April 30 has recently been named National Bubble Tea Day by the US-based milk tea chain Kung Fu Tea, which aims to introduce bubble tea and its culture to consumers all around the world.
The launch of this brand-new ‘National Bubble Tea Day’ and the general growing presence of milk tea shops in various countries shows the attraction of bubble tea – both in and outside China.
More Milk Tea than Coffee
Pearl milk tea or bubble tea, also known as ‘boba’ (bōbà nǎichá 波霸奶茶/ zhēnzhū nǎichá 珍珠奶茶), was first invented in Taiwan in 1988 – and has since become an important part of Taiwanese food culture. Over the past decade, the bubble tea craze has also blown over to mainland China.
For those unfamiliar with the drink; most pearl milk tea products contain an iced tea base and milk, with chewy tapioca pearls and sugar. Although this is a standard recipe, China’s many bubble milk tea shops and chains now have a growing selection of fruit flavored bubble tea or chocolate flavored bubble tea beside their original flavored bubble tea.
Since milk tea came to the mainland market in 1996, it has beaten coffee as a drink in terms of popularity. According to China marketing platform lbzuo.com (鹿豹座), Chinese now consume five times more milk tea than coffee. After the arrival of pearl milk tea to mainland China, coffee has taken a backseat, meaning that milk tea, in 15 years, beat what coffee in China did in 130 years. Bubble tea consumption continues to rise at a high rate each year.
Early on, pearl milk tea products were primarily targeted at young, female students between the ages of 15 and 25. Over recent years, however, the demographics have expanded as more men and working professionals are joining the craze.
The alternative to Starbucks
What makes pearl milk tea such a tantalizing drink to so many? Some say it is the combinations of having a drink and chewy snack in one, others claim the flavors are unrivaled, especially when compared to coffee; while western countries are immersed in the coffee lifestyle, China is more invested in milk tea.
This also has to do with China’s ancient tea culture. Although coffee has gradually become more popular in mainland China since the arrival of large chains such as Starbucks, some experts, such as tea entrepreneur Jiang Jiadao, say it is not about the coffee itself, but about new realities of modern life, where people want to pick up a quick drink or sit down somewhere with a friend in between meetings.
“It’s not because they love the coffee,” Jiang told SCMP: “The popularity of Starbucks doesn’t have anything to do with changing tastes for coffee instead of tea, or more love of Western culture. I think we love the lifestyle it stands for. If we can offer a similar lifestyle and experience over tea, this would work.”
And it seems to be working. People do not just love the drink’s taste and texture, bubble tea has also become more popular in China – especially amongst the younger generations – because they love the style and image of China’s new trendy tea house brands.
As reported by Caixin Global, Chinese bubble tea makers recently have been further building on their cool bubble tea image by merging with bookstores, popular clothing brands, or restaurant chains.
Mango Cheese Milk Tea
To attract more customers in a growingly competitive industry, milk tea brands now also add popular new flavors, snacks, and sweets to their menu. Recently, the so-called ‘dirty [chocolate] bread’ or ‘zang zang bao’ went viral as it was placed on the menu of various milk tea shops, conquering the hearts of Beijing’s milk tea lovers.
Some milk tea stores are also staying ahead of their competition by releasing products that grab people’s attention. The chain Happy Tea, for example, released their ‘Mango Cheese Tea’ after they found that many Chinese social media users search for both ‘mangos’ and ‘cheese’.
On Chinese social media, the bubble tea trend is clear from the many photos posted of the drink every single minute. “After a long day of work, all I need is my bubble tea,” are among the things written along with colorful and appealing pearl milk tea pics.
Some netizens express the sheer joy pearl milk tea can bring to people, with various celebrity idols now also endorsing China’s major milk tea shops, such as Yi Dian Dian (1點點).
