Fans of bubble tea may soon find themselves unable to enjoy the beverage as the US reportedly faces what may be a months-long shortage of boba.
Bubble tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink that comes in a variety of flavours often comes with chewy tapioca balls known as boba.
However, a backlog at US ports occurring as a result of the ongoing pandemic means that the ingredients used to make the popular drink, such as flavoured syrups and powders, as well as tapioca pearls, aren’t becoming available fast enough to keep up with the demand.
In addition to impacting the availability of pre-made boba, which is often purchased from Taiwan by US bubble tea retailers, the backlog has also seen the ingredients to make the pearls hard to come by, as The San Francisco Chronicle notes “the shipping containers from Thailand, the main producer of the world’s tapioca starch, are also stuck in the water”.
According to Business Insider, the issue is occurring at both East and West Coast ports, where the waters have become congested with shipping containers as a result of Covid-19-related logistical issues and an increase in consumer spending amid the pandemic.
As a result, bubble tea shop owners have already begun to see their supplies dwindle, withTommy Huang, senior sales manager at Hayward’s Leadway International Inc, one of the biggest boba suppliers in Northern California, telling The San Francisco Chronicle that within a week boba will be considered a “luxury”.
“In the next week or so, tapioca will be a luxury because no one is going to have it,” he hypothesised. “It’s going to take a long time to be able to say we will not have a shortage of tapioca.”
The shortage has also prompted shop owners and US boba manufacturers to begin informing customers of the scarcity, with Andrew Chau and Bin Chen of Boba Guys and Boba Co sharing a video on Instagram last week in which they said they wanted to provide an “urgent update” about the situation.
“This is an industry-wide shortage. Some boba shops are already out. Others will run out in the next few weeks. 99 per cent of boba comes from overseas,” the caption on the video reads, before urging customers not to get “mad at boba shops for running out of boba”.
According to the owners, the issue is the result of shipments that typically took one month now taking four to five months to make the journey from overseas and clear customs.
As for when it is likely that boba will no longer be facing a shortage, the Boba Guys owners said: “It will be in flux for several months until we get our next series of tapioca starch shipments.”
“Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse - a boba shortage,” one person responded to the news on Twitter, while another wrote: “I declare a state of emergency.”