by Jackie King
The West Coast has erupted in panic over the past few weeks as tapioca, the key ingredient in the creation of round boba pearls, is in very short supply.
The highly popular drink boba was first popularized in Taiwan in the 1980s before immigrants introduced the beverage to America. In the past few years it has gained immense popularity amongst the younger generations and more and more shops have popped up along the West Coast, serving anything from traditional green and black teas with the tapioca bobas, to more modernized flavors like cookie dough or Salted Caramel. The suppliers of boba in the San Francisco Bay Area, who are running low on tapioca, stated that their supply of formed boba came straight from Taiwan, whereas the cassava root used to make tapioca comes from Thailand and Pacific Ocean islands, meaning it must travel on cargo ships to the U.S. which are currently experiencing extreme delays.
The coming boba shortage is another result of the pandemic hurting trade chains across the world, creating goods shortages like with toilet paper and hand sanitizer in late March of 2020. In this specific case of boba, the rising need for product, as well as a worker shortage, has left a pileup of ships in Los Angeles and San Francisco ports lasting a month or longer. That leaves products like tapioka from Asia waiting at sea. A sales representative for Fanale Drinks in Hayward, CA, Arianna Hansen, stated, “It’s all being held up at the docks,” adding “it’s definitely been frustrating — some people have been upset with us, but at the same time it’s not really our fault.”
Shipping delays are not expected to stop anytime soon, with the wait in both Los Angeles and Long Beach peaking at 40 container ships according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. Although it did decline to 19 ships on Apr. 15, there are usually only one or zero ships in the port at a time and each boat can take up to a week to unload, leaving vessels drifting in the ocean, something that has not happened since 2004. San Francisco is nearly as cramped with 20 ships anchored and 19 others moving around offshore, almost quadrupling the usual nine or 10 in the port at once.
The dropping boba numbers have many fans panicked, especially in the Asian American community. Zoe Imansjah, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained that boba is “something that translates across a lot of Asian cultures,” and that her friends love it because “something so simple can bring a lot of people together.”
(Sources: The Guardian, NYT)
Photo courtesy Phoenix.org