Netizen @CLSD writes: “Tonight on my way home from work I made a detour at Yi Dian Dian. As I waited in line a while, I could see everyone’s smiles as they walked out with their milk tea. People who enjoy milk tea are so lovely. It’s indescribable. My favorite singer is also a milk tea enthusiast…”
Others express their new-found love for the drink, writing: “I’m done for. I just started liking milk tea…”
Recently, long queues outside of milk tea shops have become a daily occurrence in major cities throughout China.* The craze for milk tea has been aided by strategic placement of stores nearby schools and office buildings. More often you can see milk tea brought into restaurants, schools, and offices. In contrast to coffee, milk tea is consumed virtually any time of the day.
The Most Popular Milk Tea Shops in China
Here is a top 10 of the most popular milk tea brands in China, of which many already have or will expand outside of Taiwan or mainland China. This list is compiled based on various sources, including Chinese online marketing magazines and Chinese food bloggers (e.g. 91yinpin.com, mroyal.cn, sina.com, sohu.com):
● #1 Yi Dian Dian (1點點 or 一点点奶茶)
Yi Dian Dian started in Taipei in 2010. The chain specializes in Taiwanese style milk tea, fruit tea, as well as desserts. Currently, Yi Dian Dian has over 600 stores in China and the Philippines. The company is expanding operations into countries such as England, Thailand, and Japan. Their main clientele is young students and professionals.
● #2 HEYTEA（喜茶)
HEYTEA, formerly called Royal Tea (皇茶), was founded in 2012 by the Guangdong-born Yunchen Nie (聂云宸), who aspired to launch a Starbucks-style brand in the tea market. It has worked; the company now has 80 outlets in 13 cities. HEYTEA is the innovator behind “cheese tea” (奶盖茶, sweet creamy tea). Since this creation, they have concentrated on finding and incorporating high quality tea into their line of products. In 2016, they received a 100 million yuan outside investment.
● #3 Coco (coco都可奶茶)
Coco first opened in Taipei in 1997. Over the last 20 years, they have opened over 2000 stores worldwide with locations in the US, UK, Thailand, and Korea among others. Coco offers customers a variety of beverages that meet a wide range of taste preferences. They also perform regular health and safety checks as well as fresh ingredients to put consumer worries at ease.
● #4 Gong Cha（薡御贡茶）
The milk tea shop with the most international exposure, Gong Cha started in Taiwan. Since 2006, this premium milk tea shop has become one of the largest in the world with more than 1,500 locations from Hong Kong to South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Singapore, and other countries.
● #5 Yunyang Royal (云仰皇茶)
This brand has also been dubbed the “Hermes of the milk tea industry” because of its exquisite quality and higher price. It is a relatively new player in the milk tea market, only founded in 2016 in Dongguan, and has introduced a range of interesting flavors, including cheese rose Oolong, cheese cream cocoa, or milk salt mountain green tea.
● #6 China Fruit Time（鲜果时间)
This shop was founded in Beijing in 2007, mainly focused on the take-out beverage market. It was an immediate success, with the franchise chain opening 40 new stores within a year after its founding. The brand mainly focuses on being “fresh, stylish, and healthy” and now has shops all over mainland China.
● #7 Utepia（乌茶邦)
Utepia, Wu Cha Bang in Chinese, is a stylish milk tea franchise that is very new and based on the idea of being the “celebrity milk tea” – a very strong brand identity that is all about targeting young generations with a love for classy, traditional products. Although the company is new, some media predict 2018 will be the breakthrough year for this brand.
● #8 Happy Lemon（快乐柠檬）
Happy Lemon was founded in Shanghai in 2006, although its owner (Albert Wu) has been active in the tea business since the early 1990s in Taipei. The main company behind this brand, Yummy Town Holdings Corporation, also owns RBT Tea Cafe (仙踪林) and other brands, which have stores in many countries including mainland South Korea, Japan, Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada.
● #9 Dakasi（大卡司）
Dakasi is another milk tea shop with Taiwanese roots since 1990, which arrived in mainland China in 1999, where it set up its headquarters in Guangdong. It is a somewhat simple and classic milk tea brand that is especially loved by younger generations.
