Bubble tea, boba tea, or pearl tea is a tea-based drink with small round tapioca balls (or pearls) bobbing at the bottom of the cup. This Taiwanese beverage has become increasingly popular in Vancouver.
Unfortunately, as more Vancouverites have developed a boba tea habit, and more shops have popped up around town, shipments of the black pearls from Taiwan have been sitting at ports in the United States due to COVID-19-related slowdowns.
On social media, some boba lovers report shop closings and frustration trying to order this sought-after drink, but many local business owners say they’ve stocked up on these shelf-stable tapioca pearls and believe that they have enough inventory to get through the current shortage.
Nana Sisakvanich, co-owner of Sharetea in Hazel Dell, just received a shipment of boba from Sharetea in Taiwan. Normally all the ingredients for her shop arrive from Sharetea Headquarters in Taiwan every three to four weeks. Lately, these shipments have been arriving every five to seven weeks.
Sisakvanich expects another shipment at the beginning of June. She believes she has enough boba in stock to keep the shop going until then. Before the current shortage, she ordered a large amount of white boba for a new drink. Afterwards, when she heard about the shortage, she decided to give customers that order boba drinks half black boba and half white boba. As a result, they’ve discovered that the white boba is as good as the black boba.
Sharetea has also been encouraging customers to try other toppings, such as aiyu jelly, lychee jelly, and red beans. “The main thing they come for is the pearls, but they’re happy to try other toppings because they know and like Sharetea,” said Sisakvanich.
Low or no supply at other stores has drawn new customers to her business. “They don’t have it everywhere, so they come to my store,” she said.
At Boba Tree on Fourth Plain, owner Loan Reamer feels confident about her boba supply. The shop has been run by her family since it opened in 2016. At that time, boba was new to many Vancouverites, and some didn’t like the texture. As a result, the menu at Boba Tree doesn’t rely heavily on boba; it’s split between tea drinks and smoothies. It also includes a long list of toppings like lychee jelly and popping mango in addition to the now popular black boba pearls. Reamer estimates that about 60 percent of the drinks she sells are boba drinks, but one of the most popular drinks is the Captain Crunch smoothie.
“We ordered way before we heard about the shortage; I expect a shipment tomorrow,” Reamer said Tuesday. “I’m not worried. I’m sure the shipment will come,” she said.
Madhouse Coffee near the Chuck’s Produce in Cascade Park started serving boba tea on April 12. “This spot used to be a bubble tea place, so on Day One people asked if we served bubble tea,” said co-owner Alisha Heilman. “It’s been great. Some days we serve more bubble tea than coffee. A lot of people are happy to find bubble tea on this side of town.”
Heilman and her father and co-owner, Eric Heilman, heard about the boba shortage on the news and knew that they had to load up. They initially ordered their E-Fa boba pearls through Amazon for convenience, but realized if they wanted mass quantities they would have to order through a specialty distributor. They found Bossen Store and loaded up on pearls, powders, jellies, and other toppings.
On Bossen’s website, tapioca pearls and crystal boba in mango, matcha, and taro flavors are sold out. There’s also a note dated 4/26/21 that states that many products are out of stock. It encourages buyers to check the website periodically for updates.
Heilman feels that they have a good supply now, but she is still looking around to make sure they have enough pearls to get through the current shortage.
“We’re looking around, but we’re not sweating it right now,” she said.
In a recent phone call to Braganza Tea in Vancouver Mall, a manager said that they don’t have a shortage of boba. At Boba Factory in Hazel Dell, an employee noted that there was a big shortage and boba is hard to get, but they are open and do have boba.
The only business reporting a complete lack of boba is River Maiden. The shop ran out of black pearls on May 1. According to co-owner Melissa Layman, River Maiden buys the pearls by the case in order to stay well-stocked, but she has been calling everywhere to replenish her supply to no avail. She said the problem is that there aren’t enough workers to unload the ships at the ports. She typically sources her boba from Restaurant Depot and Boba Supply; neither distributor could give her an arrival date for new shipments. “For us, we’re so lucky that we have other items, but I wish we planned ahead and got more,” she said.