This Bubble Milk Tea Panna Cotta is for all the boba tea fans out there! A luscious, creamy panna cotta, infused with tea, and topped with brown sugar tapioca pearls. It’s as delicious as it sounds, and you’ll never guess how easy it is to make!
This bubble milk tea panna cotta is an easy and impressive dessert, worthy of any occasion!
I like bubble tea. A lot. I’ve made no secret of that, as you can tell from this bubble milk tea and ube bubble tea posts, and this tutorial on how to make boba pearls at home. So it should come as no surprise that I turned it into another easy yet impressive dessert!
And I also like panna cotta. A lot. It is such a silky, creamy dessert. I’ve previously shared a white chocolate and coconut panna cotta, as well as a matcha panna cotta and coconut panna cotta that you could even enjoy for breakfast.
What is panna cotta?
This is what a panna cotta is meant to be in my view.
- Very creamy and luscious
- Not overwhelmingly sweet
- JUST enough gelatin to hold the liquid together
- When you unmold the panna cotta, and give it a gentle shake, there should be a very clear jiggle/wobble (more of a wobble than you’d get with jello)
What makes panna cotta different from jello is that it has less gelatin, and it has some form of creamy liquid that can be dairy based or non dairy based.
Jello is more set (because of the higher gelatin content), and has a chewier, firmer texture. And if you cut into the jello, it’ll be able to hold its shape very well.
With panna cotta, you add JUST enough gelatin to hold the mixture together. That’s why panna cotta jiggles a lot once unmolded. Plus, every bite is silky smooth and feels more like melt in your mouth, creamy pudding.
Making Boba Milk Tea Panna Cotta
There are two components for this bubble milk tea panna cotta.
- Milk tea panna cotta
- Brown sugar boba pearls
The first step is to make the milk tea panna cotta.
Choosing the tea for milk tea panna cotta
Goes without saying that good quality tea is essential. Since that is the primary flavor here.
I use a combination of Ceylon OP tea (Orange Pekoe tea) and Assam tea. Good quality tea makes a huge difference, and for a recipe like this it’s the whole shebang. But you can make this with tea bags that you like as well.
I use 15 g of tea for this recipe. This might seem like a lot, but there’s a reason for that.
Unlike when you’re making a regular cup of tea, you’re infusing tea flavor into milk here. The milk in turn is mixed with cream, further diluting the flavor. So it’s important to infuse a very robust tea flavor into the milk, while making sure the base is not bitter, or taken over by unpleasant tannins from over extraction.
So, instead of using less tea and letting it steep longer (which risks over extraction), through experimentation I have settled on adding more tea and letting it steep just a touch longer. It took me several tries to get that right balance of great flavor, with the right amount of tea leaves and steeping time.
Here’s my formula; 15 g of black tea (50 : 50 Ceylon OP + Assam), steeped in 1 1/2 cups of milk. (This becomes 1 1/4 cups after straining).
This base is mixed with sugar, gelatin and cream, and poured into molds and serving glasses. These will set overnight in the fridge and be ready the following day.
Making tapioca pearls
You can make your own tapioca pearls if you don’t have access to any. Here’s my simple recipe for making homemade boba pearls, but rolling them into balls from the dough can be time consuming, so you better have your favorite Netflix show cued up.
If you don’t have the time (or patience) to make your own boba pearls, you can purchase them from most Asian stores or online. You can buy regular raw boba pearls, or boba pearls that are already cooked and packaged, or you can even get quick boba pearls.
Either way, you’ll be making these on the same day that you plan to serve the panna cotta. Allow the boba pearls to sit in a thick brown sugar syrup that will keep them from sticking to each other, and also give them a little more flavor.
To unmold or not?
Just like other panna cotta, this bubble milk tea panna cotta can also be served in individual serving glasses, OR can be unmolded into serving dishes as well.
Panna cotta is meant to be an individually served dessert. However, you could also set the panna cotta in a large dish. But do note that since the texture here is very soft, each spoonful from a larger dish will be quite floppy. You might need to add a little extra gelatin to make it easier to scoop the panna cotta from a larger dish.
If you choose to unmold the panna cotta, then I recommend using metal molds, or dishes with a thinner wall. I always dip the dish in warm water for a few seconds to loosen up the panna cotta, so that is slides out more easily. With thinner walls, the dishes will warm up faster in the water bath.
