system called the Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF™) which controls the authenticity, purity, and quality of all real Mānuka honey being sold. Plus, every jar of Flora Mānuka Honey is 100% traceable, all the way back to the hive. Just scan the label with your smartphone.
When choosing Mānuka honey, keep in mind the higher the UMF™ rating, the more potent the mānuka honey, and the greater concentration of beneficial compounds contained inside.
When using Mānuka Honey in any recipe don’t apply it to high heat, which can affect its beneficial properties.
If you can’t tolerate honey, try a healthy, sugar-free substitute instead, like monk fruit, stevia, or erythritol.
Healthy Boba “Pearls” (Instructions Below)
Using a culinary process called reverse spherification, these “healthy boba” are easy and fun to make using unflavored powdered gelatin or agar. Flavor them with tea or even coffee for an extra boost. You can stick with chai or use another flavored tea that would complement the flavors in this drink like vanilla, caramel, or chocolate. Use decaf to cut down on caffeine.
Use as much as you like, but the colder the better!
How to Make and Serve This Healthy Chai Boba Tea
- Once you’ve brewed your chai masala tea, let it cool to room temperature. Whisk in the Mānuka honey. It is thick, so give it some elbow grease.
- In a tall glass, start by adding your boba (pearls). 2 to 3 tablespoons should do the trick.
- Add the ice and the milk and drizzle in the sweetened chai tea.
- To serve, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and don’t forget your boba straw!
Healthy Boba Tea Pearls
As a substitute for high-sugar tapioca pearls, you can easily make healthier boba tea pearls at home using either powdered gelatin or agar. Here are the differences:
Using unflavored gelatin powder, you can make your own “pearls” high protein and low-carb. Only add these gelatin boba pearls to cold beverages, as the gelatin will melt under high heat. These have a nice chewy bite but are not vegan or vegetarian-friendly.
Popular in Asian cuisine, agar is a plant-based thickener extracted from red algae, often used as a substitute for gelatin. The gelling texture of agar is firmer than gelatin but has a slightly different texture.
A benefit to using agar, besides it being plant-based, gluten-free and carb-free, is that it has virtually no calories. And once gelled, it’s resistant to melting under high heat. The downside to using agar is that it doesn't have as bouncy a chew as gelatin or the elasticity of tapioca.
Tip: Both agar and gelatin need to be “bloomed” or soaked in a little water before using them in the recipe for about 5- 8 minutes or they won’t set properly.
How to Make Your Own Healthy Boba Pearls
- Fill a tall jar with a neutral oil like sunflower oil and place in the freezer to chill well (about 1-2 hours).
- If your oil is ready, prepare your gelatin or agar/tea mixture and let it cool to just above room temperature.
- Take your oil out of the freezer. It will be a little cloudy. If it’s too thick, give it a stir. It should not be clumpy and the texture should be consistent throughout.
- Fill a syringe or dropper bottle with the gelatin/agar mixture, avoiding bubbles. Then slowly drop the mixture around the surface of the oil in different spots to allow the boba to form. Bigger droplets will fall faster and may have a less uniform shape than smaller drops.
- Strain boba out using a strainer and then rinse under cold water to remove the oil. You can save and reuse the oil in the jar to make more boba in the future.
Tips and Tricks
- To make your boba dark-colored like the traditional tapioca pearls, try adding a little cocoa powder.
- If the boba doesn’t hold its shape or starts to “grow tails” the oil is too warm. Pop it back in the freezer again to cool.
- If you have enough, keep spare oil chilling in case you need to swap it in for oil that’s too warm. If you’re making a large quantity, try putting the oil jar in an ice bath to keep it cold for a longer amount of time.
Healthy Iced Chai Boba Tea with Mānuka Honey
Low in sugar and healthy enough to be enjoyed every day, this cold and refreshing, healthy boba tea recipe combines fragrant chai tea with the addicting creaminess and unique textures of bubble (boba) tea.
Making your own bubble tea pearls with gelatin or agar will save you all the carbs and sugar found in traditional tapioca boba pearls, while Mānuka honey adds a touch of healthy unrefined sweetness.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chill Time: 2 hours
Total Active Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2TOOLS Needed to Make the Healthy Boba Pearls
- tall jar (for oil)
- syringe, dropper bottle
- fine-mesh strainer or slotted spoon
For the Healthy Boba Pearls
- 1 cup prepared strong tea sweetened to taste* see notes
- 2 tablespoons powdered gelatin or 1 tsp of agar
- 2-4 cups of neutral oil (sunflower avocado, grapeseed, etc.) well-chilled in the freezer
For Chai Boba Tea
- 4 chai tea bags, may use decaf or herbal
- 2 cups of water
- 1-2 tablespoons of Flora Mānuka Honey, to taste
- 8 ounces of milk of choice (we used extra creamy almond)
- 6 tablespoons of prepared boba pearls (use the recipe below)
- cinnamon, for garnish
- boba straw (biodegradable)
For Healthy Boba Pearls
Prep the Gelatin/Agar: In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin or agar over 1 cup of your prepared and cooled tea. Stir and allow to sit (5 minutes for gelatin/8 minutes for agar).
Heat on medium heat until fully dissolved, stirring gently. Then pour into a heat-safe bowl to cool to just above room temperature. It should be slightly warm to the touch.
Get Your Oil Ready: Remove oil from the freezer. It should be slightly cloudy and thick. Give it a stir before starting so the texture is smooth and even.
- Making the Pearls: With your syringe or dropper bottle evenly, slowly squirt drops at the top cold oil. Space out the placing of the drops so the pearls don’t stick together. Do a few test drops to get a feeling for size. ⅛ - ¼ tsp per drop is perfect. Continue with the rest of the gelatin mixture.
- Strain and Rinse: When you’re done, drain the gelatin “pearls” with a fine-mesh strainer or small colander, reserving the oil for later use. Rinse well under cold water to remove surface oil. Keep leftovers in an air-tight container until ready to use. For best results use within 4 days.
- This recipe should yield about ¾ cup of pearls.
- If the drops just sit on the surface of the oil, your oil is too cold. Let it sit out for a minute and give it a stir before continuing. If the drops “grow tails” as they fall to the bottom of the jar, your oil has become too warm. Pop in the freezer again to chill. Having a second jar to switch out can make the process faster. Placing the jar in an ice bath can also help keep the temperature of the oil cold.
- If the gelatin/agar mixture gets too thick to drop, pop it in the microwave for 5 seconds to warm slightly, stir and then continue.
- Experiment with different tea types (including herbal) to flavor the bubble tea gelatin pearls. For concentrated flavor, use 3-4 tea bags per cup of water, but be mindful of caffeine content.
For Chai Boba Tea
- Simmer Masala Chai Tea: In a small pot, add chai tea bags and bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Lower heat, stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. For more intense flavor, see notes.
- Sweeten With Honey: Remove the tea bags and any whole spices (if using) from the water and whisk in manuka honey.
- Assemble Boba Teas: In a 12-ounce glass, add prepared boba pearls. Then top with a handful of ice and ounces of milk. Drizzle in chai tea to top.
- Serve: To serve, garnish with cinnamon and pop in a boba straw. Enjoy!