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China’s Bubble Tea Boom: Top 10 of Popular Milk Tea Shops in the PRC

China’s bubble tea (aka pearl milk tea) market is booming: these are the top 10 popular milk tea shops in the PRC.

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With an ancient historical tradition of drinking tea, Chinese consumers are now turning to a different cup of tea; the iced and creamy bubble tea is a national favorite that’s also crossing borders and becoming more popular outside of Taiwan and mainland China. What’s on Weibo provides an introduction to the bubble tea craze and a top 10 of milk tea shops in mainland China.

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.

Long lines in front of a milk tea shop.

“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.

The ‘dirty bread’ is a popular snack sold by milk tea shops.

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.

Drinking Bubble Tea is something to show to social media followers; a trendy drink, a lifestyle.

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.

By Ryan Gandolfo and Manya Koetse


Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Ryan Gandolfo is an Economics graduate from Miami who has worked and lived in Shanghai, Baoding, and Guangzhou. He is interested in China's growing role in the global economy and closely follows the development of major Chinese technology firms. 

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Steven Wrege

    June 20, 2018 at 7:06 am

    I have have tried most of the shops you have listed but I found that Happy Lemon was the best of them all. RBT is great too if you want a little more food to go with your tea.
    I’m really excited that the are expanding in the United States since I now live there.

  2. LinYun

    November 7, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Hello! Reading milk tea shops in China makes me feel nostalgic, reminding me of the days when I lived there and frequently went to Yi Dian Dian. I was interested to read how milk tea shops are rising in popularity among young consumers. I would be interested to further research how these brands will adjust their marketing strategy to appeal to the younger public. I was surprised to learn that people in China drink more milk tea than coffee. On the other hand, tea is a drink closer to the Chinese culture than coffee which makes marketing to consumers easier. While there are many affordable milk tea shops in China, the ones in the US are much more expensive. The tea shops here position themselves as an exotic product. In the following years, I wonder if their marketing strategy in the US will change to attract a larger consumer base.

  3. Olivier

    November 23, 2020 at 10:58 am

    super interesting article, just share on twitter.

    tea franchise has become a massive trends for consumers and small investors in China.
    Small bets, good profit, it was the investment of the year 2019

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China Food & Drinks

Adapted to the Desert: This Yurt-Style KFC Opened in Inner Mongolia

Special KFC in Inner-Mongolia: “Is home delivery done by camelback?”

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A KFC restaurant that has opened up in Ordos Prefecture, Inner-Mongolia, is attracting online attention in China for its yurt-style building.

The KFC restaurant is located in Xiangshawan, also known as Whistling Dune Bay, a tourist area – China’s first desert-themed tourism resort – in the Kubuqi Desert.

Some web users praise the fast-food giant for “following local customs” (“入乡随俗”). Others jokingly wonder if their home delivery services are also done by camelback.

Although KFC is not China’s first fast-food restaurant, it is one of the most popular ones. Nowhere else outside of the US has KFC expanded so quickly as in China. Since the first KFC opened in Beijing in 1987, the chain had an average of 50% growth per year.

With thousands of locations across the country, KFC often adapts its restaurants’ style to the local environment. On Weibo, web users share various examples of local KFCs.

A KFC sign at a Fuzhou branch, by Weibo user @渭城朝雨玉清宸.

A KFC in Shanxi province, shared by Weibo user @sheep加水饺.

KFC in Suzhou, by Weibo user @是宜不是宣呀.

KFC in Pingyao, by Weibo user @车谦渊

KFC in Orange Isle, Hunan, by Weibo user @DzDanger_

One Weibo user (@阳山花非花) points out that KFC is not the only chain to adapt to the local environment in Ordos. Chinese fast-food chain Dicos (德克士) apparently also has a special restaurant in the area.

Besides adapting its buildings, KFC is also known to be quite localized in its product offerings. KFC China offers products such as Chinese-style porridge, Beijing chicken roll, and youtiao (deep-fried strip of dough commonly eaten for breakfast).

In 2019, KFC also made headlines in China for adding, among other things, hot and spicy skewers (麻辣串串) to its menu.

For now, the KFC yurt-style location is bound to gain more visitors who are coming to check it out. Already, various Weibo users are sharing their own pics of their KFC visit.

 

You might also like to read:

 

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

“There’s a Cockroach in My Hotpot” – ‘Pengci’ Tries to Scam Haidilao Restaurant

Two hotpot cockroaches in one day, but the real cockroach didn’t get away.

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A man in Shenzhen has been arrested after trying to pull a scam in Haidilao hotpot restaurants twice in one day.

The man, Mr Cai (蔡), visited two different locations of China’s Haidilao chain of hotpot restaurants within twenty-four hours, and both times he managed to ‘discover’ a cockroach in his hotpot.

Cai complained to the staff about the roach in his food. According to Sohu.com, in order to keep the peace, both Haidilao stores compensated their unhappy guest; they gave him a free meal and 1000 yuan ($156) and 800 yuan ($124) respectively.

When the restaurants later inspected their security camera footage, they suspected they had been scammed and reported the incident to the police. Further investigation of the security videos revealed that the man actually held the cockroach in his hand, behind his phone, and dropped it on the table, after which he put it in the hotpot together with the vegetables.

When the man scooped the insect out of the hotpot, he immediately called the waiter to show the cockroach in his food.

After being exposed as a ‘pengci‘ (碰瓷), a scammer focused on pretending to a victim in order to get compensation, Cai was detained by the local police.

A similar incident occurred in 2018, when a man named Guo (郭) dropped a dead rat in the hotpot at a Haidilao restaurant, and then demanded a compensation of 5 million yuan ($780,000). That incident also went viral on Chinese social media at the time.

Guo was later sentenced to three years in prison for his scam, for damaging Haidilao’s reputation, and for filing a false report with regulatory authorities.

Also in 2018, a woman claimed she had found a sanitary pad in her Haidilao hotpot. This incident later also turned out to be a scam – the woman had placed the item there herself.

Haidilao is one of China’s most famous hotpot brands, and its restaurants have been in business for over 25 years. The restaurant is known for its good service, quality, and cleanliness.

On Weibo, the Haidilao ‘cockroach incident’ is attracting a lot of attention today, with one hashtag page regarding the issue receiving over 230 million views (#男子在海底捞自导自演吃出蟑螂#).

Although scams such as these are not uncommon, many people are surprised that someone would still attempt to fraud Haidilao in this way in 2021, when there are cameras set up everywhere in the restaurant.

Haidilao’s surveillance cameras have become a topic of discussion on social media before. The restaurant’s alleged reason for putting up so many cameras is in order to take better care of their customers, to monitor employee service standards, and to rely on their security footage when personal belongings go missing. The cameras also register the entire hotpot dining process; if something comes up in the hotpot that is not supposed to be there, the cameras will have captured how it ended up there.

“In this case, it’s good that there are so many security cameras,” one commenter writes.

Many others scold Cai for trying to scam Haidilao like this: “They should really make him eat cockroaches.”

 

– By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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