A massive backlog on cargo shipping imports is leading to a shortage of boba across the United States.
This is because 99% of the country’s boba is imported from Taiwan, and there’s only one in-country producer of the tapioca pearls. That company is US Boba Co, and even they are going to experience issues since they import their tapioca starch from overseas.
The backlog on shipping imports has been going on since February, with over 30 ships being stuck waiting to deliver goods daily in major ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach. It had already begun to start affecting supply chains for many companies, but is just now starting to take hold on the boba industry.
According to Marketwatch, this is a shortage that could potentially last months, meaning boba shops nationwide will struggle to have boba available to add into their drinks.
That won’t mean they’re not going to keep serving amazing tasting beverages, however, so feel free to keep heading over and getting some teas or other drinks to cool down over the summer months. You may just not be able to get boba added, but shops often have other things you can add inside, like jellies, that might offer an alternative.
As bubble tea, or boba, has continued to grow in popularity across the United States, many dessert shops have popped up that don’t just specialize in boba, but turn it into mind-boggling, delicious desserts.
Even while the rest of the industry, including fast food giants like Dunkin’, is just starting to catch on, many places are already taking boba to the next level.
Ty Tran, founder of Rice Feed and Asians Never Die, feels that the US is in a “boutique” phase of boba right now, even as mainstream chains start to catch on to the hype.
“They’re using natural products, good, high quality ingredients, and they’re also using boba made in the US,” he said on Foodbeast’s The Katchup podcast.
As boba sees both a growth in quality and distribution, it’s also finding its way out of the drink menu and into several tasty sweets. Below are just a few examples of the different tasty ways you can enjoy boba that restaurants are doing to get creative with the popular tapioca pearls.
Creme Brûlée Boba
Feng Cha, a fast-growing global teahouse with several US locations, adds the standard components of creme brûlée to the top of their boba drinks for a fun, interactive experience that adds a unique twist to their beverages.
Boba Stuffed Cream Puffs
While a few bakeries are starting to catch onto this trend, this particular version comes from Alimama in New York City. They stuff tapioca pearls into the cream filling for their choux buns, giving you multiple levels of textures in each bite of these tantalizing treats.
While this really is just a super-sized drink, with it comes 1) the ability to drink as much boba as you want and save some for later, and 2) get some nostalgia in with the juice pouch-shaped container this gallon of boba and milk tea comes in. Stock up on this one at Pulp Juice Bar in Orange, California.
Both French Toast and regular toast forms of this exist, but in each case, the build is the same. Start with toasty bread, add on some custard/cream, and a layer of tapioca pearls for some extra texture. This particular version comes from Lang Lang Bie Ku (which means, Don’t Cry, Lang Lang) in Tainan.
With Taiwan being the epicenter of boba, it’s no surprise that more than a few creative concoctions come from there. A personal favorite of mine would be this Boba Egg Tart from Mr. Z’s Egg Tarts in Tainan. The combo of crisp pastry, sweet eggy custard, and chewy tapioca pearls sounds like a match made in dessert heaven.
Ever since these were spotted in 99 Ranch markets late last year, Asian-American communities in the United States (including the popular group Subtle Asian Traits) have been going nuts for these ice cream bars. There are now a few variations you can find in several Asian grocers, as well as flavors like melon or ube that go beyond the brown sugar milk tea these pops are inspired by.
Fluffy Japanese souffle pancakes are another wildly popular dish right now. Combining the Japanese dish with the flavors of Taiwanese pearl milk tea adds levels of sugary taste and texture that will leave any sweet tooth satisfied. For this exact version, head to Cloud Nine Cafe in Hawaii.
Basque Burnt Cheesecake is a variety on the classic dessert invented in Spain roughly 30 years ago. In 2020, it’s become a quarantine cooking favorite, but has also made it’s way to dessert menus. As that has coincided with boba-themed treats, it was only a matter of time until someone made a boba-topped Basque Burnt Cheesecake. Find this variety at Daboba in Melbourne, Australia.
There have been hundreds of afternoons where a quick pick-up of some refreshing honey milk tea with boba was desperately needed to fuel the occasional sleepy colleague and I. While an emoji wasn’t necessary to express our bubble tea cravings, it would have been more than welcome had it existed.
Now it does.
Last Friday was World Emoji Day, and with it came the announcement of a new emoji update for Facebook, Google, and Apple scheduled to launch in the latter half of 2020.
