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Another Unlikely Pandemic Shortage: Boba Tea

  • April 16, 2021

Brian Tran, the co-owner of Honeybear Boba in San Francisco, said he had also been searching desperately for more tapioca. He expects to run out by the end of next week if he cannot replenish his supply.

“A boba shop without boba is like a car dealership without cars to sell,” Mr. Tran said. “It’s like a steakhouse without steak.”

Boba Guys, one of the most successful boba chains in the country, said in an Instagram post this month that some boba shops had already run out of tapioca balls and others would follow in the next few weeks. The owners of Boba Guys also operate the U.S. Boba Company, which produces and sells tapioca pearls to other stores around the country.

The boba shortage, which was first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle, has boba fans in a panic. A post sharing the news in the Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits, a gathering place for Asian people around the world, attracted 10,000 comments and messages of dismay and sadness.

Boba is “something that translates across a lot of Asian cultures,” said Zoe Imansjah, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an administrator of the Subtle Asian Traits group. “Something so simple can bring a lot of people together.”

Ms. Yuen, 21, gets boba once or twice a week and sells boba stickers online. She said she grew up visiting a boba shop near her house in South San Francisco with her parents, and now considers getting boba a great way to socialize with friends.

“A lot of my Asian-American friends will bond over boba,” said Ms. Yuen, whose family is from Hong Kong. “Hong Kong has a lot of good milk tea. It brings us back to our roots, in a sense.”

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