Hey, not to burst your bubble or anything, but you know our favourite bubble tea — otherwise known as boba? It’s causing a dent in our pockets AND health.
Step aside coffee craze; it’s par-tea time.
I don’t know what it is, but it seems that bubble tea joints are opening up left and right these days. Some, like in Subang Jaya, are located right next to each other (four in a row, with each outlet using different animals such as deer, tiger, bear and dragon to serve as its logo), effectively making the area known as the “Bubble Tea Street”. It’s insani-tea! (Get it?)
Not so bubbly after all.
Not too many years ago, when bubble tea – or its hipper alias ‘boba’ – first entered the market, there were controversies surrounding the pearls/tapioca balls, about how it contained carcinogenic ingredients and other harmful additives that might damage one otherwise perfectly functioning body.
Naturally, we decided to ignore it and went on our merry bubble-tea-ordering way.
With bubble tea chains popping up everywhere these days, it seems like peer pressure to try them all and compare taste (is the milk powdery, or they use actual milk?), prices (if I’m correct, I think the most expensive one now is RM15.90 for a basic pop), and the ‘consistency of the tapioca balls’. Yes, believe it or not, it is a make-or-break factor for any bubble tea connoisseur.
The unhealthy bubble tea recipe.
Anyway, here’s a quick recap: the main components in a bubble tea drink are milk, tea, tapioca pearls and an insane amount of sugar. That alone is a health hazard, as the pearls are as bad as actual candy. They’re boiled, saturated with sugar and add about 5 to 14 calories to your beverage per ball.
I’m not good at math, but based on how the bubble tea attendants shove a generous scoop of pearls into my cup, that’s also adding about maybe 150 extra calories to my already calorie-heavy drink with no mineral, vitamin or fiber whatsoever.
And, depending on my mood and finances, if I decide to add other stuff like coconut jelly — or whatever that’s trending and pretty-looking – I’m just adding more sugar on top of sugar.
Apart from that, I might also be adding a side of cancer-causing chemicals, which are aspolychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, based on a study done by German researchers from the University Hospital Aachen. They found styrene, acetophenone and brominated substances, which, according to scientist Manfred Möller, “shouldn’t be in food at all”, and they are highly toxic to the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. The country’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also found that there is a chance that the pearls might accidentally enter the lungs.
Then again, the German report was never published in a peer-reviewed journal so nobody actually knows whether it’s accurate or not. Best to take these studies with a grain of salt. Or with a generous topping of rainbow jelly. Up to you.
On to the more believable side of things: its cost.
The reality is most of us would spend a lot on bubble tea (see above), most being around RM13-16 at new and popular joints.
I say believable because there is someone who actually ventured into the industry here in Malaysia, and we spoke about it over a round of bubble tea (I’m joking).
*Arthur Lehl (obviously not his real name to protect his identity and keep him safe from bubble tea vendors that might want to beat him up for revealing industry secrets), has agreed to answer a couple of my questions regarding his venture.
Don’t worry, he’s not going to rob you. He’s just trying to protect his identity and show you who the real robbers are.
A quick chat with an ex-bubble tea vendor.
1. What made you want to get into bubble tea?
I just needed the money LOL.
2. What was the process of setting up shop like?
Register a company, find a shop, find a supplier, buy equipment, design and print all the menus and sign boards and menu boards and counter stickers, figure out the recipe, do the costing, set a price, get a POS system.
3. What were some of the things you discovered while trying to get it to set up?
The Majlis Perbandaran are a pain in the *beep*, I had to comply the hard way because I wouldn’t pay the “lubrication fees”.
4. Okay, be completely honest, how much does a typical bubble tea cost?
It actually costs just about RM2 to make all in all. But we sold them for between RM3.50 to RM8.
5. How much sugar do you typically use?
We used gula melaka. But bubble tea shops typically use high fructose corn syrup. Really bad stuff. But eventually we switched to a gula melaka sugar mix to save cost.
6. Why do you think people are so obsessed with bubble tea?
It was a fad then. Bubble tea meant choosing from a ridiculous list of flavours and mixing toppings. Nowadays, it has boiled down to basically natural teas. And that never goes out of style.
Well, even if these facts are out in the open, we think that Boba Tea craze isn’t going to die down anytime soon. But just bear in mind that the ingredients that go into your typical Boba Tea isn’t really health-friendly, and although some might argue that it only has ‘trace amounts’ of bad things, consuming loads of it would eventually add up into one big, massive, bad thing.
We’re not saying that you should stop drinking Boba Tea altogether. Do it. Have fun. Live a little. Enjoy the drink. But do it in moderation — for both your health and money.