Is There a Boba Shortage? Bubble Tea Latest Product Running Low in U.S.

Boba tea is the latest product facing a shortage in the U.S. as bubble tea shops are running out of tapioca. Business owners have warned customers that there may be a shortage over the next few weeks that could take months to rectify.

Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, has become a popular drink in the U.S. in recent years.

Market Watch reported that a national survey following the lockdown last May found that bubble tea was the most popular delivery item in California, Hawaii, and Michigan.

Bubble tea is made up of black tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca pearls, and can come in a wide variety of flavors, from sweet and fruity to chocolate and even coffee. But no matter the flavor, one key ingredient is tapioca starch, which is used to produce the boba pearls.

U.S. boba cafes order their boba pearls from Taiwan and their tapioca starch from Thailand, but both products are currently facing shipping delays. Furthermore, Business Insider reported that other items used in boba tea production, including flavored powders, syrups, and disposables have also become stuck in shipping containers.

Bin and Andrew, who run the Boba Guys shops in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, said in an Instagram post that they were experiencing an industry-wide shortage, with some shops already out of boba and others set to run out in the next few weeks.

Boba Guys said that 99 percent of boba comes from overseas, and even though it makes its own boba at its factory in California, the company is running out of tapioca starch needed to make the pearls.

The shipping delays are the result of a pile-up at ports on the West Coast due to the pandemic. A combination of increased production from an Asian continent emerging from lockdowns this past winter and a rise in U.S. imports meant a surge of activity in West Coast ports.

As a result, boba wholesalers in the U.S. are not receiving their orders and they do now know when they will arrive.

The San Francisco Bay Chronicle reported on the West Coast maritime traffic jam and says it is the biggest in years: "For the past few weeks, San Francisco Bay has been packed with huge cargo ships. There were 15 of them anchored south of the Bay Bridge at midweek.

"There is so much ship traffic that there is not enough room inside the bay for them all to anchor safely. Nine more big ships were waiting in the Pacific, steaming up and down 20 to 30 miles offshore between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay."

Boba tea is not the first product to face a shortage since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the past year, the U.S. has faced a shortage of popular products ranging from ketchup to aluminum cans to pepperoni.

Bubble tea
A young woman sips bubble tea outside a café on August 22, 2012, in Berlin, Germany. Bubble tea is facing a shortage in the U.S. due to shipping delays. Sean Gallup/Getty