Chapter 34: Pearls and tea (A how-to)

Hm? Um, yes, I have. I’m not sure … I think it’s only a few minutes. It’s been a while since I’ve made bubble tea on my own, sorry. But um, sure, I can help.


Yeah, the tapioca pearls can be made first. I can’t quite remember why … I remember my grandmother used to boil them right after she rolled them into balls. Yeah! She used to make them from scratch all the time. I don’t know how she always got them to be the same size – mine always came out too big or lopsided, ha.


That’s right, now I remember – when they’ve floated to the top like this, it’s pretty much done. But you can let them stay in here for a little while longer if you’d like them to be softer. Hm? Oh, I think she just used tapioca starch to make them? Maybe something else too. I just remember she had to use really hot water, boiling water when she mixed it up. I remember trying to mix it and it was pretty hard to make it into a dough. But she knew just how to mix things just right so it all came together.


How is it? Yeah, it doesn’t really have much taste, ha. That’s why you can put sugar or syrup or whatever you’d like. Um, I usually drain them then put the sugar on right after while it’s hot so the sugar will melt.


I’m not really sure, actually – I just did everything by feel. Well, by taste, ha. So however much you’d like.


This was always my favorite part because you have to taste it to see if it’s to your liking. Yeah, I have a pretty bad sweet tooth. I usually just stay away from sweets altogether. But bubble tea … it’s special.


So yeah, we can make the tea now. I’m not sure what kind of water my grandmother used actually. I think any water is fine? Though … I’m not sure about bottled water. Everyone in our neighborhood has bottled water service, but I think that’s just you know, a status thing. Um, I kind of prefer tap water myself.


You too? Yes, exactly! It’s definitely better with tap water. My family doesn’t believe me. But then again, my parents grew up on land. I’ve never seen them use Siren magic, to be honest. I barely know how to use it either.


Really? You would? That … I’d love to learn.


Um, yeah – usually a black tea. Hey, this is your territory, I don’t want to overstep here. Hm?  I can’t really remember… But I think she used a black tea.  I remember that it smelled like raspberries. The tin had a little rabbit with a basket of fruits on the front…


Hm? Oh that’s smells really similar! Wow, that’s amazing. Wow. I haven’t smelled that in so long. It’s like, ha, everything’s coming back now. See, grandma used fruits to flavor the tapioca pearls.  Yeah!  She’d mash them up and boil them with some water, then mix it with the tapioca starch.  I remember when she used raspberries the pearls came out bright pink.  Those were my favorite. She called them “Nozomi pearls,” ha. Every time we made bubble tea together, she’d ask, “Do you want your pearls today?”


She really loved making them from scratch.  But there was this one time – see, grandma really liked mango but she had never been able to make mango tapioca pearls.  So I decided to surprise her for her birthday.  I was, oh, I was still in high school then. But see, the kitchen was off limits – I think that’s why grandma never moved in with us, I think, she just loved cooking too much to give it up.


Anyway, I had to sneak out in the middle of the night to use the kitchen. It took me almost a month to figure it out. I thought I would miss her birthday!  I’m pretty sure I wrote it down somewhere because I actually had to measure things, like a little bit of water this time, little more water the next time, a tablespoon of sugar, okay maybe less next time.  The best part was when I was able to make it for her … she really, really liked it.


Oh, I tried a bunch of other things too yeah. All sorts of fruits, vegetables even. Ha, bubble salad that’s true. I really liked making the tapioca pearls the most, I think. I should do that again. It’s nice to do something with your hands you know?


I guess I forgot about it because I don’t really drink tea nowadays. Yeah, the kitchen usually makes coffee – I like the smell but sometimes it’s too strong.


Hm? Oh that smells nice. Really? Thank you, I’ll try these!


Oh yes, right, I usually add soy milk now. Yeah, it’s like cooking a soup more than steeping tea. Is that okay?


Really? I didn’t know people made tea like that! Wow, I need to go visit the Floating Islands. Um, no, I haven’t really been able to travel much. Too much work these days …


Hm, yeah, I suppose you can use regular milk. I’ve just always used soy milk. Probably because regular milk, um, it never agreed with my stomach. Oh you too? Yeah, I could never eat that either. Not that the kitchen staff ever made that. They usually made really healthy dishes. I think they also had to make dishes that would keep longer because my parents usually didn’t come home until late. I ate by myself most of the time, really.


When I was a teenager, yeah. Because there was this one shop that sold them so I’d grab one or two on the way from school to my grandmother’s house, ha. Yeah, I spent a lot of time at her house. Since the kitchen was off limits, the only time I was able to cook was with grandma. She made it fun – I guess because everything else back then was so strict, you know? Every little thing was recorded and analyzed and graded … But grandma, I mean, she never measured anything. She could just tell by looking or tasting or feeling and I thought that was so much more fun, more free.


Now? Well, in my apartment there’s like a kitchenette I suppose you could say. I’ve always relied on the main kitchen, actually, since my place is still within the family complex. But you know, all the essentials are there in the kitchenette. I mean, sure, the refrigerator and the shelves are small, but there’s a portable stove, and now that I think about it, the counter’s probably big enough to make tapioca pearls. And there’s that fruit vendor on the corner … Huh, maybe I could even try making raspberry ones …


Hm? It’s boiling? Sure…


Oh yes, sorry, I was just thinking – yes, we can turn off the heat now since it’s boiling. It smells really good!


And now we just put everything together. Oh, these cups are nice – the pearls look so cozy in there, ha.


Is, is that all the pearls you’re going to have? Of course, of course, put as much as you want! Ha, yes, that looks like a proper serving now.


Wow … I haven’t seen these kind of straws since I was a kid. I mean, the ones with these designs – they’re usually plain now. But when I was little, my family used to go to the summer festivals and the bubble tea stalls always had these straws with all sorts of designs. I remember there was one time my dad made me get a couple of these blue ones and my mom scolded him for telling me to lie, ha.


Good, huh? And now you can make it any time.  Oh it was no problem at all, I had a lot of fun! It’s even more fun when you make the pearls from scratch.  I’ll definitely share the recipe with you when I find it again. Well, I’ll practice at home first, ha.


Well I have to get going now.  Thanks again for the teas! I’ll let you know which one I like. See you!

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