• Boba as a Gateway to Tea

    Boba Guys make their drinks with real fruit, real milk, real foamed cheese, and real tea, brewed from loose-leaf oolong and other quality varietals, and served with tapioca balls made in their own factory. The bustling chain, now with 20 locations, was co-founded by Andrew Chau and Bin Chen. Chau, a featured speaker at World Tea Expo this week, explains how relentless attention to quality elevated a simple mix of milk tea and tapioca to a $3 billion global segment that is enticing a generation of non-tea drinkers to give tea a try.

    • Caption: Andrew Chau, co-founder and CEO, Boba Guys.
    Co-founder, CEO, and author of The Boba Book Andrew Chau describes the allure of bubble tea.

    ‘We Really Push the Envelope for Quality’

    By Dan Bolton

    A business graduate with a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Andrew Chau worked as a marketing planner and manager at Target and Walmart before co-founding Vergence Media, a digital imaging startup. He later managed e-commerce for Timbuk2, a consumer electronics venture, and worked as a global brand manager for LeapFrog, in Emeryville, Calif. In 2011 he and Bin Chen launched Boba Guys opening their first shop in the Mission District. In 2015 they launched Tea People. The company has since expanded with six locations in Los Angeles and one in New York City.

    Dan Bolton: Why is bubble tea a gateway for exploring tea in-depth?

    Andrew Chau: I hope I don’t insult anybody by suggesting that you need boba in order to experience tea. There’s a millennia of history with tea. I’m not saying that we’re rewriting all of that history. Tea is something that’s been drunk for thousands of years.

    In certain countries, tea is normal, in certain places coffee is normal, in certain places mate is normal. Tea is basically a cultural product. When I say it’s a gateway drink, what I mean is that is how a lot of people get into tea. It brings you into the deep parts of tea; we’re talking about knowing what an oolong is, knowing where tea comes from in the world.

    Knowing tea at that depth opens the gate.

    There’s a drink that I really love in Taiwan, where my parents are from. It’s made with a high mountain oolong, a buttery tea that you put crema on top. The crema is like ultra milk, some people call it cheese. Sometimes you get a milk mustache drinking it along with the tea. It’s almost like a milk tea, and yes you are having tea with milk, maybe there’s some sugar in it. But what you are really tasting is the body of the drink, which in this case is an outstanding oolong, an Iron Goddess [of Mercy] tea with a milk cap or foam. Ten years ago you would have probably just ordered a Frappuccino.

    And that’s how so many people get in. The idea is to get you interested in the tea. Sure it is called a “Frozen Summit Oolong” but drinking it you are starting to understand the profile of that fine tea flavor.

    That’s what we do.

    We really push the envelope. We source our own tea and sell it to different cafes across the world. Our tea brand pushes innovation, meaning that we do nitro tea because with nitro you have more body and can taste nuances that you wouldn’t get in a hot water steep.

    What we do is get people involved.

    A gateway is basically like a beachhead, right? It’s where people enter. So you enter the shop and order a simple milk oolong, a Tie Guan Yin, a familiar English breakfast tea, or a Ceylon tea. We capture the best qualifies of these teas in a bubble format.

    Dan: Your Boba gateway doesn’t have a sign on it announcing, “no one over 35 allowed.” Boba Guys shops are filled with people of all ages eating and slurping and conversing. They are animated and interact as they poke and play with their broad-diameter straws. Boba is experiential — a drinking occasion that mingles quality tea and a memorable experience. Will you talk about those aspects?

    Andrew: People sometimes say boba is a fad. I’m like, well, how is it a fad if two billion people drink milk tea, or have tapioca every day? When boba first came out, it was a kind of dessert. Tapioca and cassava, the plant that it is made from, are native to Brazil. The Portuguese and Spaniards brought it to Southeast Asia. Similar to flan, you have cassava pudding, and cassava cake across Southeast Asia, in Malaysia, the Philippines, and other Spanish and Portuguese colonies. The pudding got mixed into a milk tea culture. In Europe, there’s a milk tea culture in the Middle East, and even in Mongolia and Russia.

