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I've been unsuccessful thus far in recreating Khmer bubble tea, or the pastel-colored bubble tea one can find at many small cafes and stands.

The specific kind of bubble tea I'm looking to make uses the following:

  • flavored sugar powder/creamer
  • ice
  • water
  • tapioca pearls in syrup

Can anyone lead me to the proper way to make the flavored powder/creamer? I'm NOT looking for any varieties with fresh fruit, tea, honey, or anything else. This is an original variety of bubble tea (obviously with no real tea!) from Southeast Asia, and I can't seem to recreate it. My combinations of creamer, extracts, and sugar have failed thus far, resulting in a sugar water with little actual flavor. I'm looking for what might be a place to find the actual powders, or a possible makeup of the ingredients used. The result should be a bright color, a more creamy than watery texture, and full-bodied flavor.

A photo of the bubble tea (bright colors, hand mixed, not sealed by a machine) can be found here.

There are ways to order giant packs of the flavored powder/creamer online, but I really don't want to pay $15 for a pound of one flavor if I can create a version of it myself. Any ideas?

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Can you please explain (in the question) how your attempts have failed? What was wrong with them? We don't do recipes here but if you can describe a specific problem then someone can likely help. –  Aaronut Jun 22 '11 at 0:28
    
Sure thing. I know we don't do recipes, but I'm hoping someone might know the place to buy, the makeup of the actual ingredient, or something that will lead me to the right answer. When I've tried in the past, my drink is not sweet enough, it has no flavor, and it really tastes like nothing in general (except for the taste of sugar syrup from the pearl solution). The real drinks have a colorful, milky, and creamy look, and are bursting with flavor, leading me to believe that the main ingredient is a very strong flavoring. –  c3peat Jun 22 '11 at 1:19
    
My versions taste like sugar water instead of something more full-bodied. Does this help? I'll try to post a photo here if I can find one. –  c3peat Jun 22 '11 at 1:20
    
Yes, that's useful information and I would suggest that you edit your question to include it (a lot of people don't read comments). –  Aaronut Jun 22 '11 at 1:25
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3 Answers

You can try finding the powder at an Asian grocery store. The one I frequent has a section of powders that seem like they might be geared more toward a consumer than a restaurant. I just checked: it's a one pound bag. I was able to buy just the one bag, but it was a while ago, so I don't recall the price. According to the bag, the ingredients are Non-dairy creamer, (whatever flavor - I have strawberry and almond) powder, glucose, and coloring. Even though it says it has glucose, you're still supposed to add sugar according to the directions (and it definitely needs it).

As for creaminess, you might consider trying milk/soy milk/almond milk, etc. instead of water. When ever I've made it, it turned out much better like that. The directions call for extra non-dairy creamer, but the recommended amount didn't seem to be enough, so the next batch, I just made it with soy milk (no particular reason for soy over regular: I just don't have regular on hand).

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I'll definitely try this if only I can find the powder! I've looked in many Asian groceries for it but have never been able to find it. Was it on the East Coast? –  c3peat Jul 25 '11 at 20:18
    
Nope, Southwest, at a mega Asian supermarket. They had all the supplies, including the really wide straws for sucking up the tapioca. Hope you're able to find something. Interestingly, though - using some powder for strawberry milk works pretty well, too. The strawberry bubble tea powder I bought tasted almost like bubblegum, so I tried that instead. With the tapioca balls at the bottom, it's actually quite similar. Which isn't too surprising given the apparently limited ingredients of the original. The only downside is that the only flavor is strawberry! No almond, mango, etc... –  GeneratorHalf Jul 26 '11 at 4:25
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As for powders: I'm from FL (east coast) and I have found it in asian markets, although not in many flavors, but you can get consistent results from other powdered drinks found in your supermarket. I'd suggest strawberry or chocolate Nesquik, or instant coffee, or even slimfast powders come in a few flavors, or chocolate, caramel, strawberry, raspberry or other flavored syrups found in the deserts aisle to mix in with the milk/creamer and tea of your choice. You can also check out vitamen and fitness or health food stores for flavored powder drinks.

Also, since it's a cold drink, a simple syrup will mix in easier than sugar granuals. A simple syrup recipe is made by just boiling water, then stirring in sugar until it disolves. I prefer using brown sugar for my syrup for tapioca pearl drinks. (The black pearls are made with brown sugar)

Traditionally, Boba tea was made from tea, creamer, sweetener with pearls added. (Tip: Herbals like Rooibos you can steep forever, but tea shouldn't be steeped more than 4min as it becomes bitter tasting) Now, often the whole tapioca drink concoctions are made from powders: powdered flavoring (Taro, coconut, lychee, mango, strawberry, orange), with or w/o powdered green or black tea for a base, with sugar, and powedered creamer, shaken with ice, and then poured over the pearls.

In summary, for most bubble tea drinks use tea, not water, to mix in your powders. Don't oversteep your tea. Don't undercook your pearls. For your quest, I'd say vitamen or health food stores are most likely to have your flavored powders (I suggest Vega Health Optimizer- Vanilla Chai is very yummy) Otherwise flavored powders specifically for bubble tea can be found online. Enjoy the journey!

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If you're willing to go the molecular gastronomy route, tapioca maltodextrin will turn just about any fat-based substance into a powder. WillPowder sells some for $10/pound or a few bucks an ounce, and they sell on Amazon too.

Otherwise, I'd say you ought to be able to use coffee nondairy creamer or powdered milk to create your own blend. Add dry flavorings to taste, and liquids should be able to mix straight in.

A third route would be to use a freeze-drying machine or very slow stove/oven evaporation to produce your own dry mix.

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I've tried several times to use nondairy creamer, powdered milk, sugar, and flavorings, but I'm not even close to the real deal. I could try the more scientific route, but I'm hoping someone knows the actual ingredients that will at least come close. I'm fairly sure that the original formula calls doesn't call for highly unique ingredients. Perhaps someone knows a place to order or locally (Northeast) purchase such ingredients/powders in smaller volume. –  c3peat Jun 21 '11 at 22:05
    
@c3peat Maltodextrin doesn't count as a "unique" ingredient. It is commonly used in industrial food production, so it is very possible that the powder you buy at the store has it. –  rumtscho Jul 24 '11 at 22:00
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