Milk Tea Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Boba

Dish of pale tan ice cream topped with brown sugar syrup and slightly translucent tapioca pearls

milk tea ice cream recipe

i love making tea flavored desserts (ahem, this green tea pie even though pies take forever) and eating tea flavored ice cream (hello, homemade matcha cherry creamsicles and jasmine ice cream from sf’s polly ann), so it was only a matter of time before i made milk tea ice cream at home. i already have an earl grey tea flavored ice cream, and this one is super similar, except that i used black tea instead of earl grey and didn’t top that one with boba (but you definitely could)!

this milk tea ice cream (which is really a tea ice cream, there’s no additional milk or milk tea added) has black tea leaves steeped in a custard base (from melissa clark), which gets churned into ice cream! cooking the eggs, milk and cream might be a little scary if you haven’t made ice cream before (or in a while), but in case there’s some stubborn scrambled egg bits, you can strain out the egg and you’re good to go.

once the ice cream is churned, i like to transfer it to a long, shallow container and freeze until solid. the shape of the container helps you create a prettier scoop of ice cream, since you can run your ice cream scoop the length of the container and keep building up the ball, rather than aimlessly in a circle around the inside of a pint container.

i did originally try to pipe the ice cream like the oolong soft serve from bar pa tea, the main inspiration behind this recipe. it was not meant to be: the ice cream is too soft to hold its shape when it is freshly churned, and refuses to come out of a piping tip when it is firmer. the flavor and texture of the ice cream doesn’t change when you pipe it this way, only the aesthetic, so i find it much more worth it to skip the hassle and dig in with an ice cream scoop.

how to make brown sugar syrup

you could stop there with your ice cream, and have a delicious batch of milk tea ice cream. or you could go further, and make it into boba tea ice cream with a little brown sugar boba because we allll love brown sugar pearl milk and those elusive brown sugar boba ice cream bars. (in case you need a refresher: brown sugar pearl milk is boba simmered in brown sugar syrup and topped with plain milk, and the bars channel that into a popsicle). 

using jun and tonic’s brown sugar syrup method, i like to caramelize and fry the brown sugar in a dry pot for a bit. this makes the brown sugar a little bitter, a little more nuanced, rather than being plainly sugar sweet. once it’s heung (aka fragrant) and the sugar is mostly melted, you add a bunch of water; it sputters aggressively, like when you add cream to caramel. the sugar seizes for few seconds, then relaxes back into the hot water. the boba goes in for a simmer, letting the boba soak up all that goodness and the syrup to thicken. 

that warm boba, caramel-y and syrup-y, dripping all over the slightly bitter, creamy tea ice cream? it’s enough to get a person to ditch the storebought popsicles.

Small dish of beige, black tea flavored ice cream topped with semi opaque tapioca pearls bathed in brown sugar syrup.
5 from 1 vote
Dish of pale tan ice cream topped with brown sugar syrup and slightly translucent tapioca pearls
Milk Tea Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Boba
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins
This combo of cold milk tea ice cream and warm syrup-y brown sugar boba is equally as tasty as brown sugar pearl milk, but in frozen form!
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Asian, Taiwanese
Keyword: black tea, boba, brown sugar, bubble tea, ice cream, milk tea, nut-free, pearl milk tea, tapicoa pearls, tea, vegetarian
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 256 kcal
Milk Tea Ice Cream
  • 4 black tea bags
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 egg yolks
Brown Sugar Boba
  • 1/2 cup raw tapioca balls
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Milk Tea Ice Cream
  1. In a medium pot, simmer the cream, milk, sugar, salt and tea until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks until they’re broken up.
  2. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream. Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170F on an instant-read thermometer).
  3. Cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the tea bags and any scrambled egg bits that get caught in the sieve. Press out any liquid that might be held in the tea bags back into the custard.
  4. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturers’ instructions; it’ll look like really thick whipped cream when it’s done churning. Transfer to a container (I like to use a long, shallow container because it helps me get better scoops than a pint container), smooth the top and cover. Freeze until solid.
Brown Sugar Boba
  1. Fill a medium pot half-full with water, and bring to a rolling boil. Add the tapioca balls and cook until done, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t stick; they’ll be shiny all the way through with no matte, dry starch anymore. If you’re unsure, taste one; it should be chewy all the way through and not hard or powdery in the middle. The timing really depends on what brand you’re using and how much water you have; I’ve had this take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, which is a huge window; I’d start at 20 minutes and check every 20 minutes after until they’re ready.
  2. When your boba is the perfect chewy texture, drain them.
  3. Place the pot back over medium heat, and let any excess water evaporate. Once the inside of the pot is dry, add the brown sugar. Let it melt and cook it until it smells really caramelly. Add the water; be careful, since it will sizzle and bubble and hiss. Swirl the pan and cook until the sugar melts again and the syrup is homogeneous.
  4. Add the boba, stir to make sure that the boba doesn’t stick together, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the boba soaks up some of the syrup and the syrup has thickened.
  5. Cool slightly, then spoon the warm boba and brown sugar syrup over scoops of the milk tea ice cream. Serve.
Recipe Notes

Ice cream adapted slightly from Melissa Clark.

Ask any boba aficionado and they’ll tell you that boba is only good for 4 hours after it’s first boiled. And to some extent that’s true; it’s the most chewy, the most tender during that window. But boba can be annoying to make fresh every time you want it, so if you’re willing to wiggle a little on quality, you can refrigerate for a few days after you cook it. When you want to use it, microwave until it’s soft and squishy, and proceed to enjoy.


2 Replies to “Milk Tea Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Boba”

  1. Wow, this is such a clever idea! I’d never think to make tea-flavoured ice cream but I can see how it would totally work. Thanks for the delicious inspiration!5 stars

  2. this looks very interesting and tasty heather. love the cute little boba.

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