SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Boba tea shops in the Bay Area and fans of the popular drink are scrambling amid an impending nationwide shortage of tapioca pearls that may last weeks, possibly longer.
"So a lot of this will affect not just us, but the greater boba industry," Boba Guys announced in a video from their factory in Hayward.
"It all started with the global pandemic, which has caused major congestion and shortages in the supply chain. 99% of the world's boba comes from Asia, mostly Taiwan," said the video posted on Instagram.
The shortage of both the tapioca pearls as well as the tapioca starch used to make the popular ingredient found in bubble tea, was caused by a major backlog in U.S. deliveries on both the east and west coasts.
The shortage, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, has already affected some boba tea shops.
In San Jose, Tapioca Express manager Ryan Doan said they plan to try and stock up on the chewy pearls before it becomes difficult to find the ingredient.
"It's like the most popular topping," said Doan. "I mean that'd be interesting to see how it would actually impact our business, but we do have a lot of alternatives to boba."
Doan said right now they have enough tapioca pearls to last four to five days. He added that eight out of 10 customers order their drinks with boba.
Boba lovers, Simon and Lu Hui, said they made a stop at the Tapioca Express after hearing about the boba shortage.
"It's the chewiness of the boba, it's pretty satisfying to munch on," said Simon.
"I don't think boba tea is complete without the boba so I think it's a mandatory ingredient," Lu said. "I probably would turn around and go home (if they ran out)."
"There are some days where we do run out of boba, we stop cooking it for the day, and some people do leave," Doan said.
A bubble tea supplier told Business Insider he predicts the shortage will last until the end of April.
Kung Fu Tea, one of the nation's largest bubble tea chains, told USA Today that they predict the problem could continue into summer.
Doan said if the shortage hits his shop, he hopes customers will try a boba backup instead of leaving.
"Enjoy it while you can, I guess, and when it does happen be prepared and be prepared to try new things," said Doan.
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