By Susan Ho
Where youth used to han out at ‘mamak’ stalls and meeting friends, today they’re more likely to gather at Chatime, Bo Eight Tea, Gong Cha, SnowDream and Black Ball. What do these brands have in common? These are the places where they serve milk teas with a difference, Bubble Milk Tea, the new youth fad drink, touted to be 2-in-1, drink and food in a cup, just a slurp away. Located at small shops, the younger set are flocking to these places and standing in line for these new fangled drinks, paying relatively high prices for them in comparison to the old fashioned ‘Teh Tarik’.
Young Generations Turn to Taiwan Desserts
So what has become of the Malaysian standard, the Teh Tarik, that ubiquitous welcoming mug of strong black tea, thickened with evaporated milk and sweetened often with condensed milk. Before the availability of the electric blender, it was a common sight to watch the tea server pouring the tea back and forth from one mug to another usually with a gap of at least a metre, using ingenuity and manpower to create air in the tea for a slight foam.
Franchised Outlets Everywhere
Today, the Bubble Milk Tea has usurped the popularity of the Teh Tarik, its attraction being the addition of chewy bits which appeal to youths and also some adults. Bubble Milk Tea is not all that new and has been with us for sometime now, hitherto appearing at certain stalls, especially in the night markets or pasar malam.
Today enterprising entrepreneurs are cashing in on the popularity and setting up franchised outlets everywhere. Currently, there are four Chatime outlets, two Bo Eight Tea outlets, one Gong Cha outlet, one SnowDream outlet and one Black Ball outlet in Ipoh. One can also find Chatime and Gongcha in Taiping. However, it is Gong Cha that has the most outlets in Perak, including Kampar and Sitiawan.
When Old Town White Coffee hit the ‘Cafe’ scene some years back, everyone rushed to try the new phenomenon, with its snacks, tea and coffee in a cleverly designed ambiance, reminiscent of the old days of the popular coffee shops. It has since spawned many ‘Wannabes’ all striving to capture the same youth market. And it has now become stale.
And this is where Taiwan desserts come in. Will it turn out to be the ‘flavour of the month’ as people are still rushing over to try it as it is still new, a phenomenon akin to the time when J.Co Donuts opened in Kinta City. So what is it that attracts youths to leave their old nest and hop on to this new trend? Could it be the food or drinks that attract the youths?
Food and Drinks Served
Ipoh Echo took a look at the food and drinks offered in such outlets.
Gong Cha, Chatime and Bo Eight Tea have their share of specialties. They have their personal signature drinks, Brewed Tea, Milk Tea, Coffee, Iced Smoothies, Mousse drinks and Healthy Drinks for those who are more concerned for their health.
For Gong Cha, the top seller has two layers, brewed tea as the base and special creamer foam on the upper layer. They recommend customers to drink it through the foam with either a straw or directly without mixing it. Some prefer to stir and mix everything together before consuming. They offer tapioca pearls which give a chewy texture. The special add-on in Gong Cha is the White Pearls which you don’t get in other brands. It has a chewy yet crunchy texture which is low in calories. The staff here are also friendly and they are happy to offer recommendations. Gong Cha’s drinks start from RM3.90 onwards.
Chatime’s best seller is Grass Jelly Roasted Milk Tea. Chatime has QQ Jelly, which has a fruity taste and also the same chewy texture as jelly and Nata de Coco. Chatime also offers Mousse Tea, which is almost the same as the Gong Cha’s signature drink. Unfortunately, it is not available at all outlets in Ipoh. Chatime’s drinks start from RM4.90 onwards.
Bo Eight Tea
Bo Eight Tea offers the same Taiwan drinks with a special Ice Blended Fruit drink with fresh fruits. It is a combination of fruits and ice cream, enticing fruit lovers to this drink. They also serve the famous French Crepe Cakes in many flavours which cannot be found anywhere else.
Black Ball has items like Taro Balls, cubes of real yam, sweet potato, black pearls, grass jelly, red bean and more. At Black Ball, you can customize your dessert by mixing and matching the dessert base and toppings to your liking. Besides serving desserts in a bowl, Black Ball also sells similar drinks which can be found at Chatime, Gong Cha and Bo Eight Tea. Food prices range from RM3.90 and above.
SnowDream has the same desserts as Black Ball but you could also have a main course there. It also has food and snacks on the menu. They have special desserts like Red Bean Soup with black Glutinous Rice, Beancurd and Gingko Nuts, etc.
All of these outlets aim to satisfy customers by controlling their quality of food and developing new flavours. The difference between these outlets with the normal cafes is that you can adjust the level of sugar and ice in your drink. You can also opt for additional toppings at extra costs. There are healthier options which include tea, red beans, potatoes, yam balls and many others. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Unlike artificial flavouring and colouring, they taste original.
The food and drinks at these Taiwanese dessert shops are limited yet they have interesting ingredients with authentic taste which Malaysians can relate to. You can have it hot, cold or ice blended. The chilling factor is perfect for cooling down on a hot day just like a cup of ice sundae.
These Taiwanese shops are usually self service. You order at the counter, pay and get a receipt with your number on it, then wait for your number to be paged, indicating your order is ready. Black Ball offers a more interesting service. Instead of getting a number, you get a funky apparatus which lights up and vibrates when your order is up.
It is no wonder that the local dessert stalls like those at our famous Tong Sui Gai a.k.a. Desserts Street (located along Jalan Sultan Ekram, opposite the Sam Tet Primary school) with its row of dessert stalls, are being forsaken in favour of these ‘new kids on the block’. Why sit in hot humid stalls outdoors when the comfort of air-conditioning and often WiFi beckons, is the general consensus.
Twenty-six-year-old Colby goes to the new outlets for his Taiwanese desserts and also to meet up with his friends. “These places have free wireless service where I can watch Youtube videos with my friends when we are together. To compare these Taiwanese desserts to the food at cafes, I think the prices here are more affordable. Places such as Old Town have limited drink choices on their menu and are no longer worth the money for the quality and quantity given.”
Sixteen-year-old Alice mentions that she goes to these Taiwanese dessert outlets very often because of the influence of her friends and also the trend which is being set amongst the youths. She wouldn’t mind going to such outlets every day. She also states that she goes to these outlets most of the time with her friends to do homework and to catch up with her friends.
I often visit these Taiwanese outlets with my friends as well as I like customizing my drinks. Cleanliness is also much better at the new dessert outlets. It is no wonder that students love going there for work and leisure. As one walks into these shops, one sees the youths with their laptops, smart phones or chatting away with their friends.
There is no doubt that Taiwanese desserts have taken over youths’ taste buds. Wireless services have also contributed in a big way to their success and proliferation. They need not go to Taiwan for their food but just go to one of these shops to have a taste of Taiwan.