Bubble Milk Tea? Not for Indians
In India, a country where life can never be completed without tea, milk, and sugar, how can a beverage that has dominated the market of Taiwan and even many Western countries disappear entirely from New Delhi in just a short two-year period?
Bubble Milk Tea? Not for IndiansBy YaoIndia
Editor's note: The original Chinese article was written in Feburary 2014.
Chatime has just closed its third and last store in New Delhi – shocking news for the city's Taiwanese settlers, who from now on, have no other choice but to make their own cup of bubble milk tea to savor a taste of home.
As a pretty successful global chain that specializes in freshly handmade beverages, Chatime has expanded its market around world. When I first came to New Delhi and was still trying to get used to the food and culture, a glimpse of the words ‘Taiwan Bubble Milk Tea’ on a large poster displayed on the window of a department store made my heart leap. Before I could notice, I’d already stepped out the store with a cup in my hand, taking myself a sip of nostalgia.
I didn’t know what the flavors are in other countries, but the mouthfeel and sweetness of the Bubble Milk Tea in New Delhi tasted a lot like Taiwan’s. I’ve heard that it was actually the company’s strategy: “To give the real taste of Taiwan.” All core employees had to receive hands-on training in Taiwan before they get to run business in other countries, the manager once told us.
Unlike many other exotic dishes which became ‘Indian-spiced’, Chatime’s Bubble Milk Tea managed to retain its original taste, which was very impressive. Nevertheless, in order to appeal to the market in India, Chatime brought out a new flavor –The Masala Chai.
When I first stepped into a Chatime in New Delhi, I realized that there were no other customers besides me and my three friends, who were all Taiwanese. For the next two hours, only a couple of Indians dropped by, including a family who shared a cup. For the last few times I went there, I either get informed by the clerk that they were out of tapiocas, or that I would have to wait 15-20 minutes to have fresh tapiocas. I suppose it was their strategy to reduce waste of food. Soon, they ran out of business.
Why Did Taiwan’s Bubble Milk Tea Fail to Conquer The Taste Buds of Indians?
In India, a country where life can never be completed without tea, milk and sugar, how come Bubble Milk Tea couldn’t stand a chance? How could a beverage that has dominated the market of Taiwan and even many Western countries disappear entirely from the market of New Delhi in just a short two-year period? As I was ‘mourning’ for the tea, I thought of several reasons–not necessarily right or wrong, but my own personal opinion.
Image: India Yoyo
Milk Tea Must Be Sugar-Sweet
Compared to Indian milk tea, Taiwan milk tea would be considered ‘sweetless.’ In India, even a demitasse of milk tea will be loaded with spoons and spoons of sugar. Besides, Indian milk tea not only features in fresh milk, local-grown loose tea leaves, but also one crucial ingredient –the spices. Recipe differs from shop to shop; flavors vary from house to house. Nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper are all indispensable essentials for a good cup of Indian milk tea. For taste buds that have long been used to richly spiced teas, Taiwan milk tea must have tasted relatively dull and boring.
Milk Tea Must Be Spiced Up
In a typical teeming Indian Market, there would always be a man holding a large pot over a coal fire, shouting “Chai! Chai! Chai!” A cup of milk tea without spices, made solely with black tea bags and milk, would be considered ‘sidelined’ and ‘cheap.’
This reminds me of India’s local coke brand called ‘Thums Up.’ When Coca Cola had been sweeping the globe, Thums Up, with its unique flavors and velvety foam, was able to stand still in India’s market, leaving Coca Cola with no choice but to buy the company. The point was that Coca Cola did not overtake Thums Up, but kept it running as its own brand because the name had already been rooted in the hearts of all Indians. My cameraman hardly ever drinks Coca Cola or Pepsi. If you see my cameraman drinking, it would either be coffee, water, or Thums Up.
Milk Tea Must Be Steaming Hot
But didn’t I just mention that Chatime did offer Chai? How come it still couldn’t draw Indian customers? One crucial factor was the temperature. In Taiwan, Bubble Milk Tea was often drunk cold or with ice. But shouldn’t a nice cup of iced tea be great for a place like India where summer heat can hit 48 degree Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit)?
No! In fact, even in the hottest summer days, Indians would still want their milk tea steaming hot. In India, serving a cup of tea that has gone cold can be outrageous. Spices are to Indians as herbs are to Chinese: Each spice has its own efficacy and potency, which must be served steaming hot, or else would be bad for the body. Just as how Chinese would think about a cup of overnight leftover tea.
Milk Tea Should Be ‘Drunk,’ Not ‘Eaten’
Even though you serve them a cup of hot Chai, the action of ‘chewing,’ which they wouldn't expect to be involved in the ‘drinking,’ would be something very curious, or strange to the Indians. First, they would say tapiocas are tastless. Second, they would say the taste of ‘Q’ (Read: The Curious Case of Q), which is very popular in Taiwan, is strange in India. Third, they would ask why we would ever consider ‘eating’ a beverage –exactly the question a friend once asked me. My Indian producer can never really understand why I am so deeply obsessed with bubble milk tea.
Milk Tea Should Be Budget-Friendly for 5-6 Cups A Day
Finally, there comes the most practical issue: the price. Milk Tea is a beverage that can be spotted everywhere in India, from households to vendors, prices from 5 to 10 rupees for a cup. Many Indians are used to drinking several cups a day, one to wake them up, one after breakfast, one after lunch, one for the afternoon, one after dinner, and perhaps another one before hitting the sack. For such a common drink that can be bought everywhere, it would not be surprising for Chatime’s Bubble Milk Tea, with its tax-included price over 100 rupees and its ‘curious’ taste, to fail to win the hearts of the Indian milk-tea drinkers.
But to me, a home-sick traveler in India, Bubble Milk Tea is a taste of my homeland that could set me on a one-hour subway ride just to get a sip. Every time I chewed on the ‘Q’ Tapiocas, I felt my stray heart soothed. Unfortunately, since Chatime got drawn out of the game, it might take a long time for the next Taiwan Bubble Milk Tea Store to set its foot in New Delhi.
Today, I saw a signboard with the words “Chai Runs India Forward.” As a large kingdom of milk tea, India is pretty much a country of its own marked individuality.
Translated by Sharon Tseng.
Crossing features more than 200 (still increasing) Taiwanese new generation from over 110 cities around the globe. They have no fancy rhetoric and sophisticated knowledge, just genuine views and sincere narratives. They are simply our friends who happen to stay abroad, generously and naturally sharing their stories, experience and perspectives. See also CrossingNYC.
Original content of the Chinese Article can be found at the website of YaoIndia
This article is reproduced under the permission of YaoIndia. It presents the opinion or perspective of the original author / organization, which does not represent the standpoint of CommonWealth magazine.