Bubble tea, the Taiwanese drink that is a hit in France

10:00 a.m., July 22, 2022

Afternoon tea in the Opéra district in Paris (9th): eccentric-looking teenage girls, women in business suits, thirtysomethings in jeans and trainers line up in front of The Alley. Everyone comes to the minimalist local of this Taiwanese chain for bubble tea. Created in the 1980s in Taiwan, this drink is originally a mixture of black tea, milk and gooey tapioca pearls made from cassava flour. Everything is served in transparent plastic cups, with a wide straw to suck up the marbles left at the bottom. This cold tea is now available in multiple versions, each more colorful than the next: fruit syrups, jellies, tiramisu flavor, crème brûlée, vegetable milk… There is something for everyone.

According to the American firm Allied Market Research, the global market should weigh more than 4 billion dollars by 2027. In the United States, during the pandemic, the bbt craze – its name for the regulars – caused a rupture stock of tapioca pearls. In France, Taiwanese brands such as The Alley or Chatime are setting up in all major cities, while new independent boutiques are popping up everywhere.

Teenagers line up, choose and consume together; it allows to nourish the links between peers

“Coffee is so boring, launches Aveline, known as Empress Wu on social networks. For the same price, I prefer a bubble tea. » This culinary influencer with 121,000 subscribers on Instagram is one of the bbt specialists in France, with dozens of addresses tested. The young woman discovered this tea during a stay in China (she has Chinese origins) in 2010. Back in France, she got used to it in the only bubble tea shop in Paris at the time.

“It was an insider thing, only Asians went there, she says. The others found this drink too weird. Then Asian and K-pop fans [la pop sud-coréenne] got into it, and now it’s everyone. » Mao Qiang, founder in Paris (3rd) of Mach Galerie at the end of 2020, a place combining art gallery and bubble tea counter, even speaks of “Asian soft power”like Starbucks for the United States.

Instagram aesthetic

Besides its kawai aesthetic (” cute “ in Japanese), the possibility of personalizing your ball tea according to your tastes makes it a special drink. You choose your level of sugar, ice cubes, the taste of pearls, etc. “It offers infinite combinations, and therefore a promise of an ever-renewed experience; you can come back several times and never consume the same drink”, observes Anissa Pomiès, teacher-researcher at Emlyon business school, who conducted a survey of followers to understand success. According to her, bubble tea is also a new element of socialization. “Teenagers line up, choose and consume together; it helps to nurture the bonds between peers »she says.

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In front of The Alley shop, Yvonne, a 17-year-old high school student, is surrounded by her two classmates. His girlfriend Sophia “love the feeling of the balls popping”. She now consumes it every day, regardless of whether all her pocket money goes into these cups, which sell for an average of 6 euros. Before each tasting, Sophya and Yvonne post a photo of their bubble teas on Instagram. With 3 million hashtags, the “boba” is a real trend on the networks. At The Alley, because we know that Instagram is one of the keys to success, “we work a lot on aesthetics to prepare good and beautiful drinks”explains Céline, manager of The Alley franchise in France.

Search for authenticity

These photogenic teas with sometimes artificial flavors are not to the taste of Stéphane Lin, co-founder of the Laïzé brand with Jody Liu. Both from Taiwan, they have long sought the traditional Taiwanese teahouse. “We wanted real tea and not toppings with a thousand flavors and colors”, he says. In the three Parisian Laïzé boutiques, which look like traditional Taiwanese pharmacies, they claim to serve “authentic bubble tea”. The teas are of superior quality, the toppings are natural, and the menu is much shorter than in competing chains.

A tea is not made to be looked at but tasted

“The ones that hit here are shunned in Taiwan by those looking for quality, says Stéphane Lin. If we want bubble tea to not be a passing fad but a way of life like in Taiwan, we have to strive for authenticity. » It is also with this search for the original formula that Match Galerie opened its doors. At Laïzé, we sell up to 400 drinks a day. The cups are white cardboard, not clear plastic to show off the bottom balls on Instagram. Because, for Stéphane Lin, “a tea is not made to be looked at but tasted”.

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