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Will Tapioca Pearl Tea Conquer Starbucks?
(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 04:53:44 PM)

n 30 years a single Starbucks cafe in Seattle's Pike Place Market has spawned 4,700 attitude-packed locations worldwide. Its secret? Taking the Italian espresso bar and fitting it to American values by upsizing cups and downsizing chichi. How successful has that been? Starbucks has replaced McDonalds as the bladder break of choice for discriminating panhandlers and savvy cabbies.
Bubble Tea
A more evolved brew?

     But no sooner had cultural pundits and standup comics retooled their schticks for an Italian-roast future when from the mysterious east (Taiwan, to be exact) emerged an unlikely challenger.
     Some call it tapioca pearl tea. Others call it bubble tea, or even boba (mama's breast) tea. The "pearl", "bubble" and "boba" refer to tapioca starch balls typically the size of the plumpest, most expensive salmon roe you've ever seen. They are usually the shade and translucence of beluga caviar but also come in an array of rainbow colors -- or are even colorless. They settle several layers deep at the bottom of an ice-cold cup of sweetened milk tea -- or any flavored beverage from lychee or mimosa to coconut. They are served in clear plastic cups with a fat 1/2-inch-diameter straw. The moment of truth is when the first sip rolls up the straw and you feel, along with the beverage, one or more pearls invading your mouth. It's an alien sensation -- and that's half the fun. The other half is chewing them while swallowing the drink.
     Since 1999 cafes selling pearl tea have been mushrooming in every major Asian population center in the U.S. on the heels of hundreds of bubble tea parlors that have opened in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and China. The explosion of boba shops has made the Starbucks growth seem downright sober. Boba tea was first concocted around 1988 by a Taipei street vendor for sale to a local clientele of grade-school kids. The kids loved it. So did their elders. By the early 90s the craze had swept the island and spilled over into Southeast Asia. In about the time it took for Starbucks to open its 17th location, tapioca pearl tea became the beverage of choice for tens of millions in a dozen Pacific Rim nations. And their enthusiasm is very very catching.
     The sheer fun of sipping a visually and sensually oddball beverage is an important part of it, but other factors may explain its legs. Tea is healthier than coffee, and milk tea is far healthier than the rich concoctions served up by Starbucks and similar establishments. Even the tapioca bubbles are a healthful component made from cassava roots which actually supply modest but significant amounts of iron and calcium. Some even consider tapioca a promoter of regular bowel movements.
     Is boba tea destined to wean the world of its coffee addiction? Or is it just another crazy teen fad?

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WHAT YOU SAY

[This page is closed to new input. --Ed.]
HispankicDrinker:

The main ones I know outside of Westside Chinatown are the Fuji Tea House in Memorial City Mall (good fruit flavors and coffee, bad green tea poweder), Tea House in the Randall's Shopping Center at Shepherd & Westheimer, and one in First Colony Mall (The name escapes me now.) If I find any others, I'll let you know.
Hank Lewis
   Friday, December 27, 2002 at 05:28:58 (PST)    [161.159.4.35]
I haven't read all the posts on this issue, but I was wondering if anyone has seen/heard of bad press among non-Asians regarding boba tea and those lychee gelatin snacks?

I remember about six months back on a Los Angeles radio call-in show, they were talking about the lychee snacks in particular, because apparently some (evidently non-Asian) kid had choked to death on one of them.

The media was up in arms over the snacks, which apparently did not have any English "instructions" on how to properly eat these things, and had only "Asian" language printed on them. Many of the callers to the show were blasting these snacks and saying that they couldn't believe that the FDA approved them for sale when they were obviously a serious danger to public health. There was one caller who suggested (hopefully facetiously) that the snacks were a weapon of mass destruction delivered to the USA by the red Chinese to kill off our young!

Anyway, I noticed that they no longer sell these lychee-gelatin snacks at our local 99 Ranch store, and wondered if they were pulled off the shelves to prevent any more lawsuits by people who need instructions on how to "chew first, then swallow."
"B" as in "bictory"
   Thursday, December 26, 2002 at 21:38:39 (PST)    [63.98.74.2]
Hello,Hank I would like to know if you know any other tapioca cafes in houston besides the ones in bellair? I've been to the one in memorial mall its ok.
HispankicDrinker
   Thursday, December 19, 2002 at 19:44:39 (PST)    [66.25.12.80]
Just a heads up to Asian Americans in Houston who work in the River Oaks/Shepherd Area. Teahouse has opened a Boba Tea place on the Corner of Shepherd & Westheimer in the Randall's shopping centre, underneath Auntie Chang's Dumpling House. The Mango Smoothie Boba Tea is AWESOME!!!
Hank Lewis
   Tuesday, December 17, 2002 at 10:57:02 (PST)    [65.69.30.249]
i need information about how the bubble tea business goes on, and i need a complete explanation, about how can i open the bubble tea store chain in my home base country, also about all and complete detail about the financial needed to open it.
arief Mr
cyposun@mailcity.com    Tuesday, December 17, 2002 at 00:03:26 (PST)    [61.94.231.17]
We like your editorial.
Permission to put the article as a link on our Corporate site and others.