Hopefully, once this pandemic’s over and you’re trying to get some boba or tamales with friends, you’ll be able to express your excitement in emoji form. In the meantime, I’ll be working on a tamale boba truck concept. That sounds so fire right now.
Boba and milk tea have become wildly popular across the entire United States. Chains featuring the drink and tapioca balls have popped up at locations just about everywhere, and there’s even creative versions like creme brûlée topped boba that have captivated the country.
In a sign that big brands are really starting to look at the popular beverage topping, Dunkin’ has begun testing a couple of drinks that contain boba on the East Coast.
Available now through mid-August, according to Mass Live, two variations are being served: Bubble Iced Coffee, and Bubble Iced Tea. Dunkin’ confirmed to Foodbeast that these are made with brown sugar-flavored syrup, and the boba are brown sugar-flavored as well.
Dunkin’s description of the drinks are as follows: “Dunkin’s signature beverages are sweetened with brown sugar syrup and new brown sugar-flavored bubbles for delicious sweetness you both can sip and chew. Both tasty new beverages are served with a special, extra-wide Bubble paper straw.”
The drinks are part of a larger batch of different beverages being tested across the Northeast. Dunkin’s take on boba is offered at five locations in New York, as well as five locations in Massachusetts. Those locations can be found below:
4 Harding Ave.
112 N. Genesee St.
1701 Black River Blvd. N
751 Meadow St.
55 Maple St.
694 Page Blvd.
1155 Erie Blvd., W
81 Oriskany Blvd.
9221 River Rd.
568 Belmont Ave.
Dunkin’ is not the first major American chain to have sold boba in the US, as Panda Express has had it at their Tea Bar locations for a while now. However, this is the first time a major fast food chain is offering the drinks out of one of their regular locations.
Popping boba, encapsulated pearls that burst when you bite into them, have yet to make it onto the menus of major fast food chains in America. While they’ve become popular at froyo shops — the concept of boba and its popularity have been a thing for a while now — it has yet to penetrate the biggest chains in food.
That all changed with Del Taco’s most recent introduction, Sprite Poppers. Made with popping boba topped over Sprite and ice, the new drinks mark the first time a major fast food chain has added the unique topping to their menu.
Del Taco’s offer consists of two flavors, mango or cherry popping boba, that are piled on top of the iced beverage. The drinks cost $1.29 each, roughly the same price as a small soft drink.
For those curious, popping boba is typically made by encapsulating a liquid, such as juice or flavored syrup, within a “shell” made from a calcium solution and sodium alginate, which is a gelling protein found in seaweed. It’s the reaction between the calcium and alginate protein that leads to the gel-like capsules to form.
They’re typically difficult to make at scale, making Del Taco’s addition of these drinks noteworthy. Whether it leads to more popping boba drinks coming to fast food, or even the addition of real boba itself, remains to be seen.
Del Taco’s Sprite Poppers will be available for a limited time.
Chinese and Taiwanese food is slowly starting to have a renaissance movement in the United States. This is clear from the prevalence of renowned dim sum chains like Din Tai Fung, the emergence of hot pot, and the proliferation of boba shops across the country.
Despite all of this, the most popular Chinese dishes in the USA are still Chinese-American, rather than Chinese. General Tso’s Chicken and orange chicken dominate the palates, all because Chinese food in the US was engineered around Western palates first, making the food sweeter and less authentic to what you can get in China and Taiwan.
In Los Angeles, restaurants are starting to open up that push back against that concept. Instead of engineering Chinese food to work for American tastes, they’re twisting up beloved American dishes to work with the traditional flavors of China and Taiwan. While you might expect to find this through the lens of fine dining, one of the pioneers of this movement is a small boba shop and cafe in the heart of LA’s San Gabriel Valley.
The spot is called Bopomofo Cafe, a modern take on boba and American-born Chinese food. Bopomofo, which is named after the first four letters of the Taiwanese Mandarin alphabet, is co-owned by Philip Wang, one of the main creative forces behind Asian-American YouTube and digital media powerhouse Wong Fu Productions. Wang, together with his co-owner Eric Wang and chef Andrew Park, have put together a revolutionary menu that fuses Chinese, Taiwanese, and American together, but not catering to the “American runs on sweet” mantra.
“We always thought that there’s new American food,” Wang told Foodbeast, “but there’s no new real Asian-American food, and that’s kind of how we saw our menu.”
