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This Popular Drink Is Disappearing From Stores Across the U.S.

This trendy beverage is the latest victim of the global shipping crisis.

First, it was toilet paper. Next, it was imported cheeses. Then, it was ketchup packets. Now, one of your favorite beverages may be facing the same type of product shortage that has become so common over the past year. Because of COVID-19-related issues, boba tea—or bubble tea, as it's also called—is disappearing from stores across the U.S. as major supply issues loom, MarketWatch reports. Read on to see why the sweet treat is becoming scarce, and for more on changing food options, This One Thing Is Disappearing From Walmarts Nationwide.

Bubble tea is becoming harder to find because of ingredient shortages.

The flavors of bubble tea in plastic cups sitting on a table top.

The looming shortage is the result of the delayed arrival of the drink's signature boba balls, which are imported from Taiwan, as well tapioca starch, which is largely imported from Thailand and used to make the boba. And according to Business Insider, many of the flavored syrups, powders, and disposable items needed to make and serve the beloved beverages are also behind shipping schedule.

"This is an industry-wide shortage," Andrew Chau and Bin Chen, owners of Hayward, California-based U.S. Boba Co. and the popular Boba Guys bubble tea cafés in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles said in an Instagram video posted on Apr. 9. "Some boba shops are already out. Others will run out in the next few weeks. 99 percent of boba comes from overseas. … It will be in flux for several months until we get our next series of tapioca starch shipments."

Importers are warning it could be a while before supplies recover.

A young woman drinking bubble tea on a city street

The delays on ingredients are so severe that importers already warn that existing supplies will soon be exhausted, with a potentially long road ahead before the drink becomes readily available again. This could pose a problem for purveyors of the trendy beverage, which was ranked as the most popular delivery item in California, Hawaii, and Michigan during the lockdown in May of 2020, MarketWatch reports.

"In the next week or so, tapioca will be a luxury because no one is going to have it," Tommy Huang, a senior sales manager at boba supplier Leadway International, Inc., told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's going to take a long time to be able to say we will not have a shortage of tapioca." And for more on major products in short supply, check out These 4 Beloved Foods Are Disappearing From Grocery Shelves, Experts Warn.

The current global shipping crisis is to blame for the lack of supplies.

Shipping containers sitting in a port.

Those in the boba business say the products are yet another victim of the global shipping crisis that has been responsible for the delay of many items over the past year. "It started with the global pandemic, which has caused major congestion and shortages in the supply chain," David Fan, CEO of Fanale Drinks, explained in the Boba Guys Instagram video. "The quick summary is that America is having trouble importing anything from overseas, especially from Asia. The port and container issues are impacting us, along with apparel, electronics, and anything that isn't made domestically."

The problem partly stems from a major traffic jam currently affecting ports on the West Coast, which they called the largest in years, the Chronicle reports. In San Francisco, an influx of cargo ships has created major delays as they wait for space to anchor safely.

Retailers ask everyone to continue to support their local shops with different orders.

Young woman drinking iced coffee sunny day

For now, business owners are urging everyone to stay patient as shortages loom. "If you see [shops] run out of boba, don't get mad. It's not their fault," Chen urged in the Instagram video. "Everyone is trying the hardest as they can."

Instead, they urge everyone to continue supporting the shops by trying a new item off of the menu that doesn't call for tapioca balls as an ingredient, Food & Wine reports. And for more on sweet treats that will be harder to find, check out This Iconic Store Is Closing All Its U.S. Locations.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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