thanks
Principal
sharpimaging@hotmail.com    Monday, December 16, 2002 at 20:00:17 (PST)    [24.87.130.2]

[You have our permission to link to this page as long as you are not operating a site containing adult or hateful content. --Ed]
I love boba drinks! Too bad a lot of the shops closes on Sunday!
johannah
   Sunday, December 15, 2002 at 11:55:00 (PST)    [199.182.193.57]
you can always make your own. Though i guess if they don't sell boba where you live, they probably don't have many asian supermarkets either. Oh well, try driving down to california.
jks
   Friday, December 06, 2002 at 04:37:37 (PST)    [128.220.229.224]
"The bubble tea in San Jose is made mostly by Chinese-Americans who don't know much about Bubble Tea.
In Houston many of the Bubble tea shops are owned and operated by real Taiwanse. So, the tea you get in Houston is very authentic compared to the fake crap in San Jose."

What? Where did you get this nonsense from? There are probably more than twice as many Taiwanese living in just the small city of SJ alone than there are in all of Houston. San Jose was one of the original destinations, along with Monterey Park, for Taiwanese in America.

If those are indeed ABC's working at Tapioca Express, they must have flunked English in second grade because they sure do have poor pronunciation! (I'm not saying that Taiwanese speak poor English. It's just bad compared to real ABC's.)
Trust me. My friend owns a few TapX's here in the South and East Bay. It is a REQUIREMENT (I don't know how they get away with it) that TAIWANESE girls are the majority of the workforce, or you will lose your franchise.

Besides, what makes you think just because someone is Taiwanese, s/he is automatically a boba expert? And why can't an ABC make good bubble tea? Shoot, I'm Cantonese, so that must make me an expert chef and a master martial artist. Oh wait a minute... I guess the stereotypes are true...
TSJ
Eric@KristinKreuk.net    Thursday, December 05, 2002 at 15:25:51 (PST)    [165.247.227.191]
i was wondering if anyone knows where to get a boba tea in eugene oregon...
nancy harrison
nancyapple@earthlink.net    Thursday, December 05, 2002 at 03:59:27 (PST)    [216.26.32.88]
could anyone tell me where to get pearl tea in eugene oregon? i used to drink them all the time in california, and now i can't find any!!!!
jane
   Wednesday, December 04, 2002 at 02:55:00 (PST)    [216.26.32.160]
In response to person looking for cheap boba place in Portland, OR...
check out:

Bubble Bubble Tea
18305 NW West Union Rd. Suite F
Portland OR 97229
503-690-8282

(its actually in Beaverton, despite Portland adrress). U wanna take Hwy 26 west to 185th from downtown PDX, make a right on 185th and go to corner of 185th and West Union Rd. (its in the Albertsons plaza).

There is also another place in Beaverton called Bobalicious on Cornell Rd. across the street from Sunset High School next to the Safeway.

Also on the east side (havent been to this one, so dunno about how good or expensive it is):

Bubble Tea Express
1940 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, OR 97216
PDX
   Wednesday, December 04, 2002 at 02:40:37 (PST)    [12.234.106.42]
I must say I love bubble tea also! Not just the ones w/tapioca, but with lychee or coconut jelly. Of course, you have to go to the right places. I agree w/"i love bubble tea"...Episodes is the best in the Seattle area. The one in Uwajimaya's food court is pretty good too. The real fruit ones are the best, not the powdery stuff. I can't understand what's so great about Starbuck's! Why is it so popular?! I can think of many places w/much better quality coffee but oh well. Realistically, I doubt boba will conquer coffee but it should. It is so much more fun drinking those great flavors (esp mango) while chewing on those tapioca balls!
Amy
   Tuesday, December 03, 2002 at 21:04:08 (PST)    [4.46.156.67]
One warning to Boba Fans in Houston:

