Matthew Kelly / Supercall

Entertaining
Boozy Bubble Tea Cocktails to Make at Home

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Bubble tea (or boba) is fun. From the oversized straws to the literal rainbow of colorful flavors to the slurping noise you make as you suck up tapioca pearls, there’s no denying its unabashedly undignified appeal. And the only possible way to make it even more fun is, of course, by adding booze. We’re not the only ones to come to that conclusion. Mixologists and bartenders across the country have already gotten busy, shaking up the fruity and milky flavored teas into ultra-fun, ultra-delicious boozy bubble tea cocktails.

It’s a no-brainer, really. With a plethora of tea-jelly-booze combos, the possibilities for boba cocktails are nearly endless. Plus, boba makers have long used cocktail shakers to mix their frothy shaken teas (the “bubble” in bubble tea refers to the fizzy texture—not the tapioca pearls), so bubble tea preparation requires barely any modification when liquor gets involved. That means bartenders are free to do as they please and go boozy bubble tea crazy. And oh boy, have they ever.

At E.P.&L.P. in Los Angeles, beverage director Adam Nystrom marries boba with the OJ-spiked ‘80s classic, the Alabama Slammer, while general manager Drew Delaughter of Mopho in New Orleans has chosen a more restrained, classic route, infusing an Old Fashioned with chewy tapioca. Others, like Elton Keung of San Gabriel’s Labobatory, depart entirely from traditional cocktail molds. He simply adds a smoky slug of mezcal to milky taro tea. No matter how they approach the union of boba and bar, all of these bubble tea cocktails offer chewy, boozy fun.

Matthew Kelly / Supercall
Boba master Elton Keung originally launched Labobatory on Kickstarter in an effort to bring tapioca lovers of San Gabriel, California, new flavors of bubble tea—including the spiked variety. One such creation takes inspiration from classic taro-flavored milk tea. He combines the East Asian dessert staple with mezcal, which he says adds a terrific smokiness to the taro. Soaking the tapioca pearls in brown sugar and honey made from longan (a relative of lychee) gives the sweet, chewy bites some floral depth, while the taro powder gives the cocktail an arrestingly bright purple hue.

The Essentials

Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
Teazone Taro Powder
Tapioca balls
Matthew Kelly / Supercall
At L.A.’s E.P.&L.P., lead bartender Adam Nystrom shakes up tapioca-dotted refreshments that he refers to as “patio pounders.” One of his seasonal bubble teas is a riff on the quintessentially ‘80s cocktail, the Alabama Slammer. “The mix of Southern Comfort, sloe gin, amaretto, and orange is classic, but the presentation is modern and more representative of our style,” Nystrom says. “We also manage to sneak in some Southeast Asian ingredients to really bring it home.” The biggest departure, other than the tapioca pearls lurking at the bottom of the glass, is the housemade SoCo, made with a dry-spiced infusion perfect for mixing. Mexican Orange Fanta replaces the usual orange juice, and gets an extra citrusy boost from pearls flavored with calamansi (a tart Southeast Asian fruit that lies somewhere between a lime and a kumquat). It’s an explosive mashup.

The Essentials

Homemade Southern Comfort
Sipsmith Sloe Gin
Calamansi Popping Boba Pearls
Matthew Kelly / Supercall
Down in the Big Easy, the bar team at Mopho plays fast and loose with an entire menu of boba teas, which not only includes liquored up spins on classic boba flavors like taro and strawberry, but also a variation on the Old Fashioned. The slushy reincarnation uses milky white tea, tapioca pearls, bourbon syrup and maraschino cherry syrup (straight from the cherry jar) to set itself squarely apart from the 19th-century original. “It has all of the flavors you expect from an Old Fashioned without being too strong,” general manager Drew Delaghter explains, “with all the flavors and textures you’d expect from a boba tea.” The crossing of worlds perfectly fits Delaughter’s mantra for the bar program: “traditionally untraditional.”

The Essentials

Bourbon
White Tea au Lait
tapioca pearls

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