Bubble tea hype — the secret is in the pearls

Despite early scaremongering, queues for bubble tea can cause traffic congestion


WHEN a new trend comes to town, there always seems to be a group of party poopers who are quick to tarnish its hype.

Their latest victim is bubble tea, also known as boba tea.

Various issues were raised and made their rounds in social media; its halal status, for one, as most of these brands carry Chinese names; the risk of diabetes for its consumers (which is true); even a dubious photograph of kidney stones said to be undigested tapioca pearls.

Regardless of these scare tactics, the hype continues to grow, leading to the mushrooming of bubble tea shops, especially in SS15 Subang Jaya, now unofficially known as Bubble Tea Street.

Some bubble tea shops caramelise their sugar to stand out from the rest, leading to mixed reviews

Among popular names include OneZo, Gong Cha and Tea Amo, which have attracted crowds of youngsters.

Socialgrooves.com creative copywriter Gwendolyn Narcis said she tried out all the signature drinks from Xing Fu Tang, The Alley and Tiger Sugar, and found that their main attraction was their black tapioca pearls.

“For me, the most distinguished feature for (bubble tea brands) Chatime and Tealive would be the softness of the pearls.

“Tea-wise, The Alley and Xing Fu Tang are much smoother, with (a) less bitter aftertaste compared to Tealive and Chatime,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Meanwhile, she found the caramelised sugar at Tiger Sugar too burnt for her liking.

“I tried the signature drink at Tiger Sugar and didn’t like it, because the first impression I got from it was the bitterness of the caramelised sugar.

“To me, there is a thin line between perfect caramelisation and overly burnt sugar. I don’t understand the craze for that brand,” she said.

Narcis added that the other two shops, The Alley and Xing Fu Tang, were on par with each other in terms of overall experience.

“The signature drink at The Alley was alright. The milk was smooth, there was no bitter aftertaste and the boba was soft.

“Xing Fu Tang’s signature drink was mind- blowing, because I thought it was going to be like Tiger Sugar, but I was dead wrong,” she said, adding that she preferred their pearls’ softness, and that they had a special sensation mid-drink.

“It was much nicer and can even compete with The Alley’s signature. I heard their bubbles were made to give that explosion of sweetness in your drink and they are super soft, too,” she said.

Universiti Teknologi Mara Design Technology Masters student Siti Nabihah Mohamad Rozy felt that these new brands were healthier than Chatime or Tealive.

“The pearls from Chatime and Tealive felt more like plastic to me,” she told TMR.

As per its namesake, Bubble Tea Street is home to many shops that have mushroomed recently, causing impressive queues

She and her friends jumped on the band-wagon out of curiosity as to why youngsters were willing to queue up in front of shops to the point of causing traffic congestion at Bubble Tea Street.

“We all love boba tea, but we’re not addicted. We tried them all just out of curiosity, but as the queues were so long, we had to split up to different shops,” Nabihah said, adding that the main distinguishing factor between brands would be the pearls.

“I agree that the pearls taste different among the shops, while the milk tea itself is the same for most of them.”

Meanwhile, the sugar tax that came into play earlier this month was said to not affect this trend, although it was reported that the sugar content in a cup of boba tea was nearly thrice the amount in a can of Coca-Cola.

The sugar tax was announced in Budget 2019, aimed at decreasing the sugar intake in the country.

According to National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 statistics, sugar intake among adolescents increased 1.4 times between 2012 and 2017.

Nabihah said even if the sugar tax was imposed on boba tea, people, especially youngsters, will continue to buy these indulgent drinks.

“People still buy Starbucks beverages that go beyond RM20. I think it’ll be the same for boba tea.

“Although it is basically ‘teh tarik’, when you add tapioca pearls and charge RM13.90, people will accept it and even say that it’s cheap,” she said.