● #10 Attakai Kokoro Tea Shop（恋暖の初茶）
Although it has a Japanese name, this franchise tea shop is actually Chinese and just focuses on the fashionable Japanese style and quality ingredients, which the brand claims all come from Japan, Taiwan, and the US. It distinguishes itself from other brands by offering high-quality products at a relatively low price.
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This Is the BBQ Restaurant Jack Ma Visited in Zhengzhou
Jack Ma’s late-night snack means overnight success for this Zhengzhou skewer place.
Whatever Jack Ma does or says makes headlines in China. The superstar Alibaba founder has especially been a topic of discussion over the past week since his meeting with Tesla’s Elon Musk at the World AI Conference in Shanghai, where the two billionaires had a discussion about the risks and rewards of AI development.
But on social media platform Weibo, Chinese netizens have not just been discussing what Jack Ma has been saying over the past few days – what he has been eating has also become a topic that has attracted thousands of views and comments this week.
A BBQ skewer restaurant in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, gained overnight fame after a visit from the business magnate and his group. The Alibaba delegation visited Zhengzhou for a meeting concerning a strategic partnership between Alibaba and the local government.
Jack Ma visited the barbecue skewer restaurant around one o’clock in the morning, and was photographed and filmed by many people standing around.
Ma visited Dehua Pedestrian Street and Zhengdong New Area before arriving at the Zheng Xiwang restaurant. Ma was with a small group of people and spent a total of 700 yuan (around 100 US dollars).
Grilled skewers are popular all across China, but especially in the Zhengzhou region, which is also nicknamed the “holy land of skewers.”
The Zheng Xiwang restaurant visited by Ma was founded in 1991 – although it was just a street stall at the time – and has been thriving ever since.
Besides skewers, Jack Ma allegedly ordered stir-fried Hunan prawns and spicy clams.
As Ma’s visit to Zhengzhou and the restaurant has gone viral, some social media users write that they have also visited the restaurant immediately after, sharing photos and their receipts as proof.
Weibo user Jia Chengjun (@贾成军) from Henan shared photos of people lining up to get a table at the popular restaurant.
According to various reports on Weibo, the restaurant’s owner initially offered Jack Ma the dinner for free, but the billionaire refused and paid anyway. His payment method will not come as a surprise; he paid with Alibaba’s online payment platform Alipay.
“Why would you offer him a free meal anyway?” some netizens wondered: “He surely has more money than you!”
Curious to try the same food as Ma? Zheng Xi Wang is located at the intersection of Fuyuan Street and Yingxie Street in Zhengzhou (福元路与英协路交叉口向西160米路北(银基王朝南门)).
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“Opposing Dog Meat Consumption Is Hypocritical” – Weibo Discussions on Anti-Dog Meat Protests
Eating dog meat is a personal choice, many commenters argue.
South Korea’s dog meat industry made headlines on Friday after protesters in Seoul, joined by actress Kim Basinger, called for an end to the decade-old dog meat trade in the country.
Not far from the protesters were farmers who raise dogs that are sold to restaurants. They brought steamed dog meat and ate it with kimchi.
In China, where the eating of dog meat has a long history, the Seoul protests triggered some discussions on social media.
— CNN International (@cnni) July 12, 2019
The hashtags “Hundred People Gather in South Korea to Stop the Eating of Dog Meat” (#韩国百人集会呼吁停食狗肉#) and “Big Protest in South Korea against Eating of Dog Meat” (#韩国大规模抗议吃狗肉#) received over 83 million views.
In South Korea, the overall demand for dog meat has plummeted over the years. Earlier this month, one of the largest dog meat markets in the country, the Gupo dog meat market, was shut down. In November of 2018, Seongnam city already demolished South Korea’s largest dog slaughterhouse.
Friday’s protesters hope to shut down dog meat trade in the country completely. The latest protests have put the thorny issue of the dog meat industry back in the limelight.
“I don’t eat dog meat, but I don’t oppose it.”
