TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Bubble tea shops across the U.S. are suffering from a severe shortage of tapioca pearls, also known as boba, due to shipping delays that could continue for months or more.
Bubble milk tea fiends across the U.S. are having a hard time getting their fix as supplies dwindle due to lagging cargo imports from Taiwan and Thailand. According to the owners of Boba Co., which posted an announcement about the issue on the Instagram page Boba Guys, there is an "industry-wide shortage" with many boba shops selling out, while others will probably run out in "a week or so."
Boba Guys claimed that 99 percent of the boba consumed in the U.S. is imported from Asia — "mostly Taiwan." Although they have their own factory in Hayward, California, to make boba balls, they lack the key ingredient that must be imported from abroad, tapioca starch, which is derived from the cassava root and produced almost exclusively in Thailand.
They said the pandemic has caused congestion and shortages in the boba supply chain, with many shipping containers from Asia piling up at American ports. Last month's blockage of the Taiwan-chartered Ever Given in the Suez Canal, which accounts for about 10 percent of global trade, is anticipated to further exacerbate the problem.
Boba Guys estimated the shortfall will run for months given that shipments that used to take one month now drag on for four or five. Other boba companies predict an even grimmer outlook, with Kung Fu Tea representative Mai Shi telling USA Today the situation could worsen over the summer.
The general consensus is that bubble tea started in Taiwan in the 1980s. However, there is some dispute as to whether it first started at the Chun Shui Tang (春水堂人文茶館) tea shop in Taichung or its rival, the Hanlin Tea Room (翰林茶館) in Tainan.
The popularity of the beverage has skyrocketed across the globe, with a 2020 market research report from Fortune Business Insights estimating the worldwide market for the tea had soared to US$2 billion by 2019, with sales expected to swell to US$3.4 billion by 2027.
The lockdowns imposed during the pandemic have been a boon for boba sales. Yelp reported that the sugary drink was the most popular item delivered during the early stages of the pandemic in several U.S. states.