The past year sure has seen its share of weird shortages. First there was that time where everyone was panic buying toilet paper. Then, everyone started baking, so we ran out of flour. Then, as the constant flow of people ordering takeout continued, we ran out of ketchup packets. Did anyone see boba getting added to the list?
Turns out, the majority of the boba consumed in the U.S. is made overseas, and between increased ecommerce from people just sitting around making impulse purchases and labor shortages at the docks, the ports just can’t keep up.
But you know what? We don’t need boba, anyway.
[It’s probably worth mentioning now, before I really get into this rant, that as I was researching this, I found out that boba tea has become something of a cultural icon for younger generations of Asian Americans. I may be part-Japanese, but I’m so white-passing that I often end up being completely oblivious to these kinds of facets of the Asian American experience. When I say “we” don’t need boba, I’m mostly aiming this towards gentrifying white people posting pics of boba on Instagram for clout.]
Don’t get me wrong, I get the appeal. I love a drink with texture in it. When Denny’s released an apple pie milkshake- with actual chunks of pie in it- I was all over it. My favorite Starbucks drink, the smores frappuccino, is full of graham cracker crumbs that, objectively, give it a kinda sandy texture. And I love it for that. And I enjoyed boba the first time I tried it. It’s an extremely dense chew that is so unique that I can’t think of anything else that it could be compared to. My problem isn’t with the boba themselves, it’s just that most places give you way too many of them. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would complain that they aren’t getting their money’s worth if they got less. But for me, at least, by the time you’re halfway through, chewing them all has become something of a chore. Maybe that’s just me, my jaw’s kinda messed up (“Getting braces did more harm than good” is a hill I’m willing to die on, MOM.). And by the time you get to that point, you’re also almost out of tea, and you either have to chew on the pearls by themselves or throw them out. Sure, you could argue that I’m not “pacing” it right, but do you really expect me to strategize my beverages? You’re gonna tell me a drink synonymous with West Coast chill vibes is supposed to be a thinking man’s drink?
But most importantly, they don’t even really add any flavor. Most boba shops have plenty of other offerings- seemling not affected by this shortage as they are not as ubiquitous- from popping fruit bubbles to jellies to adzuki beans that will still give you a textural contrast while also actually tasting like something. And even plain milk tea has plenty of appeal! My usual go-to is just a regular old taro milk tea, whose starchy texture more than makes up for the fact that I usually don’t bother with add-ins.
So please, do continue to patronize your favorite boba shop. Hell, there’s probably a good chance their owner has quite a bit of boba stockpiled if you aren’t quite yet ready to wean yourself off the chewy orbs just yet. But when the day they run out finally comes, don’t be afraid to broaden your tea horizons.