On Chinese social media site Weibo, hundreds of netizens expressed their opinion on the matter, that has been a hot topic in China for years.
According to polls from the past and present, the topic of dog meat in China is clearly a divisive one.
But over the past few days a seeming majority of commenters on Weibo spoke out about the issue in a remarkably similar way, with thousands of netizens highlighting one issue in the matter: hypocrisy.
“I won’t oppose to the eating of dog meat,” one person writes: “Because if I support the anti-dog meat movement today, then tomorrow it will turn against the eating of cows, then the eating of pigs, and then the eating of fish..”
Many people on social media agree with this point of view, arguing that no matter one’s personal ideas about dog meat, condemning the dog meat practice in specific would be hypocritical: “Pigs are so cute, why do we eat pigs then?” many say, with others arguing: “Aren’t cows also spiritual animals?”
“I also raise dogs, I also love dogs,” another commenter says: “But I think that if they legally breed dogs for the dog meat [industry], then we have no right to prevent them from doing so.”
“I don’t eat dog meat, but I don’t oppose it, as long as it’s legal it’s ok,” with others writing: “I am opposed to the eating of any living creature.”
“Eating dog is not illegal, why all this sentimental nonsense? Why don’t you also defend chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep, and cows?!”
“As long as they’re not abused, I don’t see a problem with it.”
“Dog meat is tasty,” one commenter from Zhejiang writes: “I like it, although I rarely eat it. I don’t see a problem with it, it’s a personal choice.”
SHORT OVERVIEW OF DOG EATING IN CHINA
“To them, dog meat was just like any other meat.”
The tradition of dog eating in China can be traced back as far as the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1558 to 1046 BC), when dog meat was considered a delicacy for the upper class.
Later on in Chinese history, during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), it became more and more common until the practice saw a general decline, especially in northern China, during and after the tenth century (Li et al 2017, 513-514).
Despite the rising and declining popularity of dog meat throughout China’s history, the practice of eating dog has never completely disappeared, particularly in southern China.
In a book on China from 1878 by John Henry Gray, the author notes the popularity of restaurants serving dog and cat meat in ‘Canton’ (Guangzhou):
“I do not think (..) that I exaggerate in saying that there are no fewer than twenty such places in Canton. Each restaurant contains only one public apartment. The approach to this dining-room is generally through the kitchen, where cooks may be seen standing in front of slow fires over which the flesh of cats and dogs is being cooked. The flesh is cut into small pieces and fried with water chestnuts and garlic in oil. In the windows of the restaurant dogs’ carcasses are suspended, for the purpose, I suppose, of attracting the attention of passengers” (75).
He further writes:
“The flesh of black dogs and cats is generally preferred because it is supposed to possess more nutriment than that of cats and dogs of any other color. At Ying-tong, a suburban district of Canton, a fair is held at which dogs are sold for food; and in one of the streets dogs and cats are daily exposed for sale. The dogs are put to death by strangling, stabbing, or felling with clubs” (76).
Something that has not changed since the days described in Gray’s book is the belief in the medicinal benefits of dog meat.
Especially in summer, dog’s flesh is believed to serve as an antidote against summer heat, and to be nutritious and beneficial as a source to enhance male virility or to boost the liver. Even at present, Chinese media promote the eating of dog meat to boost the immune system and help stimulate better blood circulation.
It should be noted that although China has a long history of dog meat consumption, it also has a long history of dog domestication and dog-human comradery. Dogs were pets, guarded the house, used in hunting, and also used in rituals of sacrifice.
Most of the 20th century (1900-1978) was a tough time for people in mainland China, and it was a tough time for dogs too. In many times, there was barely enough food to eat, and under Mao’s rule, dogs were considered “parasites” and were outlawed as pets (Coren 2018; Li et al 2017, 514).
Those who kept pets were seen as part of the ‘bourgeoisie,’ and during the Cultural Revolution, pet dogs were reportedly seized and beaten to death in front of their owners (Coren 2008, ch. 21).
