Velvety smooth and creamy Okinawa Milk Tea with a deep, rich caramelised taste. Originating from Okinawa region in Japan, this milk tea is made with black tea, kokuto sugar, milk and chewy boba pearls.
Originating from Okinawa Island off the southern coast of Japan, Okinawa Milk Tea is one of the most popular milk tea recipes. What makes it so popular is its distinct deep and rich flavour, which comes from kokuto sugar.
In this step-by-step guide you will find out how to make authentic Okinawa Milk Tea, exactly how it’s made in Japan.
Looking for more delicious tea recipes? You might want to check out my Hokkaido Milk Tea and Taro Milk Tea made from scratch with real taro root and homemade taro boba.
What is Okinawa Milk Tea?
Okinawa Milk Tea is a sweet drink from Japan. It’s made with a black tea base with milk and a brown sugar syrup. Some versions of this drink also include tapioca boba pearls.
This bubble tea drink is so popular due to its distinct flavour that comes from roasted brown sugar, known as ‘kokuto’. The black tea base compliments the roasted flavour really well, while the milk turns it silky smooth and velvety.
Okinawa Bubble Tea can also contain Brown Sugar Tapioca Pearls, which have a chewy texture. They’re delicious in this drink and a must try!
Okinawa Milk Tea is often confused with Hokkaido Milk Tea, but they are different. Read below to find out more about the both types of milk teas.
Why is it called Okinawa Milk Tea?
Okinawa Milk Tea gets its name from the island it originates from – Okinawa prefecture in Japan.
Okinawa is world famous for being the island with the most centenarians in the world. People are said to live so long due to the fresh produce and healthy locally sourced food they consume. It’s no wonder that Okinawa Milk Tea is also considered to be one of the healthiest types of bubble teas.
What is Kokuto Sugar?
Kokuto sugar or Okinawa Brown Sugar is a darker and healthier type of sugar made in Japan. This type of sugar is widely used throughout Japan due to its unique deep and rich flavour, as well as health benefits. Japanese people use kokuto in milk tea, mochi, cakes and sweet soups.
Okinawa Brown Sugar is different in flavour from regular brown sugar. It has a malty, rich caramel flavour that resembles roasted molasses. According to Japanese chef Masayuki Okuda and pâtissier Keiji Nakatatsu, kokuto flavour is a combination of sweetness, richness, softness, and a hint of bitterness.
Kokuto is considered healthier than regular brown sugar because of how it’s produced. Regular brown sugar is made by adding molasses to refined white sugar crystals. Okinawa brown sugar is made by squeezing sugar cane juice and boiling it down. This process allows the sugar to be much closer to the original sugar cane plant, making it much healthier and nutritious.
Okinawa brown sugar is much higher in calcium, potassium, and iron than regular brown sugar. It’s also said to help lower cholesterol and prevent tooth decay.
What does Okinawa Milk Tea taste like?
Okinawa Milk Tea tastes like kokuto sugar that’s used to make it – deep, rich, and malty, like a roasted caramel flavour. The great thing about Okinawa Bubble Tea is that it’s not overly sweet, as kokuto tastes less sweet than plain brown sugar.
The flavour or this type of milk tea also comes from the black sugar used to make it. Authentic Okinawa Milk Tea is made with Assam tea, which also has a deep and malty flavour. Combined with kokuto, this yields a velvety rich and deep taste. However, you can use any other type of black tea you like. I also recommend Ceylon, Darjeeling or Earl Grey teas.
Lastly, Okinawa Milk Tea is milky and smooth because it also contains milk. The best milk to use is a full-fat variety, or even a splash of cream for a smooth and creamy flavour.
Okinawa Milk Tea vs Hokkaido Milk Tea
Okinawa Milk Tea is very often confused with Hokkaido Milk Tea. Although quite similar and both originating from Japan, there are some differences in flavour and texture.
Hokkaido Milk Tea is known for its milkiness, whereas Okinawa Bubble Tea is recognised for its deep, rich flavour. Let’s look at the comparison between the two types of milk teas:
Okinawa Milk Tea:
- Made with Okinawa Brown Sugar, “kokuto”
- Kokuto has a deep, rich and malty flavour, like roasted caramel
- Uses black tea, typically Assam
- Made with any type of milk, but generally whole milk.
- It contains more tea than milk, so it’s not overly milky.
- Contains tapioca pearls.
- Frothy milk on top is optional.
