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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.

Ryan Gandolfo

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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. 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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.

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China Food & Drinks

Famous Goubuli Restaurant Calls Police for Getting Roasted Online, Gets Kicked Out of Franchise Group

Goubuli Wangfujing shows how NOT to address a social media crisis.

Manya Koetse

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The well-known Goubuli Wangfujing restaurant just got a bit more famous this week. The branch, which specializes in steamed buns, is now not just known as one of Beijing’s worst-rated restaurants, but also as a business that shot itself in the foot by handling a social media crisis the wrong way.

The famous Wangfujing main branch of Goubuli Steamed Buns (狗不理包子) is caught up in a social media storm since responding to a blogger’s negative video of their restaurant by contacting the police.

The video, Goubuli’s response to it, and the following consequences have hit the top trending topic lists on Weibo today.

Goubuli, sometimes transcribed as Go Believe, is a well-known franchise brand of steamed stuffed buns (baozi) from Tianjin that was founded in 1858. The brand now has more than 80 restaurants in mainland China, 12 of them in Beijing. Since Wangfujing is one of Beijing’s most famous streets, the Wangfujing branch is popular with both foreign and Chinese visitors.

 

Gu Yue’s “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” Video

 

The social media storm started on September 8, when Weibo blogger Gu Yue (谷岳) posted a video titled “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” (“探访评分最差餐厅”). Gu Yue is a travel blogger with over 1,7 million fans on Weibo.

Gu Yue in front of Gubouli.

In the video, Gu Yue starts by explaining he chose to visit Gubouli after searching for the restaurant that receives the lowest ratings in the Beijing Wangfujing and Dongdan areas on the super-popular Chinese mobile food app Dianping.

The blogger found that, out of the 1299 listed restaurants in the area, Wangfujing Goubuli Baozi was the worst-rated place. Ironically, the brand’s name Gǒubùlǐ (狗不理) literally means ‘dogs don’t pay attention,’ which makes the name ‘Goubuli Baozi’ sound like a place with stuffed buns that even dogs would not eat.

Complaining about the service, prices, and quality of food, many Dianping users rated the restaurant with just one out of five stars.

Gu Yue then sets out to visit the restaurant himself to see if Gubouli on Wangfujing really is as bad as Dianping users say. He orders some steamed braised pork dumplings, 60 yuan ($8.7) for 8, and regular pork dumplings, 38 yuan ($5.5) for 8.

The blogger concludes that Gubouli’s dumplings are not worth the money: the dumplings are greasy, the dough is too sticky, and they do not have enough filling. Gu Yue’s video also suggests that the restaurant’s hygienic standards are not up to par, with loud coughing coming from the kitchen.

Gu Yue’s video received over 97,000 likes and thousands of responses on Weibo, with many fans praising the idea of the blogger checking out the worst-rated restaurants.

 

Goubuli’s Reaction Starts a Social Media Storm

 

The Wangfujing branch of Goubuli did not appreciate Gu Yue’s video.

In an online statement on September 11, the branch accused the blogger of spreading lies about their restaurant and harming their reputation, and demanded a public apology.

Goubuli Wangfujing called the video “vicious slander” and stated they had contacted the police in relation to the matter.

The hashtag “Wangfujing Goubuli Responds to Netizen’s Negative Video” (#王府井狗不理回应网友差评视频#) immediately went viral on Weibo, attracting some 430 million views.

Many Weibo users were outraged about the way the Goubuli branch handled the situation. “Aren’t we even allowed to say if something is tasty or not?!” many commenters wondered, with others writing: “You are harming your own reputation!”

“Let’s call the police over the quality of your food,” others suggested.

There were also many netizens who commented that some Chinese Time-Honored brands, such as Goubuli, often only survive because of their history and fame rather than actually delivering good quality to their customers.

Following the major online backlash on its statement, the restaurant soon removed their post again. But the social media storm did not end there.

On September 15, the Goubuli Group issued a statement saying that it would directly terminate its franchise cooperation with the Goubuli Wangfujing branch over the incident.

With over 280 million views on its hashtag page (#狗不理解除与王府井店加盟方合作#), news of the franchise termination blew up on Weibo.

According to the latest Weibo reports on September 15, the Wangfujing Goubuli branch was closed for business on Tuesday (#狗不理包子王府井店门店关闭#).

“This is the power of clout,” one person comments: “If it were not for the [Goubuli] restaurant’s flawed marketing department, this would not have led to their closure.”

“The restaurant has brought this on themselves. There’s nothing wrong with posting a bad review.”

Another person comments: “This is the first time I’ve seen a marketing department making something big out of something small, leading to their own closing.”

Meanwhile, blogger Gu Yue says that he was not contacted by Goubuli, nor by the police. The social media controversy has only made him more popular.

“Gue Yue single-handedly crushed this restaurant,” some say, appreciating how social media has increased the power of Chinese consumers to make or break a business.

 
Also read: Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags
 

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2020 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

Tianjin Restaurant Introduces “Meal Boxes for Women”

The special lunch boxes for women were introduced after female customers had too much leftover rice.

Manya Koetse

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China’s anti food waste campaign, that was launched earlier this month, is still in full swing and noticeable on China’s social media where new iniatives to curb the problem of food loss are discussed every single day.

Today, the hashtag “Tianjin Restaurant Launches Special Female Meal Boxes” (#天津一饭店推出女版盒饭#) went trending with some 130 million views on Weibo, with many discussions on the phenomenon of gender-specific portions. The restaurant claims its special ‘female lunch boxes’ are just “more suitable for women.”

According to Tonight News Paper (今晚报), the only difference their reporter found between the “meals for women” and the regular meals, is the amount of rice served. Instead of 275 grams of rice, the ‘female edition’ of the restaurant’s meals contain 225 grams of rice.

The restaurant, located on Shuangfeng Road, decided to introduce special female lunch boxes after discovering that the female diners of the offices they serve usually leave behind much more rice than their male customers.

The restaurant now claims they expect to save approximately 10,000 kilograms of rice on an annual basis by serving their meals based on gender.

On Chinese social media, the initiative was heavily criticized. Weibo netizens wondered why the restaurant would not just offer “bigger” and “smaller” lunch boxes instead of introducing special meals based on gender.

“There are also women who like to eat more, what’s so difficult about changing your meals to ‘big’ and ‘small’ size?”, a typical comment said: “Some women eat a lot, some men don’t.”

Many people called the special meals for women sex discrimination and also wanted to know if there was a difference in price between the ‘female’ and ‘male’ lunch boxes.

There are also female commenters on Weibo who claim they can eat much more than their male colleagues. “Just give me the male version,” one female user wrote: “I’ll eat that meal instead.”

This is the second time this month that initiatives launched in relation to China’s anti food waste campaign receive online backlash.

A restaurant in Changsha triggered a storm of criticism earlier this month after placing two scales at its entrance and asking customers to to enter their measurements into an app that would then suggest menu items based on their weight. The restaurant later apologized for encouraging diners to weigh themselves.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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