Much has changed since those days. Although (stray) dogs, as carriers of diseases and potentially aggressive, are often still considered a drain on society, having a dog as a pet has become much more commonplace in China since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Eating dog meat has become less popular, especially among young people in China, who have grown up very differently from their parents and have different perceptions of dogs.
Chinese writer Bang Xiao looks back on the first time his mother served him dog meat during Chinese New Year, writing:
“For them, dog meat was just like any of the other meats, and coming from a generation who lived through famine and the Cultural Revolution, I was told I should be grateful. For me though, it meant I was eating my own pet Duo Duo. I cried.”
Later on, he writes about his parents:
“They weren’t “dog eaters”. They were just people that happened to have a different history that led to different animals being on the menu.”
THE YULIN DOG MEAT FESTIVAL
“Don’t go, don’t eat it, don’t pay attention to it.”
Despite the general unpopularity of dog meat in China, there is one time of the year when the discussions on the practice of dog eating flare up again, and that is during the Yulin Lychee & Dog Meat Festival, an annual event that’s been held over the past decade in the Chinese city of Yulin intended to generate income from tourism (Brown 2018).
Some 10,000 to 15,000 dogs and cats are slaughtered during the 10-day event that starts on June 21st every year. The event attracts hundreds of people every day. There is a restaurant strip and a market where dozens of vendors cook various dog meat dishes in large woks and where live dogs are sold and slaughtered.
Although the voices of those people protesting the festival seem to grow louder year on year, the dog meat festival continues. It is not illegal, and its economic benefits have become of crucial importance for many in the city of Yulin.
A 2016 media survey held among 2000 people from various ages and places in China found that 64% of the people opposed to the festival, 52% thinks that dog meat should be banned in China, and 70% said they had never had dog meat themselves.
“Don’t go, don’t eat it, don’t pay attention to it. When there’s no business, the killing will stop,” one Weibo commenter suggests.
A MURKY MARKET
“There does not seem to be a Chinese dog meat market that is both cruel-free and completely legal.”
Apart from Yulin, the eating of dog meat is barely a celebrated tradition in China anymore.
For a What’s on Weibo article from 2015, we could still find 122 restaurants listed as ‘dog meat’ specialty restaurants in the city of Beijing on restaurant site Dianping. But at present, Dianping no longer publicly lists any restaurants when searching for ‘dog meat’ specialty places (note that there still are restaurants serving dog meat, but they might not be listed due to controversy or for fear for activists).
China’s biggest e-commerce websites sell different herb mixes for dog stews or dog meat hotpots (see tweet below), but the market could hardly be called thriving.
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) July 12, 2019
Yet, despite all those people on Chinese social media saying that eating dog meat should not be a problem for those who still want to eat it, China’s dog meat market does actually have a problem.
China has no law that bans the eating of dogs; eating dog meat is a personal freedom. But what makes the issue murky and troublesome is that China actually has no large-scale legal dog farms, nor legal dog slaughterhouses.
The very few dog farms in existence in China would never be adequate to provide the meat for the industry in southern China, let alone for the estimated 10,000+ dogs slaughtered in Yulin every year.
It is therefore not clear where the dogs that are used for their meat in China come from. Are they stray dogs? Are they stolen from the streets? And if so, would this not be considered illegal (Brown 2018; Cao 2014; Yan 2015, 46)?
Another issue making the dog meat market a problematic one is the cruel treatment of the dogs.
China has seen countless of food scandals over the years, and some of them involve the selling of poisoned dog meat. As a result, many people have a general distrust in (frozen) meat products and want to make sure they are consuming good quality meat.
Dog meat markets such as Yulin, therefore, often sell living dogs. They are virtually like ‘wet markets’ for dogs, where those who want to eat dog meat can do so with the assurance that the meat they are eating is fresh and safe. The dogs are slaughtered at the spot or are sold alive for home consumption (Brown 2018).