    So I think that what happened is that it caught on again, in modern times as a kid’s drink because teenagers drink it loaded with a lot of sugar. I was one of those kids, but as I got older my metabolism changed, so I have to watch that sugar.

    When we created Boba Guys we purposely made it accessible. The format and taste profile are like what people want in a Frappuccino. We lowered the sugar content and used raw sugar. We make our own sugars. We don’t have any high fructose corn syrup in our stores. That is one way we made it accessible.

    Consider matcha. Everybody loves matcha in a latte or shake, but many don’t appreciate matcha’s tea culture. We have tea classes at Boba Guys. I teach people ‘this is a Dragonwell, a Longing green tea,’ or ‘this is a sencha green tea.’ When you grind it up to make it into a fine powder that is essentially matcha. At Boba Guys we layer it into the drink. The technique is known as a pousse-café. You see the layer, it is visually separate versus one giant green mixed latter.

    I explain that you’re drinking the entire tea leaf, whereas if you had a Dragonwell Longjing it would just be steeped. So you begin to understand how your body is internalizing all these anti-oxidants, like the catechins and ECGC. When you explain that to people you’re able to story tell. People haven’t been articulating the story of boba.

    How do we make it accessible to Americans?

    We explain that it is something to enjoy casually. If you want a slight tea buzz and you’re young and just are not a alcohol drinker. Go grab a boba.

    That’s what we are seeing now. It’s become a hangout for people. You would never a decade ago hear a regular everyday American want to talk about oolongs. You would hear them talk about green tea and black tea. I think we have come a long way and we want to be much more inclusive.

    “When I say it’s a gateway drink, what I mean is that it’s how a lot of people get into tea. It brings you deeper into tea, knowing what an oolong is and what is Pu’er, knowing where tea comes from in the world.”

    – Andrew Chau

    Bridging Cultures

    The Boba Guys sell tea online and supply many cafes and shops. “We started Tea People because we wanted to share our favorite teas with our friends the only way we knew how, by keeping it simple,” said Chau. “We visit the farms ourselves and source our own teas. Our mission is to make quality tea approachable, so we try to make it intimate, straight from the source,” he said.


    Link to share this post with your colleagues

    Signup and receive Tea Biz weekly in your inbox.

  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 42

    Tea Biz Podcast Logo

    Listen on your favorite player

    Hear the Headlines

    | A New Theory on How Green Tea Promotes Longevity
    | The Bubble Tea Business is Frothing Globally
    | Assam Smallholder Collective Debuts Equifarm Tea Brand

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap


    This week Tea Biz travels to Miami, Florida to the offices of SAMA Tea where CEO Michael Parisi uses artificial intelligence to create new functional blends. SAMA’s CLAIRE platform is programmed to discover whitespace for new tea products, provide marketing insights based on consumer behavior. It even lists trending ingredients to consider in formulating the company’s new line of adaptogenic teas…

    Then we Zoom called two of the winners of the AVPA’s 4th Teas of the World Contest, starting in Crete, Greece where Jessica Natale Woollard spoke to the family-owners of Tofillo Farms, gold medal winners in the botanicals category.

    Then to Miaoli, Taiwan where Dan congratulates five-medal winner Rick Chang at the Xuejian plantation where he produces authentic bug-bitten Oriental Beauty oolong.

    Jay and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty co-founders SAMA Tea
    Jay and Radhi Devlukia-Shetty co-founders SAMA Tea

    Delicious by Design

    By Dan Bolton

    SAMA is an adaptogenic tea brand made delicious by design, according to SAMA CEO Michael Parisi, co-founder of 100.co, an artificial intelligence-powered brand creation platform used to parse millions of retail data signals such as product reviews and consumer beverage trends. Applying insights gleaned from this vast reservoir led to the recent launch of four purpose-driven tea blends inspired by Ayurveda and crafted to help balance the mind, body, and heart. The teas are sold in samplers or by subscription. Parisi spoke with Tea Biz from SAMA’s company headquarters in Miami, via Zoom.

