Prepare yourselves, bubble tea lovers: The U.S. faces a boba shortage that may last a few months


ART BY JOSEPH MENDOZA

Hand sanitizer, toilet paper and now: boba.


The COVID-19 pandemic has added to various shortages over the previous year.


I still distinctly remember how shelves in every store that were supposed to be fully stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer were all empty. Not only were they out of stock in physical stores, but also online stores such as the American multinational technology company, Amazon.


Presently, aftershocks of the COVID-19 outbreak, by all accounts, appear to be offering another shortage – one which started a frenzy at the West Coast this week; all of which was over a beverage.


I must admit this, but I, as a boba lover, have also freaked out about this new upcoming shortage. I would usually get boba once a week, and thinking about not having it for a few months worries me. Boba basically is a part of me and is something my friends and I would get whenever we hang out. I must say that boba is a big part of my life and not having it just feels off.


Many other drink enthusiasts had the same reaction when they discovered that tapioca was short in supply.


Tapioca pearls — generally alluded to as "boba," the most popular topping in "boba milk tea" or "bubble tea" drinks — are hard to come by for some businesses now. It is all because of a significant reduction of boba or tapioca pearls in the Asian-U.S. shipping chain.

These milk teas started in Taiwan in the early 1980s and have yet since accumulated a worldwide following. Southern California is no exemption.


The category can incorporate sweet beverages made with an assortment of ingredients. Yet on a fundamental level, boba tea mixes green or black tea, milk, ice and, obviously, the chewy little circles produced using tapioca starch. Now and again, natural product syrups, espresso, flavors or honey, or some kind of blend like that, get included in the mix.


Beverages that showed up here on the menus of restaurants serving Southeast Asian food or at tiny specialty shops in the cities of San Gabriel Valley and Orange County have landed in storefronts in pretty much every significant retail dining center, from little operations to stores worked by prospering tea-drink chains.


Oliver Yoon, VP of sales and global marketing for the provider Boba Direct, told npr that the shortage has been brewing for quite a long time because of a logistical issue influencing numerous industries: a large number of shipments from Asia and insufficient handling ability to get them into the United States.


"There's been a huge influx of containers coming from overseas due to e-commerce, just due to the consumer spending, and unfortunately, there's not enough people to assist in getting these containers out of the vessel," Yoon told npr.


The boba shortage, which was reported earlier by The San Francisco Chronicle, has boba fans in a panic. A post sharing the news in the Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits, a gathering place for Asian people around the world, attracted 10,000 comments and messages of dismay and sadness.


Boba is “something that translates across a lot of Asian cultures,” said Zoe Imansjah, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an administrator of the Subtle Asian Traits group. “Something so simple can bring a lot of people together.”


Meanwhile, restless boba store owners are rummaging for boba anyplace they can.

The New York Times interviewed many individuals about this situation.


Aaron Qian, the proprietor of Tea Hut, a boba store with three locations in the Bay Area, has been worrying about the impacts of this new shortage on his boba shop.


“It’s very stressful — no boba means no sales,” Qian told the NYT. “If you don’t have boba, [customers] don’t want the tea. They just leave.”


In spite of the pandemic, Qian said business had been flourishing, in light of the fact that with many other entertainment locations shut down, drinking boba is one of only a handful ways for having "fun." However, now two of his providers are sold out of boba, and the other two are proportioning the tapioca pearls he could purchase every week. In the event that he doesn't find more boba soon, Qian said, his stores will be out within 14 days.


Co-owner of Honeybear Boba in San Francisco, Brian Tran, also interviewed by the NYT, said he had likewise been frantically looking for more boba. He assumes to run out at the end of next week in the event that he can't reload his supply.


“A boba shop without boba is like a car dealership without cars to sell,” Tran said. “It’s like a steakhouse without steak.”


Tapioca pearls isn't only a California treat:information on the lack of boba resounded all around the United States.


Khoa Vu, a 28-year-old Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, mentioned to the NYT that he drinks boba a few times each week. He was fearing breaking the information on the deficiency to his 4-year-old little girl.


“It is a weekend thing after we’re done with dinner; I tell my kid, ‘If you eat well, I will take you to the boba shop,’” Vu said. “It’s going to be a shock to her.”


However, all hopes are not lost for boba enthusiasts. More modest boba providers like iBEV, which sells to around 100 stores, could get through the shortage. Carley Olund, an office manager at iBEV, said the organization had arranged for transportation delays and had sufficient boba accumulated to get past it.


In addition, Sharetea, a boba chain with dozens of stores across 20 states, said it was not experiencing a shortage.


While the pandemic has influenced and exterminated numerous businesses, the boba business has still grown in popularity. As per Yelp, bubble tea was the most popular delivery item in California, Michigan and Hawaii during COVID-19. The industry ought to expect adequate development through 2027, according to Fortune Business Insights.


April 30 is known as National Bubble Tea Day, an occasion made by the chain Kung Fu Tea, however this boba shortage may obstruct this year's celebration.


For those boba consumers who are influenced by this shortage, this might be an opportunity to try various toppings in their tea, such as cheddar foam, fruit jellies or egg pudding.


There’s no telling if this will be the last shortage our country faces or if there will be more. Until then, us bubble tea lovers have to resist not having boba as a topping in our drinks for a while.