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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98-Year-Old Hotpot and Coca Cola Lover Becomes Online Hit
Are hotpot and cola the key to longevity?
This week, a 98-year-old Chengdu resident has become an online hit on Chinese social media, after videos of her and her granddaughter went viral. The popular grandmother loves to drink Coca Cola, eat hamburgers, and is crazy about hotpot – but only if it’s really spicy.
The 98-year-old became an overnight hit because of the videos posted by granddaughter Cai on China’s popular video app Douyin (TikTok), that show the grandmother’s great appetite for spicy food, alcohol, and sweet sodas.
When the granddaughter tries to persuade her grandma to drink less alcohol (“You’ve already had five!”) she’ll pour herself another cup; while dozing off, she’ll still talk about her favorite hotpot with beef tripe; when eating her hamburgers, she’ll eat so fast that her dentures fall out – all moments that were caught on video by Cai.
The woman, who has been nicknamed “grandma foodie” (吃货奶奶), has been starring in her granddaughter’s Douyin videos since August of last year. Since then, she has accumulated a social media following of some 410K fans and has now risen to nationwide fame, with dozens of Chinese news outlets writing about her. On March 4, she became the number one trending topic on Weibo.
On social media, most netizens praise the grandma for her positive attitude. “I hope I can do all the things I love, too, when I reach her age,” some say: “Eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and drink whatever you like, whenever you like.” “Eating good food is the key to happiness,” others write.
Some also see a lucrative opportunity in the grandma’s sudden rise to fame: “She should become a brand ambassador for Coca Cola.”
Granddaughter Cai told Chinese reporters: “I think it’s the contrast that makes her so popular. She drinks Coke, eats hamburgers, loves spicy food, and all that greasy food. She’s leading the life of a young person, and it appears to be very unhealthy. But she still has longevity.”
Because Cai’s grandma does not know much about social media, Cai tried to explain to her that “many, many people” like her a lot. “Why on earth would they like me for?” she replied: “I’m old!”
By Manya Koetse
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These Chinese School Are Awarding Excellent Students with Pork Meat Gifts
Awarding excellent students with raw meat or even fresh fish seems to be a new trend in Chinese schools.
A remarkable award ceremony at a middle school in Fuyang, Anhui province, has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens this week for the meat gifts the school offered to its outstanding students.
The award ceremony was held on January 26 at the Anhui Fuyang No. 1 Middle School. The five best students of every class were each rewarded with 2,5 kilogram (5.5 pounds) of pork meat.
At the end of the ceremony, a total of 600 students took home a staggering 1500 kilogram (3306 pounds) of pork meat in total.
Although the initiative of this particular school came as a surprise to many netizens, more schools across China are introducing these kinds of food gifts to their students lately.
“Nowadays, every household has enough stationery. So we came up with the idea to award our students with pork meat instead.”
The director of the Anhui school, Mister Sun (孙), told reporters: “In the past, the school always awarded its best students with pencils and notebooks. But nowadays, every household has enough stationery. So we came up with the idea to award our students with pork meat instead.”
The pork meat, gifted in a bag with a pig on it, was given just in time for the upcoming Chinese Spring Festival, which celebrates the start of the Year of the Pig this year.
Sun further added: “The students’ hard work is rewarded with something they can take home and share with their family members and other people they love. In this way, they can also experience the gratefulness of others.”
The Fuyang middle school is not the first school that awards its students by offering them fresh meat products. Recently, several stories of Chinese schools awarding their students with meat gifts made their rounds on Chinese social media.
A primary school in Liuzhou, in a mountainous and impoverished area of Guangxi province, received the praise of many netizens when they awarded their 71 most outstanding students with 1,5 kilogram of unwrapped pork meat on a string. It is the second year in a row that the school chose to present its students with a meat gift.
At another school in Dongguan, Guangdong province, the 90 most outstanding students were each rewarded with a fresh fish earlier this month. The fish were caught from the Humen Wharton School’s own pond, The Paper reports.
In a recent interview, director Wu (吴) of the Dongguan Humen Wharton School told The Paper that the fish are usually fed with the leftovers from the school canteen. By rewarding the students with these fish, Wu said, the school not only hopes to make the pupils happy, but also hopes to increase their awareness on the ecological environment.
“This is the reality. When you work hard, you’ll have meat to eat.”
Last year, a school in Fujian’s Nan’an awarded 30 of its highest-scoring students with a pork leg, something that also attracted the attention online at the time. More schools, including one in Shanwei, then followed their example.
On Weibo, various hashtags relating to the new ‘trend’ are making their rounds. “Middle School Awards Its Students with 1500 Kilogram of Pork Meat” (#中学用3000斤猪肉表彰学生#) received over 5.5 million views this week. “School in Mountainous Area Awards Students with Pork at the End of the Year” (#山区小学期末发猪肉奖状#) had over 3 million views on Weibo.
Chinese netizens applaud the schools for giving these food products to reward students, mainly seeing it as a way to boost the children’s confidence.
“This is great!” one commenter wrote: “The students can really experience how it feels to earn something and what it feels like to contribute. And at the same time, they can share and enjoy their achievements with their family.”
“What a great award,” others say: “They’ll feel so proud to bring this back home.”
“This is the reality. When you work hard, you’ll have meat to eat. Why weren’t there such good schools around when I was a kid?”, a Weibo user says.
It is a tradition in China to hold an award ceremony at the end of the semester. During the ceremony, that is attended by the school’s students, teachers, and sometimes (grand)parents, the best students are praised for their accomplishments. The purpose of the award ceremony and the public praise is to let the excellent students set an example for their fellow classmates, and to motivate the students.
But not everyone is equally positive about the initiative. “The intention is good, but how attractive is it for a child to receive a pork leg nowadays?” one man from Guangdong wonders: “Isn’t it more and more uncommon for people to perceive meat as something that’s rare to eat?”
“It’s not about the meat itself,” others argue: “It’s about bringing home something and making them feel accomplished.”
Among the few voices criticizing the idea, there are also those who advocate vegetarianism and think it would be more valuable to teach children the value of living creatures rather than to give them pork.
Others argue that the pork meat gift is not ‘halal.’
But the vast majority of commenters still praise the initiative, saying it is honest, nutritious, and lets the whole family benefit from their child’s accomplishments. For some, the idea is simple and straightforward: “Those who study hard get to eat meat.”
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