If you don’t want the hassle of unmolding, skip it. Serve the panna cotta in beautiful, individual serving dishes. These can be ramekins, recycled glass yogurt pots, small cocktail glasses or serving glasses, or even mini mason jars (3/4 cup capacity).
Whether you serve this bubble milk tea panna cotta in a dish, or unmolded, top it with generous spoonfuls of boba pearls.
You can serve the boba pearls with some of the brown sugar syrup, or drain the syrup and serve just the pearls. We prefer to drain as much of the syrup as possible, so that the boba pearls only have a light coating of the syrup, and are not too sweet.
This bubble milk tea panna cotta has just the right amount of sweetness without any extra brown sugar syrup.
If you can’t find or don’t want to make the boba pearls, don’t worry! That’s just the extra pearl on top of the panna cotta. This is an incredibly flavorful, light, creamy dessert that can do all the heavy-lifting in terms of impressing your friends, family and guests, even without the brown sugar boba peals!
But as an added option, instead of tapioca pearls, you could serve these with crushed digestive biscuits or shortbread and whipped cream.
Bubble Milk Tea Panna Cotta
Milk Tea Panna Cotta
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 packet of gelatin (0.25 oz) 8 g or 4 gold gelatin sheets
- 15 g black tea leaves I use a combination of Ceylon OP and Assam tea
- 1 ½ cups full cream milk
- ⅓ cup sugar white or brown sugar
- Generous pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ½ cups whipping cream 35% fat
Brown Sugar Boba Pearls
- ¾ cups brown sugar 150 g brown sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup boba pearls You can use quick cook, or regular, or homemade boba pearls
Milk Tea Panna Cotta
- Place the water in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Mix with a toothpick to saturate the gelatin in the water. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to let the gelatin bloom (absorb the water and swell up).
- Place the milk in a saucepan. Heat the milk over medium heat, with the lid on.
- When the milk comes to a simmer, immediately turn off the heat and add the tea leaves.
- Stir the tea leaves in the milk. Cover the pot and let the tea steep for 10 - 15 minutes.
- Strain the milk into a measuring jug to separate the tea leaves. Gently press the tea leaves to extract a little more of the milk. But be careful not to press too hard, or you will extract more of the bitter notes. You should get about 1 ¼ cups of tea infused milk.
- Wash the saucepan, and add the milk back into it. Add the sugar, bloomed gelatin, salt and vanilla.
- Heat the mixture over medium heat, while stirring, to dissolve the sugar and gelatin. Heat the mixture ONLY until the sugar and gelatin are dissolved. DO NOT let the mixture come to a boil.
- When the sugar and gelatin are dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Stir in the whipping cream, and then transfer the milk into a large jug (3.5 - 4 cups capacity).
- Prepare 6 x ½ cup capacity serving dishes. If you'd like to unmold the panna cotta, choose metal or silicone molds with thin walls. Butter the sides of these dishes with a very thin layer of fat. (If you're not unmolding, and simply serving the panna cotta in the dishes, then you do not have to butter the sides of those dishes).
- Divide the panna cotta mixture between the six dishes.
- Allow the mixture to come to room temperature. Cover each dish with plastic wrap and place them on a tray. Transfer this tray into the fridge, and allow the panna cotta to set overnight.
Brown Sugar Boba Pearls
- Start cooking the boba pearls according to package instructions, or the homemade boba pearls according to the recipe here. These homemade boba pearls will take longer to cook, so you need to cook them BEFORE you make the syrup.
- Place the sugar, salt, and water in a saucepan. Heat over medium high heat while stirring to melt the sugar.
- Lower the heat to medium, and continue to boil the sugar syrup. Boil the sugar syrup until thick and syrupy (the syrup will be less thick when you add the boba pearls). Set aside.
- If you’re making quick cook boba pearls, these can be made while you make the sugar syrup, or after.
- Place the cooked boba pearls in cold water, and then drain the water. Transfer the boba pearls into the brown sugar syrup and stir to coat. Let cool until the boba pearls are just a little warm.
Serving the Panna Cotta
Unmolding the Panna Cotta
- Have a bowl with warm water ready. Lower the panna cotta mold into the water (making sure the water doesn’t get inside). Gently rotate the mold in the water for a few seconds.
- Turn the mold over a serving dish and give it a little shake. This should slowly release the panna cotta from the mold. If it doesn't, return it to the warm water bowl for a few more seconds.
- Spoon some brown sugar boba pearls over the milk tea panna cotta. If you'd like the panna cotta to be sweeter, spoon some of the brown sugar syrup on top as well.