    Listen to the interview
    SAMA CEO Michael Parisi uses artificial intelligence to create new functional blends.
    Malotira "Mountain Tea" from Tofillo, Crete
    Malotira “Mountain Tea” from Tofillo, Crete

    Native Malotira Tea from Crete Wins Gold

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    High in the White Mountains on the island of Crete grows malotira, an ancient herb with small yellow flowers used to make Cretan Mountain Tea. Rodo Vasilaki and her husband and business partner Nikos Psyllakis grow the herb on 30-acres of family-run farms that are dotted across the island. Their Malotira Tea, known locally as tsai tou vounou and by the Latin name Sideritis syriaca, won gourmet gold at the 4th AVPA Teas of The World contest. Another one of their teas, Pink Healer, featuring Cretan sage and pink rockrose, earned a “gourmet” distinction. Read more…

    Listen to the interview
    Xue Jian Oolong Tea farm in Miaoli, Taiwan
    Xue Jian Oolong Tea farm in Miaoli, Taiwan

    Taiwan High Mountain Oolongs Earn Multiple Gold Medals

    By Dan Bolton

    Miaoli is a city of 89,000 nestled in the mountains of western Taiwan. The region is home to the Hakka, an indigenous tribe employed in the cultivation of tea since the early 1900s. Gardens in the area are famous for producing Oriental Beauty, an oolong that depends on the bite of the tea leafhopper to develop its honey fragrance and honeysuckle taste. Rick Chang is director at Xue Jian, a tea plantation situated at 4,500 feet altitude that produces oolong and black tea. The company first competed in the AVPA contest 2018, winning a gold medal that year and at least once every year since. Read more…

    Listen to the interview
    Rick Chang Xue Jian Oolong Tea


    A New Theory on How Green Tea Promotes Longevity

    By Dan Bolton

    Researchers at ETH Zürich have discovered that green tea catechins are not passive antioxidants but pro-oxidants that act to strengthen cells against attack by free radicals, leading to longer life and greater fitness.

    Initially, the presence of green tea catechins increases oxidative stress for a short while which has the subsequent effect of strengthening the defensive capabilities of the cells and the organism, according to study leader Dr. Michael Ristow, professor for Energy Metabolism at the University’s Department of Health Sciences and Technology.

    “Catechins, aren’t in fact antioxidants, but rather pro-oxidants that improve the organism’s ability to defend itself, similar to a vaccination,” said Ristow. “Green tea activates genes that produce certain enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CTL) that deactivate free radicals in nematodes, the test organisms chosen for the study,” he explained. 

    The findings from the study translate well to humans, said Ristow. “The basic biochemical processes by which organisms neutralize oxygen free radicals are conserved in the evolution history and are present in everything from unicellular yeast to humans,” he said.

    His findings appear in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal Aging.

    Learn more…

    • Tian J, Geiss C, Zarse K, Madreiter- Sokolowski CT, Ristow M: Green tea catechins EGCG and ECG enhance the fitness and lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans by complex I inhibition. Aging, 2021 Oct 4;13. doi: 10.18632/aging.203597call_made
    From left, Sabin Narzary,  Sanibar Boro, Assaigra Boro, Thapsa Boro, Baburam Daimary, Pijush Goyary, Ajith Boro, Bijoy Boro, Kukhol Boro,  J. John, Minto Goswami,  and Sanjwrang Basumatary.

    Assam Smallholder Collective Launches National Tea Brand

    By Roopak Goswami

    Subsistence growers with generations of experience understand how to cultivate tea but are held back by their inability to process, package, and ship larger quantities. Few ever advance beyond the constraining role of supplying profit-driven bought leaf factories. 