Be careful with some of the teas at Fuji Tea House in Memorial City mall. The fruit flavors are great, but the green tea is made from a POWDER. UGH!!! My wife had some last week and you'd feel the crunch when you chewed the Tapioca. I'll stick to Suzhi Tea house, Thank you very much!!!
Hank Lewis
   Monday, December 02, 2002 at 06:57:27 (PST)    [161.159.4.21]
I personaly think that Boba will conquer Starbucks because it just has a lot more flavors of drinks and i think it justs tastes better and i like PassionFruit Boba Green tea!! >.<
John Chen
   Sunday, December 01, 2002 at 21:53:12 (PST)    [66.74.245.216]
Try episodes bubble tea cafe on aurora and 137th in north seattle. they have the best bubble tea in the area!
i love bubble tea
   Tuesday, November 26, 2002 at 19:08:20 (PST)    [12.228.98.246]
My girfriend is from taiwan and she's been speaking the praises of pearl milk tea (as she calls it) since I've known her. A Tapio bubble tea stand has opened in my local mall, I finally got a cahnce to try them. I think they're great and best of all if you finish your tea before all the tapioca, you can shoot it out of the straw at passers by.
NeWaVe
   Thursday, November 21, 2002 at 06:08:56 (PST)    [206.41.194.109]
boba tea is nasty. it goes against the laws of nature. you are not suppossed to chew your drink...it just doesnt make any sense!!!!!
a normal person
   Wednesday, November 20, 2002 at 17:44:55 (PST)    [132.239.1.232]
"The moment of truth is when the first sip rolls up the straw and you feel, along with the beverage, one or more pearls invading your mouth. It's an alien sensation -- and that's half the fun. The other half is chewing them while swallowing the drink. "

An alien sensation in the mouth? Sounds very Freudian to me. The fact of the matter is that the novelty of this drink is what is keeping it afloat, much like Crystal Pepsi--the lack of false coloring etc. made it better than traditional cola, yeah right. As far as I'm concerned the taste is definately not appealing, and once the fad of it wears off it will join Crystal Pepsi in novelty drink hell.
Tapioca Balls
   Wednesday, November 20, 2002 at 14:00:14 (PST)    [140.103.136.45]
Oh man, my hubby and I *LOVE* bubble tea! We get it everytime we visit a large city (mango freeze with the tapioca is my fav). Too bad we live in a hick town in the 3.5 hrs from chicago.

I have never been a coffee drinker, so I could care less about starbucks, in fact I don't see what the big deal is. It is overpriced coffee! I hope the bubble tea craze catches on throughout the whole country so it isn't a pain in the butt for me to get my hands on some. :) If I could, I'd have one everyday.
periwinkle
   Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at 18:42:08 (PST)    [64.109.22.154]
Starbucks who!??! I drive about 30 minutes atleast 4 times a week just to get my boba fix. Until about 2 months ago i had to travel an hour to the closest shop, and never thought twice about it. Not only is it good for you but its refreshing...I mean honestly how many types of coffe are there? tons and it all tastes the same!!! Each Flavor of Boba is completly different and there are so many different types that there is no time to get bored. Only thing boba dosn't have on its side is the close minded ppl that are too scard to try it...that'll change.
ChunsaGongju
Chunsa_Gongju@yahoo.com    Sunday, November 17, 2002 at 10:05:09 (PST)    [12.91.162.17]
I absoluetly LOVE Boba Tea, I was introduced to it by my friends who live in Taiwan and she home-made some for me, from that moment I have loved pearl milk tea and crave it 4-5 times a week! I used to visit starbucks but now it's all the way Boba tea, it's refreshing, chewy, healthier, and cheaper! Boba tea will out do coffee's for sure!
Sarah
Sarahparm@yahoo.com    Tuesday, November 12, 2002 at 09:36:27 (PST)    [216.185.125.17]
Yeah, I love Boba tea too. But remember one thing about Boba. Do not give the drink to small kids. The size of the Boba makes it a dangerous drink for kids because of their small wind pipes. Boba also comes in the mini-size ones and those are ok for the kiddies. ;)

Also, it is not responsible to leave Boba cups around where kids may get their hands on them. Safety first around kids!
BoBa Warning!
   Tuesday, November 05, 2002 at 15:22:41 (PST)    [66.47.79.250]
This is a response for Former Ch-exan:

The bubble tea in San Jose is made mostly by Chinese-Americans who don't know much about Bubble Tea.
In Houston many of the Bubble tea shops are owned and operated by real Taiwanse. So, the tea you get in Houston is very authentic compared to the fake crap in San Jose.

I also believe that Bubble tea will overtake the Starbucks craze, it is just a matter of time. Who can resist milk tea with those pretty Tapioca balls lying on the bottom of the cup?
Also, bubble tea has more caffeine per volume than expresso. So, you surely get a fix from bubble tea.

I hope one day to open up a bubble tea shop and start my own. I am currently learning how to make it from several of my Taiwanese friends.

Enjoy the tea, it is here to stay.

Cheers,

-MSW
M. Westerhoff
   Monday, November 04, 2002 at 16:26:28 (PST)    [129.115.28.206]
Boba is like really cool... Most of my friends love it! It would be sad if Starbucks started to make boba. Then all the little shops might have to close down b/c more people might go to a Starbucks. :(
boba luver in ca
   Tuesday, October 29, 2002 at 14:43:22 (PST)    [66.27.204.147]

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