Brunch / Dessert / Uncategorized

Coffee Carnival


Someone once described the time spent gardening or walking alone (without an ipod) as on opportunity for “long thinking”. It’s what happens when you’re physically moving and a thread of thought leads to another thought, and another, and another, until one is on a creative path to an (idea, inspiration, decision…) not often accessible with out the “chain”.  I’m not saying this is what happened with me and Tapioca, but until I tasted genius Pastry Chef Ben Spungin’s Pinapple Agnolo. Tapioca pearls were NOT on my radar screen!  I’m comfortable with tapioca flour, but Tapioca Pudding? Nope; not going there.

Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk teaboba milk tea, or boba is popular in cities large and small. After confirming that the signature ingredient is tapioca pearls, I got over my preconceptions and trepidations about using them (boba is chill, right?) With an open mind and an open bag in the pantry (see last week’s Italian Dessert): Coffee Carnival!

Several months ago a friend surprised me with Maine Home Cooking, a beautiful cookbook containing stories and recipes by Isleboro Island resident, Sandra Oliver: The recipe below is adapted from hers of the same name.  It’s an old fashioned dessert that reminds me of a New England favorite: Coffee Jelly, “jello” made by melting plain gelatin and sugar in yesterday’s coffee, cutting it into shiny topaz cubes, and serving it with heavy cream: “constructed” iced coffee!  I like using twice as much gelatin so that the cubes are firm and discreet. Coffee Carnival is delicious, easy, and fun alternative. Isn’t that what dessert is supposed to be?!

Coffee Carnival (Serves 6-8)


4 tablespoons instant tapioca pearls

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups strong brewed decaffeinated coffee (many don’t like caffeinated desserts). I use 2 tablespoons ground coffee to 6 oz. water.

3/8 cup Agave Syrup or Maple Syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream

Another 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped for the topping

Optional: fine quality chocolate, grated, as a garnish.


1.  Brew the coffee and let it cool slightly.  Add the tapioca pearls and let them soak for 15 – 20 minutes.

2.  Transfer the pearls and coffee to a small sauce pan, add the salt, and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally so the pearls don’t clump.  Cook until the pearls become translucent, and then, stirring constantly, for another minute or two after that. Set aside to cool. This can be done ahead and refrigerated for up to 24 hours days.

3.  Add the agave or maple syrup to the coffee pearl mixture. Stir to blend well.

4.  Combine the heavy cream and vanilla, whip until it holds nice peaks, and fold into the coffee pearls. Spoon into individual glass bowls or small glasses. Chill for 2-3 hours, or overnight

5.  Top with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and chocolate shavings or curls.  I served mine with a wrapped Amaretti cookie on the side.



20 thoughts on “Coffee Carnival

    • Hmmm… the whipped cream gives the dessert it’s richness and body. While coconut cream would be rich enough, I think it’s too dense to provide the (airy) structure. I’d substitute an organic non-dairy whipped “cream” if the goal is to make it dairy-free. Good luck!

    • Check out our recipe for Italian Dessert which uses tapioca in an even more unique way! Both have been receiving rave reviews from our taste testers, GF and non-GF alike! Let me know which you prefer, and whether the recipes inspire you to use it in other ways.
      ~ Gus’s Mom

  1. In Brazil we use tapioca (flour and pearls) a lot: pudding, porridge, tortilla-like, with wine making a dessert called “sagu”… I particularly like a dessert made with the pearls, coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk: after soaking the pearls, put it all in a saucepan on medium heat and mix until thickened. For the tortilla-like version you have to hydrate the tapioca flour and this is a bit tricky but I love it filled with grated cheese or coconut flakes.

  2. I am so happy I saw this post! My friend lived in England for some time, and when she moved back we’d always go for tea. She would make me get bubble tea, and she never explained to me what the “bubbles” were. I have been perplexed for years, and now I finally know that it’s TAPIOCA PEARLS! So for that, I thank you!

    That being said, I can’t wait to try your recipe for Coffee Carnival. 🙂

  3. Pingback: SeeKarenFollow: This Week | annumography

  4. Oh this looks decadent! I have a mostly full box of tapioca pearls that I bought for another recipe and never found a good use for to use the rest of it. I may have to give this a try and also take a look at your Italian Dessert recipe that you mentioned. And thanks for following my blog!

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