    Grassroots Tea in New Delhi aggregates, repacks, wholesales, and retails authentic teas supplied by collectives and helps smallholders secure financing to establish Tea Producer Companies. TPCs then partner with the collectives to operate mini-factories that each process 2,500 kilos of green leaf to make 500 kilos of tea a day. Smallholders become producer stakeholders and ag entrepreneurs. Last week Grassroots debuted the equifarm brand on Amazon India. Equifarm teas range in price from $4.85 to $8.15 (INRs 605) for 250 grams. Unlike most smallholders — who receive perhaps a tenth of the retail price — growers supplying equifarm tea receive a far greater percentage of what consumers pay. This is because Grassroots Tea and lenders enable stakeholders to earn significantly more money by adding value close to origin. Read more…

    Philipping-based Jollibee buys controlling shares of Milkshop, Taiwan.
    Philippine-based Jollibee buys a controlling share of Milkshop, Taiwan.

    The Bubble Tea Business is Frothing Globally

    Manila-based Jollibee Foods Corp. this week acquired a majority stake, paying $12.8 million for one of Taiwan’s largest bubble tea companies, the latest of many investments fueling the global expansion of the multi-billion segment.

    The 250-location Milkshop International, founded in 2008, operates 231 units in Taiwan and the remainder in Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne, and Vancouver, Canada. Milkshop grew revenue by 12% compared to 2019 generating $75 million in sales in 2020.

    Jollibee, which operates 5,853 outlets in 34 countries, announced that the investment “gives JFC the opportunity to participate in this fast-growing beverage category.” Milkshop drinks are offered in three Jollibee locations.

    Kung Fu Tea, founded in 2010 in Queens, New York operates 250 locations in the US. Gong Cha operates 1,400 stores including 36 North American locations. In September ChaTime, Taiwan’s largest bubble tea brand with 1,200 locations in 50 countries, announced a major expansion in the US.

    The global market, valued at $2.2 billion in 2019, is rebounding from an acute shortage of tapioca pearls that followed lockdowns in 2020. Fans worldwide adopted a self-imposed “one boba” per day limit during a period when Taiwan halted the water-intensive manufacturing of pearls to conserve water during a two-year drought. Taiwan manufacturers 90% of the world’s favorite boba-sized black tapioca pearls.

    Technavio estimates the global market will grow at a compound annual rate of 6.5%, adding $942 billion in sales by 2025. Fortune Business Insights predicts $3.9 billion in sales by 2027. Market leaders include Kung Fu Tea, Gong Cha, Chatime, ShareTea, and Coco Fresh.

    Biz Insight –  There are now 20,000 bubble tea outlets in the US and the drinks are sold at another 30,000 restaurants including Sonic and Dunkin. Jollibee operates 69 US stores. The US market for bubble was estimated at $240 million in 2020 and displaying every indication of continued growth. For example, San Francisco-based Boba Guys now manufacture their tapioca pearls in the US. 

     Dan Bolton

    In Memoriam

    Peter G.W. Keen
    Prof. Peter G. W. Keen, a brilliant educator, and author with a passion for tea passed Oct. 26. Keen was born in Singapore, educated at Oxford, and taught at Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. He published more than 30 scholarly books during his 79 years, including three books on tea along with many hundreds of magazine and online articles about his beloved brew. A celebration of life is planned for spring 2022.
    Click to read his obituary.

    • Read more… links indicate the article continues. Learn more… links to additional information from reliable outside sources.
    Tea Price Report
    Oct 30 – Sale 43

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 43

    In North India, Kolkata saw good demand for all tea types. Among buyers, the Middle East was active for orthodox tea while HUL and TCPL were active for CTC and dust. In Darjeeling, more broken and fannings found takers this week. Guwahati also saw good demand with major blenders active for both leaf and dust. Siliguri also saw good demand for tea, as it did the previous week. In the south, Coonoor saw good demand for CTC leaf with nearly 96% on offer sold. Cochin and Coimbatore saw better uptake for dust. Of the 692 kilos of green tea on offer at Coonoor, only 173 kilos sold at INRs 200 per kilo. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman

    Upcoming Events

    November 2021

    HX: The Hotel Experience | Nov. 14-15 | New York City
    Jacob Javits Convention Center | Agenda | Register

    Click to view more upcoming events.

    Share this episode with your friends in tea.

    Listen to Tea Biz on Apple Podcasts


    Subscribe and receive Tea Biz weekly in your inbox.