Shipping backlog creates nationwide boba shortage

A+shortage+in+boba+%27pearls%27+and+raw+tapioca+starch%2C+caused+by+shipping+delays+related+to+COVID-19+and+the+Suez+Canal+blockage%2C+has+created+uncertainty+for+many+boba+stores+in+the+Bay+Area+as+supplies+run+low.+%28Adam+Collins+%2F+Creative+Commons%29

Adam Collins / Creative Commons

A shortage in boba ‘pearls’ and raw tapioca starch, caused by shipping delays related to COVID-19 and the Suez Canal blockage, has created uncertainty for many boba stores in the Bay Area as supplies run low. (Adam Collins / Creative Commons)

Since news broke out of an impending nationwide shortage, boba lovers all over the country have been quick to point out their dismay —Jimmy Fallon did a bit about it on his show Thursday night, and Twitter user @alianasblk wrote, “a boba shortage might be my 13th reason why.”

The shortage is caused by a COVID-19 related worldwide shipping snarl, which resulted in a pileup at West Coast ports and a backlog of goods imported from Asia, including tapioca from Taiwan. 

The blockage of the Suez Canal, which increased global shipping delays, was also a contributor.

99% of boba comes from overseas, according to a statement released on April 8, by Boba Guys, a Bay Area favorite. Not only are the boba balls themselves stuck, so is the raw tapioca starch used by U.S. distributors to create their own pearls. 

Boba Guys, which has its boba factory in Hayward, expects the shortage to last four to five months. 

Geon Park, assistant manager at Honeybear Boba in San Francisco, thinks the store will be fine as of right now, but if the shortage continues to get extended, there is a concern for future sales. 

Andy Wu, an employee at Brew Cha in San Francisco, said that although they also get their boba from Taiwan, they are not expecting to run out any time soon. 

“We have good inventory control, so it’s not a problem for us… for now,” Wu said. 

Lily Zhong, a student at UC Berkeley, sees boba tea as a fun way to connect with friends. She frequents cafes around the Bay at least once or twice a week and is eager to see the unique drinks stores will offer in place of boba.

“A lot of these places, they do offer a lot of drinks that don’t have pearls in it and so I think it’ll be a good push to explore other options,” she said. “I’m excited to get something that’s not the same two or three things I get every single time.”

Park recommends that customers try out grass or lychee jelly or egg pudding as alternative toppings for their drinks while the shortage lasts.