The Tapioca Craze in Japan, Summarized

Boba Tea / Bubble Tea / Tapioca Tea has gripped Japan and it seems to be reaching its peak. You can hardly walk a few meters without running into a new tapioca tea shop, or seeing signs from a well-established chain advertising their new tapioca tea offerings. Even some restaurants are getting in on the craze, adding tapioca to different dishes to add some new texture and fun to the dishes. But has Japan reached critical mass with their tapioca craze?

Why Japan Loves Tapioca Tea

I’ve had a hard time dissecting this, so I turned to the people who could explain this to me: The Japanese Youth.

I asked a variety of students why it was so darn popular. A lot of them said it was easy to drink, had a fun texture, and some said they liked it simply because it was in vogue. Nothing beyond standard explanations you might expect from other trends (minus the texture explanation…). But why now?

Snack Attack! Tapioca Snacks

Well, the Mrs. said it might have to do with the fact that a similar tapioca boom happened in the 90’s with an earlier generation. Bubble tea was everywhere, but its popularity soon waned and it disappeared from the mainstream. That means that many of these kids, who were born during the Boba Boom, never got to try the tea before it disappeared. They could be making up for lost opportunities now. Fashion and fashionable items are cyclical, aren’t they? So this seems like a compelling reason to me!

Why Japan Hates Tapioca Tea

A giant tapioca display is not uncommon for the plethora of tea shops offering boba tea!

Let’s be real: Everything that rises in popularity isn’t going to capture the hearts and minds of everyone. Tapioca is no exception. The biggest complaint is the amount of waste this trend has created, and it comes from two main factors: Sizing and Instagram.

First is sizing. This one is straightforward. Near most vending machines, you can quietly dispose of plastic bottles and cans in a bin. Convenient, right? Well, most people who finish their tapioca tea, which comes in a disposable cup that customers poke into with a straw, want to throw it away in these recyclable bins. They are plastic after all, right? Well, most standard-issue plastic cups don’t fit in these bins’ openings, leading people to just discard them on the road or sidewalk near the bin. I saw a whole news report decrying this on the news a few months ago and I’ve definitely seen some discarded cups on the roads in my local communities.

The second is The Gramâ„¢. Some people buy the tea, get their sick pictures to collect views and likes, and then throw away the entirety of the tea. So, imagine the above problem but now you have tapioca pearls and tea cooking in the sun all day while it waits for the trash collectors to gather it up. Charming.

Not everything tapioca tea is great, either. Take for example the Tapioca Land, a small theme park dedicated to the squishy pearls in Harajuku, which was met with some pretty tepid reviews upon its opening. Just because you slap some tapioca on it doesn’t mean you can pull a fast one on tapioca fans!

Whether you love it or hate it, recent surveys seem to suggest that Tapioca may have some staying power this time around. Predictions are also popping up saying that it’s going to stay around until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There are no shortages of tea shops catering specifically to Tapioca lovers, so if you’re in Japan and find yourself needing a soft, chewy fix with your drink, you won’t have to go far to find something satisfying.

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