Yep, it’s true. I went and made oatmeal out of bubble tea. (Or bubble tea out of oatmeal?) I have no idea how it happened. The idea landed in my lap when I was making, not any other kind of kooky oatmeal, but the simplest one I’ve had in years — on a particularly blustery day in this reluctant spring we’ve been having, I had a hankering for super simple, childhood-basics oatmeal, a hug in a bowl in protest of our chilly February-like April. So I made an oatmeal like my dad used to make on sleepy schoolday mornings, just milk and oats and plenty of sugar on the side, served with a reminder to eat it around the edges of the bowl first, because that’s where it’s coolest. Then, halfway through my creamy-sweet bowl, I suddenly thought of another comfort food (drink) I love, with milk and plenty of sugar — and boba, instead. And lo, here we are. Bubble tea oatmeal! Oatmeal bubble tea!
It is every bit as joyfully quirky as I thought it would be. I like my oats on the firmer side, and the play between the bite from the oats and the occasional chewy bounce from black tapioca pearls, couched in a sweet and slightly smoky milk tea with just enough caffeine to do double-duty as a wake-up call, was enough to make my whole morning. In anticipation of the (supposed) warm weather to come, I made two kinds, a hands-off overnight version where I stirred in the bubbles the next morning, to be eaten cold, and a traditional stovetop one, to be eaten hot. B2 went for the cold one (“It’s like cereal!”) and I had the hot and we were both happy — so the lesson is that bubble tea oatmeal is in our cards for any kind of weather.
The most unexpectedly funny thing about making this was the rabbit hole I went deep, deep down on how to make milk tea — are you ready? Google says that Hong Kong-style milk tea is usually made with evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, or some combination thereof, so this was what I went with first. I found it to be just like, or at least remarkably close to, the milk tea from cafés in Hong Kong, rich and sweet and almost a little buttery. But something about it didn’t seem quite like the hermetically-sealed, brightly-colored and fat-strawed bubble teas that hail (mostly) from Taiwan.
So I did the totally normal thing, and took jars of homemade milk teas with me to a bubble tea chain down the street from work, where a good-humored friend of mine didn’t mind hunching over a table in the corner and slurping three different kinds of bubble tea with me (and making a drippy mess all over the table) while employees blinked curiously in our direction. And then, when it was confirmed that these two were not in fact the same, I ventured to ask them what I later discovered Wikipedia could have told me all along — what kind of milk did they use? As it turns out, most Taiwanese bubble tea chains use powdered milk, or, equally often, powdered non-dairy creamer in their milk teas (and most were super forthright, if a little puzzled, in telling me, including the ones I randomly cold-called.) And, upon trying it with a bold canister of Coffeemate, I found it was absolutely spot-on.
Aside from this being extremely dangerous, because now I can make milk tea whenever I want, at work, as long as the unapologetically non-perishable can of powdered creamer sitting on my office desk right now remains here, I was at a crossroads for which one to use here — Hong Kong-style, or Taiwan? The recipe here is Hong Kong-style, in the end, if only because I decided the ingredients list in non-dairy creamer can get a little scary. But the Notes have the non-dairy alternative, so you’re free to try either one. Either way, this is bound to be one of my favorite quirky indulgent breakfasts.
Bubble tea oatmeal, hot and cold
The milk tea here is quite a bit stronger than you’d make for a regular bubble tea, because the oatmeal dilutes the tea flavor even more than the milk (or non-dairy creamer) does. Feel free to adjust to your taste. I borrowed an old tip from Southern sweet tea in reducing the sometimes puckery bitterness from strong tea — a pinch of baking soda is all it takes.
- For the bubbles:
- 1/2 cup uncooked black tapioca pearls
- 1–2 tbsp sugar
- For the milk tea:
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 4 tbsp loose leaf black tea (or about 4 teabags; see Notes)
- 3–4 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
- 1–2 tbsp evaporated milk (or 2–4 tbsp regular milk)
- one pinch baking soda
- For the oatmeal:
- 1 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (try 2 tbsp less for a thinner oatmeal, or 2 tbsp more for a thicker one)
- More sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk, to serve
- First, make the milk tea: Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil, then turn the head off, add the tea and let steep for 5 minutes. You’re looking for the tea to be fairly dark and strong, the color of black coffee — the tea taste will be diluted by milk and oatmeal later on. For even stronger tea, keep the water simmering while you steep the idea. When done, strain the tea out, then add sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk to taste. (See Notes for non-dairy creamer version.) Finish with a pinch of baking soda to cut any bitterness — a tip I learned from traditional Southern sweet tea.
- For overnight oats: Combine the tea mixture with 1 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats. Add a bit more oatmeal if you’d like a thicker oatmeal, or a bit less if you’d like it thinner. Refrigerate overnight, for about 8-10 hours.
- Make the bubbles: Just before you’re ready to eat the overnight oats or make the stovetop oats, make the bubbles according to the package instructions. There are tomes out there on how to get the right texture for the bubbles, and what brand to use — I used Wu Fu Yuan brand, followed the package instructions, and thought it was wonderfully quick and just fine. Once cooked, stir sugar into the bubbles and set aside.
- For stovetop oats: Bring the milk tea to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium, then add 1 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats. (You can also combine the oats with the milk tea at the very beginning — the oatmeal will be a bit thicker that way, but I prefer it for ease.) Cook at a low simmer for about 5 minutes, or until oatmeal is done to your liking and thickens to your desired consistency.
- To serve: For either stovetop or overnight oatmeal, divide the oatmeal between two bowls and add your desired amount of bubbles. Top with extra condensed milk or evaporated milk, if desired, and enjoy!
To make the milk tea with non-dairy powdered creamer or powdered milk, use 2 cups water instead of 1 1/2 cups, and add 3-4 tbsp powdered creamer or milk, plus 1-2 tbsp sugar (or as much as you’d like, to taste).
As for the black tea, I find that this works with most any black tea you prefer. Ten Ren is a solid brand and recommends a black tea blend specifically for bubble tea; Pu-Erh, Ceylon, Assam, or English Breakfast would all be great, too, and even Lipton is just fine.