As a result, you get dishes that explode with equal, stunning amounts of creativity and flavor. The gold standard at Bopomofo is the Ma Po Tofu Tater Tots, which swaps out the Sichuan classic in a modern rendition of chili cheese tots. Since mapo tofu is typically served over rice, the crunch and fattiness of the tots is an unexpected yet welcome contrast that elevates both dishes this one is inspired by.
Other such innovative items on Bopomofo’s menu include a Walnut Shrimp Burger, nachos made from Chinese scallion pancakes and topped with braised pork belly, a fried chicken sandwich modeled on Taiwanese flavors and cooking techniques, and a “MOFO Club” inspired by Wang’s travels to Taiwan.
Bopomofo keeps that creativity going in their drink selection as well. Whether it’s a beet-colored Taro Milk or a dreamsicle-like take on Orange Bang! (called Orange Wang), you get nostalgia yet novelty in every sip and bite of the cuisine served up here.
With that creativity, Wang and his team are pushing the envelope of what it can mean to combine American, Chinese, and Taiwanese flavors. By staying true to core Chinese and Taiwanese flavors, but still using ingredients familiar to Americans, the food here becomes a potential pathway to explore authentic Chinese and Taiwanese tastes through an American lens.
To learn more about Bopomofo, watch the above episode of Foodbeast’s News Bites that features the cafe.
Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast episode titled “#94: Boba Guys Is For The Culture Pt. 2,” out now on Spotify, Anchor.FM and the Apple Podcasts App.
The current mainstream political atmosphere in the U.S. has an all-or-nothing, “choose your side” feel, and there’s very little room for moderates who see see the arguments from both ends of the political spectrum, as it can be misconstrued as choosing the wrong side, regardless of explanation.
The hat itself is polarizing, as to many, it is a symbol of hate that they feel has accrued under the Trump administration. To others, it is seen as a sign of change they wished to see under the administration.
Chau, who is outspoken about his beliefs, made it clear that he is not a fan of the hat and the baggage it comes with. With that said, it didn’t sit right with him to take the type of stance that would lead to banning customers from his Boba Guys locations.
“I’m from California. I’m from San Francisco. Everyone should know where we stand… you know what side of the world we’re on,” Chau said. “My stance is… I don’t ban them, but I’m like, if you cause trouble, you’re on the radar. But I’m not into banning.”
When Chef Lopez-Alt issued his statement on the hat, Chau was immediately asked by his peers, and even his own staff, if he would follow suit. He did his best to explain what he wanted to achieve with his stance on the matter, and while it did not sit well with some, it was a decision he stood by.
“It comes back to dialogue. We forgot how to talk about difficult things,” Chau said. “I said we won’t ban MAGA hats because I think it stops dialogue. The goal is bridging cultures, and you can’t achieve the goal of bridging cultures if I ban MAGA hats.”
He then made sure his guests knew that he was not going to tolerate anyone using the hat to purposely incite problems.
In Instagram’s heightened influence on how we eat within the past couple of years, the proliferation of wild concoctions and foods especially made “for the ‘Gram” have become the norm. Trends have come and gone while the pasta that’s stuck to the proverbial wall have become mainstays due to achieving that unique appeal of simply being an item that we’d crave and need regularly as opposed to a one-time photo-op.
The latest player in the Game of ‘Grams for foodies are boba cakes, a combo of words that I thought would only be possible being mentioned as separate entities in one sentence. But here we are in 2019, faced with the delicious aspect of soft, chewy, and mildly sweet tapioca balls occupying the space within a cake usually reserved for sweet creams and frosting of different sorts.
As you can see by the above clip from Hok Tea in Westminster, California, the boba cake concept is prime content for Instagram feeds, what with the jaw-dropping reveal of a mini Nutella cake being chockfull of boba balls. Hok Tea also serves an ube boba cake that’s covered by a layer of ube cream cheese. Yeah, that part. And while this very notion of boba balls inside moist cakes can be appalling to some, it’s more so a tempting fusion that warrants curious palates like mine to sink our teeth into. I mean, what could go wrong? Boba in cake — where do I sign up?
As for the inspiration behind the boba cakes, Hok Tea commented, “The idea of the boba cake originated in Asia and became very popular. We always want to create a unique product that seems to represent both Western and Eastern culture. From there we came up with an idea to merge both cake and boba together.”