Bubble Tea is a relatively recent phenomenon from Taiwan. Its sweet tea and chewy “bubbles” has captured the taste buds of the young American demographic. It entered American markets through California, where it is simply known as boba, but has become known as bubble tea in New York. Boba originates from Chinese slang that refers to the tapioca as boobs. In proper Chinese, they are called pearls. Therefore bubble tea can be referred to as boba milk tea and pearl milk tea.
There has been much speculation about the original source of the famous bubble tea from Taiwan. It turns out, one tea shop and one woman were the true creators of this popular drink. The source is at Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichung, Taiwan.
The founder of the tea house, Liu Han-Chieh, first came up with the idea of serving Chinese tea cold in the early 1980s after visiting Japan where he saw coffee served cold. Then, in 1988, his product development manager, Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui, was sitting in a staff meeting and had brought with her a typical Taiwanese dessert called fen yuan, a sweetened tapioca pudding. Just for fun, she poured the tapioca balls into her Assam iced tea and drank it. Today, bubble tea shops occupy nearly every corner of Taiwan’s streets. They spread to neighboring countries like Japan, South Korea and China and then to the rest of the world.
As suggested in the name, bubble tea is often just tapioca in milk tea. But with recent market competitiveness, menus have been offering more variation. Different teas are offered, such as Bubbly Tea’s Chrysanthemum Honey Green Tea, Vivi’s Passion Fruit Tea, Chatime’s Hawaiian Fruit Tea etc. Yayas is the only tea store to offer 100+ different variations of teas. Menus are also starting to offer food, such as Vivi’s popular popcorn chicken and Yayas’ popular variety of riceballs.
Bubble tea stores can be seen populating majorly Asian neighborhoods such as Chinatown in Manhattan, Flushing in Queens and 8th Avenue in Brooklyn. In these neighborhoods, the same franchises can be found. And depending on the neighborhood, item popularity varies. In an interview with T-Baar’s manager, we were told that slushies and bubble tea sold about the same in Brooklyn while juices were more popular in Flushing. Vivi also had a balanced popularity between its bubble tea and juice in Brooklyn, but bubble tea was the most popular item in Chinatown. But for the most part, all bubble tea stores had overwhelming popularity with their regular bubble tea in Chinatown.
Wherever they are located though, all stores have their busiest times from noon to three, and their busiest days on the weekends. This can be contributed to the dismissal time of surrounding schools; the communities where bubble tea stores cluster are residential communities therefore the younger target market have a larger presences. For a young target market such as school kids, Chinatown tea stores offered larger sitting space and more frequently offered space in comparison to 8th Avenue’s tea stores.
The store to offer the largest hang out space is Yayas. When asked about their busy hours, we were told that they’re busy all day during the weekends. In Chinatown, Vivi provided counter tops and high chairs, but the location space was small and lingering became uncomfortable. In comparison, Yayas provided tables and chairs with a one hour sitting limit during rush hours. In 8th Avenue, Vivi provided a table and a chair stationed in the street because the storefront is only big enough for their kitchen.
When we interviewed the people sitting in front of Vivi, they stated that even though other bubble tea stores within walking distance offered the same tea flavors, Vivi was the only place where they were able to talk. Vivi was also the only place where they were able to buy food together with their drinks, because other bubble tea stores within the vacancy only sold drinks. This goes to prove that bubble tea stores has become a sort of hang out spot for the younger demographic. By providing a convenient place to sit and talk, and also offering something to drink and eat, businesses can be potentially very successful.