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Some Interesting Facts About Bubble Tea

Alessio enjoys traveling and discovering new cultures and food traditions.

The inside of a bubble tea shop in Italy

The inside of a bubble tea shop in Italy

Long queues outside the shop. A cashier who takes orders. Various baristas rushed to serve everyone as quickly as possible. It may be the scenario of your favorite coffee shop in the city center, maybe before the COVID-19 pandemic: it is also what usually happens outside a bubble tea shop. Don't you know exactly what we are talking about? Don't worry: bubble tea is a beverage that is very popular in China, still, it is a new trend in Western countries. Some people still don't know what bubble tea is, others may have tried it for the first time an hour ago, and others are addicted to this delicious and refreshing drink that both looks and tastes good. Still, what is bubble tea?

Tea, Milk, Colors & Fun

Bubble tea is made of tea flavored with syrups or specific powders. Other elements, like milk or coffee creamer, can be added to get a final beverage that is generally sweet and delicious. Each bubble tea has a specific color, and the final drink is very good-looking and nice to order if you love to take food pictures. Finally, the special thing that makes bubble tea also a very funny drink, especially loved by young people, is the presence of boba, jellies added to the bottom of the cup, filled with syrups inside. These jellies pop in your mouth when you pull them up with a big straw. Since you have to combine a bubble tea flavor with one or more boba, this kind of beverage is generally funny to order because you can always experiment with different combinations. As you can guess, bubble tea is a trend that has especially conquered young people, who love to spend their money on something that makes them happy to drink and share with their friends.

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From China to the Rest of the World

Bubble tea comes from China, where it can be found in several places in addition to specialized shops. Both Taiwan and Hong Kong are considered homelands of origin of this beverage, even if also all the other regions of China feature bubble tea shops everywhere. In China, bubble tea is a trendy beverage, just like it may be the same in the USA for Frappuccino and other sweetened and flavored coffee drinks. Just like Frappuccino is very common to find almost in every country, bubble tea also gained popularity outside China, from other Asian countries to the rest of the world. Today both USA and Europe feature many bubble tea shops, with new ones still opening in several cities, so it seems an unstoppable trend.

Curiosities About Bubble Tea Explained By A Bubble Tea Shop Manager

Even if bubble tea is now a popular trend, some people still have questions about this beverage. In the end, people don't generally know the process behind the entire production of bubble tea, except those who have worked in a bubble tea shop. That is the reason for this article: not only do I drink bubble tea often and have even tried it directly in China, but I also run a bubble tea shop in my country. Being someone who knows firsthand what it means to make and sell one of the most loved drinks of the last years by young people, here I am to answer some of the most popular questions about bubble tea.

Why Is Bubble Tea So Expensive?

Let's admit it: most people get shocked about the price of bubble tea, especially in the USA, but also in Europe (even if in my country, Italy, for example, bubble tea is cheaper than in the USA). In China, where bubble tea is drunk everywhere and is as common as coffee in Italy, you end up paying less for it (in a place where the materials to make bubble tea are generally local). In the end, it's the same if we consider Italian food (which is very expensive in the USA and cheaper in Italy) or coffee (in Italy coffee is very inexpensive, while in China it is a different story). In the country of bubble tea, you are generally not going to pay more than in any other bubble tea shop around the globe.

Turning to the question 'why is bubble tea so expensive?' some people may think it is because we are talking about a trend. I admit I was thinking the same before running my bubble tea shop. The reality is that, even if trends make prices go high, there is much more behind. The fact is that materials employed to make bubble tea are expensive. The disposable cups make up part of the cost (especially if you choose to use biodegradable cups, which are generally more expensive but at least help reduce plastic dispersion in the environment). Then, we come to the raw ingredients employed to make bubble tea. Bobas and syrups are generally imported from Chinese companies. Companies in Mainland China generally sell bubble tea materials within the country, while the factories that produce the vast majority of the materials used by the bubble tea shops in the Western countries are mostly located in Taiwan. We can say that a relatively small area provides all the stuff that makes the whole bubble tea business possible in every part of the world. All the materials produced in these factories are labeled and exported to distributors that generally buy them in bulk and then sell them to other local distributors in various countries. The bubble tea shop, finally, orders all the stuff from the local distributor of his choice.

As there is a long commercial chain that starts from the factory and then arrives at the final beverage sold in your local bubble tea shop, this is the real reason why bubble tea is an expensive beverage. It is expensive like an Italian DOP product in the USA: costs of importation and a long commercial chain contribute more to the price of a bubble tea than the fact it is a trend among young people. Of course, there are bubble tea shops that are even more expensive than others: if your favorite shop spends a lot of money on commercials, TikTok videos, has many baristas, and is located in a very central area, you should expect to pay more than in an independent shop not belonging to a chain, not so central and not investing much money in ads: still you are not going to pay for a bubble tea the same you would pay if you were in China, where bubble tea is local and where you can drink it in many places, even in restaurants and to the Karaoke.

