Bubble Tea Invasion: Southeast Asia’s Obsession With Milk Tea

by Matthew Escosia
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By: Godfreyna Canja

 

Milk tea comes in different sizes, brands, flavor, sinkers, what have you, but one thing is constant in milk tea — it’s an obsession. By now, probably everyone in Southeast Asia has had a cup or two (let’s not lie, we probably had hundreds of cups already, even we’re in quarantine or lockdown or circuit breaker) of this sweet, sugar-filled, milk and tea concoction we all go crazy for.

According to sources, Milk tea originated in Taiwan in 1980’s and has since been popular not only in the region but across the globe. A study that GrabFood made in 2019 (a popular service of Grab Holdings which caters to food deliveries) show that a 3000% growth on bubble tea orders on GrabFood has dramatically increased in 2018! Their study found that on average, a Southeast Asian drinks 4 cups of milk tea per month, with Thailand topping the charts at 6 cups, followed by Philippines at 5 cups!

But how did milk tea really become a phenomenon? Almost every day there’s a new milk tea shop popping up somewhere and people still go to line up for it. What makes milk tea so popular among us Southeast Asians?

Photo by Moujib Aghrout from Unsplash

Here we asked certified milk tea lovers to share their reasons for obsessing over milk tea!

Erica Figueroa from Ortigas loves to drink milk tea to take a break from the usual iced drinks from coffee shops. She got hooked on milk tea because of its unique taste paired with the chewy pearls or boba, giving a shout out to two of her favorites: Tiger Sugar’s Brown Sugar cream with mousse and Gong Cha’s Wintermelon. “I love how milk tea can be fun and exciting because there are many varieties to choose from. For example, there’s strawberry matcha, brown sugar with milk etc. It’s exciting to try out a different flavor every time,” shares Erica. She thinks milk tea’s popularity is also because of its aesthetic appeal to its consumers. Milk tea brands now come up with pleasing and cute designs for their cups and shops that instantly draw the attention of passersby.

Diane Gutierrez, 22 from Quezon City says, “Milk tea shops are my happy go-to place after a tiring day from work. The perfect place to be is Dakasi because the lines are arguably better than overhyped franchises like Coco and Tiger sugar. It also has a wider array of drinks – meaning more milk tea goodness for me! In my opinion I like milk tea better than SB (Starbucks) because it’s cheaper and has more taste and variation to it. Milk tea franchises always come up with something new and they don’t just recycle drinks like frappe. They always reinvent flavors so consumers would have palette cleansers, like something new every day.”

Cee Serrano, also from Quezon City, loves Gong Cha’s House Special and enjoys how the layers of the drink are all different experiences and become even better when combined with the chewy goodness of the pearls. As for milk tea’s rise in popularity she says, “I guess Asian pop culture wired our brains to like it. Cause we see our idols enjoy it so we want to enjoy the same things too to feel close to them – aside from the fact it’s really yummy. Over time, milk tea in general and its flavors have evolved into different tastes and concepts making it more fun for us.”

Photo by Jason Leung from Unsplash

According to Imam Alfaruq from Indonesia, bubble teas became a hype in their country with discounts being given in online food deliveries. According to him, there used to be long lines in every bubble tea shop in Indonesia but now, the lines of bubble tea fanatics has been replaced by food delivery guys waiting for their customer’s orders!  The usual consumers of bubble tea in Indonesia are women and Instagram has greatly influenced the hype over the drink.

from Malaysia says that she likes the basic milk tea with the tapioca pearls, and apparently that is still the most popular flavor in their country! She also revealed that milk tea has become as common as breakfast drinks in Malyasia because of its popularity, and while it’s more popular with teens and students in Malaysia, working adults are known to love the drink too!

Apart from its taste and aesthetic appeal, milk tea can also have its benefits through its ingredients. According to Ms. Florence Suarez, a registered nutritionist and a faculty of the College of Human Environmental Sciences and Food Studies in the University of Immaculate Conception in Davao City, milk can be beneficial because milk is considered a complete food in terms of macrominerals, meaning it consists of carbohydrates, protein and fat necessary to support our daily activities. Additionally, milk contains calcium which is important for bone health.

Furthermore, tea is also a source of antioxidants which helps prevent cell damage by detoxifying cell-damaging free-radicals. Tea is also a source of caffeine; thus, they are energy boosters and can have anti-inflammatory effect.

On top of these benefits, she also reminded us that too much of anything can be bad for your health. “Consuming large amounts of sugar (which may be added in excessive amounts in milk tea) may contribute to weight gain and [can lead to] higher risk in developing diabetes. This may be avoided by reducing the amount of sugar added on your milk tea. Too much caffeine may also contribute to insomnia and headaches.”

Hype and cravings aside, we must always take our health into consideration and make sure that we avoid having too much of anything, even the best kind of milk tea. So remember to drink milk tea or any sugary drinks in moderation!

Photo by Frank Zhang from Unsplash

From what we could gather, people’s preferences in brands or flavors may differ but we all got hooked on milk tea for similar reasons – it’s delicious, it’s fun, it brings people together and because it is most definitely Asian!

How about you, why do you love milk tea? Any milk tea recommendations? Share it down the comment section below!

 

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