Bubble Tea. (Tom McCorkle/Washington Post)

Bubble Tea. (Tom McCorkle/Washington Post)

No bubble tea this spring? Canada faces boba shortage amid shipping delays

Concern has arisen among bubble tea cafes and shops as demand for the drink grows with warmer weather

Canada is experiencing a shortage of tapioca pearls, or boba, used in bubble tea as shipping delays continue to affect the global supply chain.

Most Canadian wholesalers get bubble tea supplies from Asia, particularly from Taiwan, where the popular drink originated, said a Vancouver-based supplier of bubble tea products.

“Right now, the supply of popping boba and (tapioca) pearls are running really thin,” said Greg Tieu of Bubble Tea Canada, which provides wholesale supplies to companies in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.

This is causing concern among bubble tea cafes and shops in Canada as demand for the drink grows with warmer weather, Tieu said.

Bubble tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink, commonly features chewy pearls of tapioca or boba, which are made from the starch of cassava.

Tieu said the shortage is caused by the pandemic, coupled with the obstruction of the Suez Canal last month after a container ship blocked the trade route.

“The cost of that (delay) is being passed onto shops and consumers,” he said, noting that the backlog has caused some wholesale prices to go up.

“That stop in the supply chain can hit stores very hard, whether they’ll have supplies or not.”

The delays are not only affecting the supply of tapioca pearls, popping boba and flavoured syrups but also items such as disposable cups, he added.

The shortage has been going on for at least two weeks and could take months to catch up, he said.

“We’re hoping the backlog would catch up,” said Tieu, adding that the business has started to limit purchase quantities.

AB Distribution, a Canada-wide bubble tea products distributor based in Calgary, said it is also experiencing a shortage tied to delays.

Some shipments that should have arrived in March are only arriving this week, said Carol Tang, AB Distribution’s sales manager.

“There’s definitely a lot of unpredictable factors. Shipments can be cancelled, containers can be cancelled, even when we already have them scheduled,” she said.

Tang said this can cause a lot of stress for businesses.

“We’re hoping that once we get through this jam, the remaining arrivals will continue to arrive,” she said.

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