Milk Tea; Take It With a Grain of Sugar

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First love leaves a mark on your heart and sense of wonder in your soul, or in this case a somewhat addictive desire to taste and experience. During my first stay in China, I fell hard for Coco’s pearl milk tea, believing with every sip surely I must be growing closer to Chinese culture and popular snacks.

Little did I know, not only does milk tea actually come from Taiwan, it has only recently made its way into the lives of mainlanders, becoming quite the trend. After returning to China a year later, I had not forgotten the taste of my first love, and noticing the sheer abundance of milk tea venders, apparently neither had anyone else.

When people say, “there’s practically one on every corner”, they aren’t far off; Nanjing has a lot of corners! The city is bubbling with milk tea stores, from top to bottom tier. Brands such as Coco and Yi Dian Dian can be seen around the city with long lines and competing beverage choices, with various other chains and personal stores popping straws into their cups to help quench their thirst.

If you frequently walk about the city, it is likely you have seen long lines of antsy customers wrapping around the outside of “Hey Tea”, a newcomer in the market. With higher prices and possibly a longer waiting time, what is it that interests people enough to wait for their own refreshing cup?

After queuing for 45 minutes, customer Ji Liu said, “I don’t think it was worth the price or wait. Young people think it is very cool, so they get in line with everyone else. I would just love to get a faster Starbucks, sit down and rest. This new driving culture is happening with Chinese people’s new lifestyle as this country is experiencing a business upgrade. It is creating a new lifestyle, business idea and culture”.

Whether warming the hands of customers in the winter with a holiday classic, or putting a spring in their step in the summer with a refreshing zesty cool-down; the competition to concoct an unforgettable treat and experience is high. As milk tea continues to pour over in popularity, some statistics threaten to burst the tasty drink snack’s bubble.

In an article written by Yu Bokun and Raffaele Huang Ruohong, writing for Caixin Global, the two said, “The country’s unquenchable thirst for bubble tea has withstood multiple food safety scandals and attracted millions of yuan in investment since mid-2016 after the latest “cheese tea craze” gripped the nation of tea lovers”.

As the temperature has already risen, so has questions of health and safety and the precaution sellers are taking to assure quality ingredients. While some heed the warnings of inspectors, vowing now to order only half a cup of syrup and only one dollop of cream, or choose the healthier option, others take the findings with a grain of sugar as they continue to drink on.