CoCo Bubble Tea in Hot Water over Pro-Hong Kong Text on Receipts

One of China’s most popular bubble tea brands is in hot water after one of its Hong Kong shops included an encouraging message to Hong Kong people on its receipts amidst ongoing demonstrations. The company’s apologies are not sufficient, many netizens say.

Popular milk tea company CoCo (CoCo都可) is under fire in mainland China for displaying the text “Go Hong Kong People!” (or: “Add Oil, Hongkongers!”) on the receipts of one of its shops in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.

The receipt, dated June 16, started making its rounds on Chinese social media on August 6. Many take it as a sign that CoCo supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

CoCo also triggered controversy for supposedly listing ‘Taiwan’ as a country in its website’s list of countries where the brand operates, separate from ‘China’.

Some netizens are now vowing to boycott the brand for allegedly supporting both Hong Kong protesters and Taiwan independence.

CoCo is a global bubble tea brand that first opened in Taipei in 1997. Over the past two decades, CoCo has opened over 2000 stores worldwide with locations in countries such as the US, UK, Thailand, Korea, and Australia. It is one of the most popular milk tea chains in mainland China.

On August 9, the tea shop released a statement concerning the controversy. The hashtag “CoCo Statement” (#coco声明#) became the most-searched hashtag on Weibo on Friday, attracting 300 million views.

CoCo stated that the receipt in the Wanchai district shop was altered by the staff of this shop, and that their business is now suspended.

It further alleged that the screenshots of the ‘Taiwan’ listing circulating on social media are actually fake. They do not come from their official website, CoCo stated.

The company also added that “the Hong Kong region is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China.”

At time of writing, the official website of the CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice brand was not accessible.

CoCo is not the first bubble tea shop to trigger controversy this week. Another company, Yifang Fruit Tea, faced online backlash when it closed one of its Hong Kong shops for a day and put up a sign that said: “Stand together with Hong Kongers”.

Many big milk tea brands are Taiwanese; pearl milk tea or bubble tea 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 (read more here).

Bubble Tea

The Guardian reported on August 8 that the Yifang Fruit Tea controversy also spread to two other bubble tea brands.

In response to the issue, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture of flavored tea on social media, writing that “China’s political power has invaded into various nonpolitical areas” and that “for people living in a society with freedom and democracy, we need to stay on high alert for issues like this.”

Meanwhile, on Weibo, many netizens are not too satisfied with CoCo’s apologies and demand that the brand also shares its statement on Twitter and Instagram – not just on Chinese social media.

Others complain that the company did not use an official seal for its apology statement, and have not indicated how it will handle this controversy.

But there are also those who say this supposed scandal is all a fuss over nothing. “Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with them encouraging Hong Kong people,” one commenter writes.

“Boycotting the stores in China will only hurt the position of Chinese franchise owners,” some Weibo users argue.

This incident shows some similarities to another controversy that occurred in 2018 involving the Taiwanese company 85°C Bakery Café. When president Tsai Ing-wen paid a visit to a Los Angeles chain of the café during her United States trip, mainland netizens accused the company of supporting Taiwan independence.

To read more about general discussions on Chinese social media regarding the Hong Kong protests, check our latest here.

By Manya Koetse

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