A drinking corner inside a Chinese internet cafe, where you can order a bubble tea to drink while using the computers

A drinking corner inside a Chinese internet cafe, where you can order a bubble tea to drink while using the computers

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To sum up, the fact bubble tea is a trend is a premium to the price of your drink. Moreover, almost everyone goes to the supermarket, but not everyone goes to the bubble tea shop: this adds to the price. The long chain of distribution of materials employed to make bubble tea is still what makes a big part of the price of bubble tea.

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A milk tea with brown fructose ordered in China

A milk tea with brown fructose ordered in China

Is Bubble Tea Unhealthy?

Nowadays, it seems trendy to demonize food and drinks with no appeal. It is enough to search for "is pizza unhealthy" to see articles convincing people that pizza is something you should avoid at every cost, even if it is a healthy Italian Margherita pizza with just tomato and mozzarella cheese. It is no different story for bubble tea: this beverage is surely sweet and caloric, but this does not mean you are selling your soul to the Devil if you sometimes drink it. It is even more true if we consider there are various kinds of drinks. If you are ordering a super sweet milk tea with the addition of cream, toppings, and maybe a double portion of boba you are drinking something that may be considered a weekly cheat to the diet. If you are instead drinking a simple flavored green tea with boba, you are having something sweet (with the addition of boba that is not helping at all), but maybe even less caloric than other beverages or pastries you may love. Bubble tea is sweet and contains some food coloring: nothing more than many processed food and drinks you may find at your local grocery, so why demonize bubble tea as some online articles do? Drinking bubble tea is not better or worse than drinking a soda or eating ice cream: get it when you want it and drink it without worrying too much (unless you order it five times a day).

Is Bubble Tea Easy To Make?

Have you ever watched your bubble tea shop barista when he prepares your beverage? It seems so easy to make bubble tea: you need to add some syrup, some tea, shake it, add boba, and nothing more. Even tons of online videos show you how to make bubble tea. Of course, making a bubble tea and serving a good one are two different things. Before opening the bubble tea shop, we do many things, like preparing the tea and the tapioca pearls. Every bubble tea shop has its recipes to make the tea and balance syrups with other ingredients.

Before opening my shop, I experimented with every beverage I was ready to sell. There were no ways for me to open a bubble tea shop just after watching online videos or baristas of other shops. If making a bubble tea was as easy as the statement 'just put some tea, syrup, and shake it' may suggest, that would mean the taste of bubble tea has to be 100% the same in every place. The reality is that making bubble tea is not different than preparing food. Pizza is not the same in every restaurant, and making pizza is not easy unless you believe making pizza is just 'rolling out some dough, topping it with tomato sauce and cheese, baking it, and serving it. The same applies to bubble tea, even if someone may wonder how much complexity and effort lay behind what it may look like as a simple beverage.

Is Bubble Tea A Summer Beverage?

Many people believe bubble tea should be mostly drunk in summer as a refreshing beverage. The reality is that many drinks can also be made hot so that you can drink bubble tea all the year. Summer is still the period where a bubble tea shop generally earns more in absolute, while, in the winter, you have to try to increase earnings by expanding your offer: still, bubble tea is drunk in winter too and there is nothing weird in doing it, even if, of course, you would prefer to drink it sitting at the table or by ordering it at home, rather than drinking it while walking through the streets as you would do in summer.

Both USA and Europe feature many bubble tea shops, with new ones still opening in several cities, so this drink seems an unstoppable trend. There are different reasons why bubble tea achieved such great success:

  • Bubble tea is nice to order: the first reason why bubble tea is popular (especially among young people) is that it is funny to drink. Not only is it very colorful and instagrammable: the only fact of drinking it while eating something at the same time (the bubbles at the bottom of the cup) makes this beverage something very nice to drink. Let's also add the most obvious reason why people love bubble tea: it is also very delicious. All these three factors make bubble tea an enjoyable beverage;
  • Drinking bubble tea encourages conviviality: hanging out with friends means dining together, going to the cinema, clubbing, or doing other things. Drinking bubble tea is simply another activity you can do with your friends: you can enjoy it while sitting all together at a table while listening to K-POP or Mandopop songs in the background or while walking. Having bubble tea may be another convivial experience you can have with your friends. Moreover, it can also be good to drink it while studying or playing together.
  • You can customize it the way you like it: the original bubble tea is simply tea added with milk and the tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. Despite this, you can still choose among many variants of flavored green tea, black tea, milk tea, or even alcoholic tea-based beverages. You can customize your bubble tea the way you like it, the same you would do in your local coffee shop when you ask for your favorite pumpkin spice latte or blended coffee drink. Strictly speaking, bubble tea is your exotic alternative to the most common coffee habits, so that you can have more than a choice when you want to drink something out with someone or when you are in look for something delicious to have a break with while smart working or studying.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Alessio Ganci

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