Hokkaido Milk Tea:
- Made with light brown Japanese sugar, “sanonto”
- Sanonto is a very light sugar with a subtle vanilla caramel flavour
- Uses black tea, typically Assam
- Made with Hokkaido milk, a creamy milk with hints of vanilla.
- It contains more milk than tea, so it’s milkier.
- Contains tapioca pearls.
- Cream on top is a must.
To summarise: if you prefer a milkier tea with hints of vanilla, go for Hokkaido Milk Tea. For a deeper, richer, and more caramelised tea that has less milk, choose Okinawa Milk Tea. Whichever type you choose, they are both absolutely glorious!
Why this recipe is amazing
- Unique flavour: This milk tea contains Kokuto or Okinawa Brown Sugar, which gives it a deep and rich flavour. With hints of roasted caramel, this drink is one of a kind!
- Not overly sweet: Kokuto sugar is naturally less sweet than regular brown or white sugar. It also has a hint of malty bitterness, which makes it seem less sweet.
- Healthier than other bubble teas: Okinawa Brown Sugar is considered to be healthier than other types of sugar. It also contains more nutrients, such as potassium, calcium and iron.
- Authentic taste: This recipe tastes just like the original Okinawa Milk Tea as made in Japan. I have put in a lot of research to bring you the recipe that’s closest in flavour.
- Easy to make at home: This step-by-step guide with photos is very easy to follow and takes only minutes to make at home.
- Kokuto – also known as Okinawa Brown sugar. The most important ingredient in this recipe as it gives the milk tea a malty, rich caramelised flavour. Although it can be a little tricky to find, I highly recommend searching for it as its flavour is far superior to other sugars. I like to use kokuto sugar rocks, as they are the most authentic. As a last resort, you can replace it with muscovado sugar (dark brown sugar with molasses) or gula melaka (Thai coconut palm sugar).
- Black tea – I recommend using loose leaf black tea. My favourite is Assam tea, but you can also use Darjeeling, Ceylon or Earl Grey tea.
- Milk – any type of milk can be used, although I recommend going for whole milk.
- Tapioca pearls – also known as boba. My favourite type is Brown Sugar Boba, but you can also use plain tapioca pearls and cook them in the sugar syrup.
Note: for a less authentic Okinawa milk tea, you can also find ready-made Okinawa brown sugar milk tea powder to buy. Although this is slightly faster, it does not compare to the flavour of real, authentic Okinawan tea.
How to prepare Okinawa Milk Tea from scratch
Making Okinawa Tea from scratch is really easy once you have all the right ingredients. There are only a few simple steps to follow, so let’s begin:
- Prepare the sugar syrup by placing kokuto and water in a saucepan.
- Cook over medium-high heat until boiling, then reduce to medium and cook until thick and sticky.
- Separately, cook the tapioca pearls as indicated on the pack. Once cooked, drain, and place them directly in the sugar syrup. Cook for a few minutes on low heat to help them soak up the syrup. Set aside once ready.
- Prepare the tea by infusing loose leaf black tea with boiling water.
Pro tip: if you like a stronger tea, add more tea leaves. Do not brew the tea for longer, as this only makes it taste bitter, not stronger.
Now that all the components are ready, we can begin assembling the Okinawa Milk Tea:
- Strain and pour the black tea into a glass, about ¾ of the way to the top.
- Add a little milk, then give it a quick mix. Do not fill to the top.
- Pour in the tapioca pearls along with a few teaspoons of sugar syrup. Add as little or as much syrup as desired.
- Froth some milk or cream and add on top of the tea.
And the Okinawa Milk tea is ready to serve. Ensure you use a bubble tea straw with this drink, as the tapioca pearls are too large for regular straws. I like to use glass bubble tea straws because they’re adorable and fully reusable.
Pro tip 1: Give everything a quick mix with the straw before drinking to combine the syrup with the tea.
Pro tip 2: You can also serve this milk tea cold. Let all the ingredients cool down to room temperature. Add some ice cubes before assembling the drink.
Success Tips & Tricks
- Authentic ingredients – for a fully authentic taste, you need to use kokuto or Okinawa brown sugar. Although this can be replaced with dark brown sugar or palm sugar, the milk tea will not taste as deep and rich as the original.
- Good quality tea – after the sugar, tea is the second most important ingredient in this recipe. Use a good quality loose leaf tea for this recipe for best results. See ingredient round-up section for more details on the perfect tea choice.
- Don’t overbrew the tea – Never brew the tea for longer than 5 minutes. Anything over 5 minutes will make the tea too bitter and take away from the taste of the milk tea. If you like a stronger tea flavour, simply add more tea leaves.