The process of being transported, being displayed in tiny cases in the summer heat, and being killed in often cruel ways all add to the enormous stress and pain the animals at the live dog market are suffering.
China currently has no laws from the perspective of animal welfare to minimize the pain and suffering during transport, the selling, or at the point of slaughter (Brown 2018).
For the aforementioned reasons and more, festivals such as the Yulin Dog Meat one are getting more controversial year on year, with more and more Chinese calling for a boycott and a ban.
“If you eat dog meat of unknown origin, you might be participating in the killing of someone else’s pet.”
As the discussions on dog meat in China are ongoing following the South Korea protests, one blogger posted a survey asking netizens if they support the eating of dog meat.
Despite the many commenters who also defend the practice of dog eating, a majority of 67% percent among the 32.000 participants said they do not support it as “dogs are our friends.”
A recurring sentiment expressed on Chinese social media on the issue is that there essentially is nothing wrong with eating dog meat – and that it would be hypocritical to only oppose to eating dog without also opposing eating sheep, cows, chickens, and so on – as long as it is legal, and as long as the dogs are not stolen, poisoned, or abused.
But that’s the whole issue at hand: all those things are in fact happening in the dog meat industry today. It is difficult to discuss the eating of dogs based on the hypothetical assumption that these things are not occurring.
Consumers are not buying (frozen) meat from legal dog farms and certified dog slaughterhouses, they are mostly buying living dogs or dog meat from unknown origins, and the process of selling and slaughtering often goes hand in hand with cruel treatment.
“I don’t oppose to eating dog, but I hate the dog trafficking market,” one person says. Another commenter agrees, writing: “I don’t oppose to the eating [of dogs] that are bred for it, but I do oppose to those who steal other people’s dogs. Most of the dog meat I’ve seen comes from unknown origins. (..) If you eat dog meat that you don’t know the origin of, you might be participating in the killing of someone else’s pet.”
For now, China and South Korea are very different when it comes to their dog meat industries and their (legal) changes. The countries do seem to have one thing in common, which is that the practice of eating dog meat is no longer popular among the younger generations.
This might suggest that as sales are dropping, the dog meat market will shrink and might eventually disappear altogether if there is no interest in it.
“Don’t hype the dog meat festival,” one Weibo commenter writes: “It’s the hype that made it big and that led to more dogs being killed.
This basically reiterates the advice of one of the aforementioned commenters: don’t go, don’t eat it, don’t pay attention to it, and the business will, eventually, die out.
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By Manya Koetse
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Brown. Hannah. 2018. “Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival: A Shift in Focus.” In: Tourism Experiences and Animal Consumption: Contested Values, Morality and Ethics, Carol Kline (eds), Chapter 15. London: Routledge.
Cao Yin. 2014. “Experts: Dog Meat Festival ‘Illegal’.” China Daily (June 16). Online at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-06/16/content_17589087.htm [6.23.16].
Coren, Stanley. 2008. The Modern Dog: A Joyful Exploration of How We Live with Dogs Today. New York: Free Press.
–. 2018. “What Is China’s Current Attitude Concerning Dogs?” Psychology Today, Feb 21 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201802/what-is-chinas-current-attitude-concerning-dogs [7.15.19].
Gray, John Henry. 1878. China: A History of the Laws, Manners, and Customs of the People (Volume II). London: MacMillan & Co.
Li, P. J., Sun, J., & Yu, D. 2017. “Dog “Meat” Consumption in China: A Survey of the Controversial Eating Habit in Two Cities.” Society and Animals, 25(6), 513–532. http://doi.org/10.1163/15685306-12341471
Xiao, Bang. 2018. “Chinese New Year: Remembering how I first ate dog meat, and how differences bring us together.” ABC, February 17 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-17/chinese-dog-meat-eating-linked-to-history-of-famine/9454394 [7.15.19].
Yan Wei. 2015. “Dog Meat Festival: Traditional Custom or Abuse?” Beijing Review (29): 46-47.
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