One Last Grab

It’s confirmed. We are addicted to bubble tea—totally mad about them, and crazy enough to fight over paopao cha

 

Last tea 1

By the SOTD Team

When it comes to bubble milk teas and their fans during this period of the Circuit Breaker, it’s never a dull moment. Things arrived at a fashionable frenzy a short while earlier. The minute the news broke at about 8.30 this evening, shortly after the Multi-Ministry Task Force on COVID-19 announced additional restrictions on food and beverage services (following the PM’s message to the people before that), bubble tea fans were out in full force to make this the most memorable night in the F&B history of 21st century Singapore. Rumours were rife since two weeks ago that bubble teas would be classified as non-essential. The online dismay could have broken the Internet. When this finally turns out to be true, the ensuing madness broke out into a fight.

The scuffle was witness, filmed, and shared online at around fifteen past ten. One Facebook post showed a Grab Food delivery guy shouting angrily in front of a Playmade shop on the B1 level of the four-year-old Waterway Point in Punggol New Town. At the time of this writing, it isn’t clear what led to the FB-worthy outburst, but it was, for those who, hitherto, do not understand what is really behind the bubble tea craze, one of the obvious reasons why zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶) shops had to be closed, together with other standalone food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). Seriously, who goes into an altercation over what is mostly vapid tea or, as one FB user called it, “just sugared stuff with starchy mystery things inside (sic)”?

Last tea 2Part of the close to 200m long, 20-odd people strong queue outside one Gong Cha shopLast tea 3At Xing Fu Tang, the queue, no longer seen in past months, now returns 

Many Circuit Breaker-conscious folks had been saying for weeks that bubble tea shops should close, as the traffic at most outlets had not been exemplar of social distancing. In lieu of shopping that is virtually non-existent and as opportunity to meet mate and date, queuing for bubble tea has become the most visible activity in a city that is virtually stripped of retail life. Some lines were so long that they were obstacles for legitimate shoppers trying to reach supermarkets and the like to obtain true necessities. Bubble tea—specifically the craze—has trained the spotlight on those who have seemingly unquenchable thirst for them: the calorie-uncaring young, who have no concern about lost of income in the coming months and, more disturbing, the real possibility of infection by an insidious viral enemy.

This evening, many bubble tea lovers were not deterred by the length of queues or that their order would be prepared alongside those made through delivery services (often in totals larger than ten), necessitating a longer wait. At one in-mall Xing Fu Tang, a staffer was heard telling a customer that they would be serving the desperate till midnight or “until there is no more tea”. A security personnel confirmed that they would be allowed to “open till late”. Not all bubble tea shops drew crowds, only the perceived-to-be-cool or those with a staggering menu. At one Ten Ren’s Tea, there was no customer. Ditto for I♥Taimei, until the lines at other shops were too long for the impatient. Liho, usually in the shadow of their Taiwanese competitors, saw a line at one of their MRT station shops that could easily beat Chicha San Chen’s. Similarly, at the usually queue-free R&B, a snaking line was marketing and profit boost before the night ended and the island wakes up to a naicha-free world tomorrow. Spill-over business meant that non-Taiwanese milk tea joint Tuk Tuk Cha eventually drew the better-than-nothing group. Although the trimming of F&B-related services includes fruit juice and soya milk stalls, and coffee shops, it was oddly far quieter at Boost Juice, Mr Bean, and even Starbucks.

Last tea 4Although this is the third Koi within a roughly two-kilometre radius, the queue was as long as the other nearby outletsLast tea 5The patient in line at Playmade, even when the hour was close to ten

In a line that would end at a Chicha San Chen (吃茶三千), one young woman in negligee and cut-offs, who looked like she was about to hit the sack but decided instead to get her naicha fix, was heard huffing to someone on the phone, “You can tell me not to eat, but don’t tell me not to have bubble tea!” Not far away, outside Koi, one distraught lass was heard saying to an identical other, “This is not fair. Those old farts don’t drink bubble tea means we cannot drink, meh?” Near the counter, one pubescent chap exclaimed audibly, “Wah lau eh, order 18 cups! Can drink so much, meh? Wait lau sai.” At the rear end of the line outside one Gong Cha shop, we asked a middle-aged lady if she liked bubble tea so much that she was willing to join the youngsters in the daunting line. She replied in Mandarin, somewhat unhappily, “I have just finished work, but my daughter text me and ask me to buy enough to last a week! I am just going to buy one. She’s crazy.” A short walk away, a twentysomething woman was seen getting into a car with three bags full of milk teas, saying to the driver, “Slowly, okay? Cannot spill.”

And bubble tea fans wonder why their favourite naicha shops have to close. (The dismay is even more pronounced when, two days earlier, McDonald’s announced that they’re temporarily suspending all retail operations—now a double whammy for empty-calorie fans.) While not all are cuckoos of the clan, there are sufficient in numbers this evening alone to show that the humble tea with many brews to match coffee is now, with or with milk (primarily hydrogenated palm oil-based creamer), mostly defined by the boba that goes into it and the throng that come with their sale. In the annals of milky-beverage-as-pop-culture, this is clearly one dark night to remember.

Last tea 6A long line is not associated with R&B, but this evening, it was a different storyLast tea 7Local brand Liho is usually queue-free until this history-making evening 

Photos: Team SOTD

 

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