- Full fat milk – Although you can use any type of milk, I recommend using full fat. This gives the final milk tea a creamier, richer flavour and texture.
- Use bubble tea straws – For the full bubble tea experience, use special bubble tea straws. They are wider than regular straws, so it allows the tapioca pearls to pass through.
- Serve immediately – Once you have added the tapioca pearls into the drink, serve it immediately. Leaving the boba pearls in the milk tea for too long can make them go soggy and lose their chewiness.
How to store
Okinawa Milk Tea is best served freshly made, or within a maximum of 1-2 hours. If left for too long, the tapioca pearls will become too soft and unpleasant to eat.
However, you can prepare the sugar syrup in advance. Store the sugar syrup in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks.
Always cook the tapioca pearls up to a maximum of 2-3 hours before consuming.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, Okinawa Milk Tea is a sweet drink. Its sweetness comes from Okinawa Brown sugar, also known as kokuto, which is the most important ingredient in this recipe.
This milk tea is considered to be healthier than most other bubble teas. This is because kokuto sugar is healthier than regular sugars and contains more nutrients. Furthermore, this recipe is 100% made from scratch from natural ingredients.
Yes, this milk tea contains caffeine because it’s made with black tea. However, you can choose a decaffeinated black tea variety.
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Okinawa Milk Tea Recipe
- ½ cup Okinawan Brown Sugar 'Kokuto' (100 grams)
- ¼ cup water (60 ml)
Tapioca Boba Pearls
- ¾ cup tapioca pearls (100 grams)
- 3 cups water (700 ml)
Milk Tea Base
- 3 teaspoons Assam black tea, loose leaf (10 grams)
- 2 cups water (450 ml)
- ½ cup milk (120 ml)
- In a saucepan place the kokuto sugar and water to make the syrup. Mix to dissolve the sugar and cook over medium-high heat until boiling.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it’s sticky and thick, around 4-5 minutes.
Tapioca Boba Pearls
- Separately in a small saucepan heat up water for the tapioca pearls. Once the water is boiling, add in the boba pearls and cook as indicated on the pack. Usually, they are ready once they rise to the surface, in about 5-6 minutes.
- Drain the boba pearls, then add them into the sugar syrup. Cook on low heat for 2-3 minutes to help them soak up some syrup. Remove from heat and set aside.
Milk Tea Base
- Boil 2 cups of water, then infuse it with 3 teaspoons of Assam black tea. Cover with a lid and let brew for a maximum of 5 minutes. Afterwards, strain and remove the tea leaves.
- In a large bubble tea glass pour the tea up to ¾of the way to the top.
- Add about ¼ cup of cold milk on top, then mix everything with a spoon.
- Pour the sugar syrup and tapioca pearls into the milk tea. Add as much syrup and tapioca pearls as desired, but careful not to make the drink too sweet. I recommend adding 1 tablespoon of syrup and 2-3tablespoons of boba pearls.
- Froth some milk or cream and add 1-2 tablespoons on top.
- Serve with a bubble tea straw and consume immediately. Mix everything with the straw before consuming and sprinkle some extra kokuto on top to enjoy.
- Sugar can be adjusted according to personal preference.
- Nutritional value is estimative and is calculated per serving (this recipe makes 2 large servings) with 2 tablespoons of sugar syrup.
- Use taro boba pearls immediately after cooking them.
It tastes great! I had no idea I could actually make this at home!!! One thing I would like to try is using no sugar and maybe hazelnut milk as it’s sweet on its own
Hanelore Dumitrache says
Hi Amanda, that sounds like a great idea! Let me know how it turns out!
Kim S says
I bought some Kokuto at my local Japanese market so I've been looking for recipes how to use it. I made this and it tastes sooo good, completely different from bubble tea. Will definitely make it again thanx!
Hanelore Dumitrache says
Hi Kim, so glad you enjoy the taste - it's so delicious and different from regular bubble teas!
Jennifer M says
For anyone who has never tried Okinawa sugar before... go buy some. Trust me it's so different and tastes amazing!!! Super cool recipe, thanks for sharing ^-^
Lei Wu says
Couldn’t find Japanese sugar so I used muscovado instead and it still tasted amazing!
Not gonna lie it wasn't easy finding the Japanese sugar but OMG so worth it!!!! I've never tasted anything like this tea! P.S. It's not a cheap sugar so I used it sparingly haha
Never heard of kokuto before but glad I ordered some for this recipe. It's really nice and a bit bitter, but it goes so well with boba. Thanks for sharing!