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'Why Is Bubble Tea Expensive?' & Other Trivial Facts Explained by a Bubble Tea Shop Manager

Long queues outside, a cashier who takes orders, various baristas that are rushing to serve everyone as quickly as possible. This may be the scenario of your favorite coffee shop in the city centre, 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 which is very popular in China, still it is a new trend in the Western countries. Some people still don't know what is a bubble tea, some others have maybe tried it for the first time a hour ago, other ones are literally addicted to this delicious and refreshening drink that both looks good and tastes good too. Still, what is bubble tea?

The inside of a bubble tea shop in Italy

The inside of a bubble tea shop in Italy

Tea, Milk, Colors & Fun

Bubble tea is, of course, made of tea. This tea is flavored with syrups or specific powders. Also other elements like fresh, condensed or powder milk (or coffee creamers as an alternative to milk) may be added in order to get a final beverage which is generally sweet and delicious, but not only: it has also a specific color, which makes it also very good looking and nice to order if you love to share food pictures on Instagram. Finally, there is the special thing that makes bubble tea also a very funny drink, especially loved by young people: the so called "boba", also known as "bubbles", sort of jellies added to the bottom of the cup and that are filled with syrups inside: they are meant to literally pop in your mouth when you pull them up with a big straw, so that you are literally drinking and eating at the same time. Because of the fact you have to combine a flavor of bubble tea with one or more flavors of bobas, this kind of beverage is considered funny to be ordered, because you can always experiment with different combinations. As you can guess, bubble tea is a trend that has mostly conquered young people, who every day spend their money in something that makes them happy to drink and share with their friends.

Curiosities About Bubble Tea Explained By A Bubble Tea Shop Manager

Despite bubble tea is now a very popular trend, there are still many questions that people have about this beverage. At the end, people don't generally know the process that lays behind the entire production of bubble tea: unless you have worked in a bubble tea shop, it is probable you don't know some aspects of how does a bubble tea shop work. That is the reason of this article: not only I drink bubble tea often and I have even tried it directly in China, but I also run a bubble tea shop in my country. Being directly someone who knows firsthand what does it really mean making and selling one of the most loved drinks of the last years by young people, here I am in order 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 a bubble tea, especially in the USA, but also in Europe (even if in my country, Italy, for example, a bubble tea is surely cheaper than in the USA). In China it is a different story, as in the country where bubble tea is drunk everywhere and it is something as common as coffee in Italy, you end up paying few bucks for a bubble tea (in a place where the materials to make bubble tea are generally local). At the end, it's the same if we consider Italian food (which is very expensive in the USA and definitely cheaper in Italy) or coffee (in Italy coffee is very cheap, while in China it is very expensive). In the country of bubble tea you are generally not going to pay more than in any other bubble tea shop of the globe.

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

As there is a long commercial chain that starts from the factory and then arrive to the final beverage sold in your local bubble tea shop, this is the real reason of why bubble tea is an expensive beverage. It is expensive just like an Italian DOP product would be expensive in the USA: costs of importation and a long commercial chain contribute surely more to the price of a bubble tea than the fact it is a trend among young people. Surely there are bubble tea shops that are even more expensive than others: if your favorite shop spends a lot of money in commercials, TikTok videos, has many baristas and it 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

To sum up, the fact bubble tea is a trend is surely adding to the price of your drink. The fact that bubble tea is mostly drunk by specific people who are in love with this trend (especially young people) surely adds to the price (we are not talking about a product sold in a supermarket and bought literally by everyone, we are instead talking about something that has still a niche). Almost everyone goes to the supermarket, not everyone goes to the bubble tea shop: this adds surely to the price. The long chain of distribution of materials employed to make bubble tea is still what mostly makes the price of a bubble tea.

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" in order to get articles that are going to convince you pizza is something you have to avoid at every cost, even if it is a healthy Italian margherita pizza with just tomato and mozzarella cheese. No different story for bubble tea: of course this beverage is sweet and caloric, this does not mean you are going to sell your soul to the Devil if you sometimes drink a bubble tea. This is even more true if we consider there are various kinds of bubble tea drinks: if you are ordering a super sweet milk tea with addition of cream, toppings and maybe double portion of bobas you are surely drinking something that may be considered as a weekly cheat to the diet. If you are instead drinking a simple flavored green tea with bobas, you are having something sweet (with the addition of bobas 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 also some food coloring: nothing more than many sweet food and drinks you may find at your local grocery, so why demonizing bubble tea like some online articles do? Drinking a bubble tea is not better or worse than drinking a soda or eating an ice cream, just get it when you want it and drink it without worrying too much (unless you are drinking 5 bubble tea drinks a day).

Is Bubble Tea Easy To Make?

Have you ever watched carefully your bubble tea shop barista when he/she was making your beverage? It seems so easy to make a bubble tea, isn't it? Just add some syrup, some tea, shake it, add bobas and nothing more, yeah? Well, even tons of online videos show you how to make a bubble tea, you can actually make it even at home. Of course, 'making a bubble tea' and 'making a good bubble tea' are two completely different things. Before opening the bubble tea shop to the public we do many things, like, of course, preparing the boilers of tea. Every bubble tea shop has their own recipe in order to make the tea and to balance syrups with other ingredients. Before opening my shop I have tried many times every beverage I was going to sell, studying what was the best proportion of quantities of the different ingredients I was going to add to the specific beverage. I could in no way think to open a bubble tea shop after having watched an online video or after having simply looked at the barista of another shop. If making a bubble tea was so easy as the statement 'just put some tea, syrup, and shake it' may suggest, that would mean taste of bubble tea has to be 100% the same in every place. The reality is that making bubble tea is no way different than preparing food. Pizza is not the same in every place and making pizza is not an easy task, 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 lays behind what it may look at a first glance as a 'simple beverage'.

Is Bubble Tea A Summer Beverage?

Many people believe bubble tea should be mostly drunk in summer as a refreshening beverage. The reality is that many drinks can be made hot too, so that you can drink a bubble tea in every period of 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 like you would do in summer.

Has this article helped you to understand better some of the most trivial things regarding bubble tea? Have you other curiosities about one of the most loved beverages of the last years?

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