Bubble tea's ascension to the throne as queen of drinks in Vietnam

By Minh Chau, Phuong Dong   September 24, 2017 | 04:20 pm GMT+7
Bubble tea's ascension to the throne as queen of drinks in Vietnam
People line up to buy bubble tea at a shop in Saigon. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Dong

What started as a sweet treat for teenage girls is now an office staple and is even impacting the real estate market.

It was 10:20 p.m. but Hoa, a mother from Hanoi, was not ready to go home.

She was queuing with more than ten other customers in front of a teahouse on Tran Thai Tong Street, waiting patiently for their bubble tea.

"I’ve been waiting for more than 10 minutes," Hoa says, holding her two-year-old son’s hand.

30 minutes before that, a guard had come out of the shop to apologize to the long line of waiting customers and warn them that they might not all get served before the shop shut at 11 p.m..

But those who were late did not seem too upset because on the same stretch of street are four other shops all serving quality bubble tea at competitive prices.

Across the neighborhood, lights were still shining brightly from more than ten other teahouses. Some said they serve 200-300 cups per day, while others break into the thousands.

The story flows in just the same way at the other end of the country.

In his 50s, Trung has been a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver for three years in Saigon’s District 1, a job that earns him VND200,000-300,000 ($9-13) each day.

Over the past six months, Trung has found himself an additional source of income: picking up bubble tea for office workers.

“After their lunch break, groups of office workers, around 6-7 people, ask me to buy bubble tea on Ngo Duc Ke Street. They pay me VND20,000, not much compared to one cup of bubble tea that costs VND55,000-70,000.”

“Sometimes I receive orders from 3-4 groups in just one day,” he told VnExpress.

Bubble tea is not new in Vietnam. It has been in this country since 2000 when local shops created their own Taiwanese tea products by mixing tea with milk and tapioca balls, but back then bubble tea was a treat for kids.

Around four years now, everything changed when foreign brands from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Singapore stormed the Vietnamese food and beverage market through franchise deals, blowing away local shops and clearing the way for bubble tea to make its ascendancy to the queen of drinks.

According to Lozi, a mobile food and drink application in Vietnam, around 1,500 teahouses are currently operating in Vietnam, and that number is projected to rise sharply by the end of the year when more foreign brands jump into the market.

Even fastfood chain KFC has rolled out its own bubble tea brand.

Bubble tea fever has even had an impact on the real estate market, with land lease prices on “teahouse streets” in Saigon jumping by 20-90 percent in August compared to a year ago, according to a report by Gachvang, a city-based property research firm.

The price for leasing a premise on Ngo Duc Ke Street in District 1 climbed from VND594 million ($26,000) per square meter in August last year to VND762 million ($34,000) this year, and it's a similar scenario on Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan District and Su Van Hanh Street in District 10.

As observed by experts in the F&B sector, businesses have been focusing more on the bubble tea market in Vietnam in recent years by targeting new customers and paying more attention to the flavors of their tea.

If bubble tea used to be an after-school treat for students, it is now a drink for adults, a representative from the Hong Kong-based Gong Cha bubble tea chain told VnExpress.

A survey conducted in May of 350 men and women aged from 15 to 39 in Hanoi and HCMC by Vietnamese market research firm Q&Me revealed that 50 percent of them drink the tea at least once a week, while 73 percent can recognize the brand, and that ratio is higher among older drinkers (88 percent in Hanoi and 91 percent in HCMC).

Many questions have been raised around the bubble tea trend in Vietnam, with the most common being why people are willing to spend as much on a drink as they do on a meal, and how young people, especially students, are able to afford this sweet treat so often. 

Some people have even criticized those who drink milk tea more than once a week, saying it's a waste of money in a country where the average per capita income was around $2,200 a year in 2016.

Concerns have also been raised about local eating habits, with some people saying that they think Vietnamese embrace food from other countries too easily without questioning how it is going to affect their health.

 
 
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