Bubble tea’s journey from Taiwanese beverage to Asian American symbol

Chase Tang reflects on what the growth of bubble tea’s popularity and what his partnership with Presotea means to him.

This article is sponsored by Presotea, a global bubble tea company founded in Taiwan with more than 400 locations around the world. With a tea making process of old tea factory that run for several thirty year cycles, Presotea is a leader in the bubble tea industry.

“I remember when I was in elementary school, Caucasian folks did not know what tapioca was, like ‘What’s that? That little chewy thing?’” Halifax raised actor Chase Tang said. “It was very unknown back then, but now I can’t think of someone who doesn’t know what boba is.”

Similar to sushi, an Asian dish that wasn’t popular 10 years ago, bubble tea has reached mainstream status in North America. One company that has been in the bubble tea world since before it became popular is Taiwanese company Presotea. 

Tang recently joined a partnership with Presotea, one that he describes as the “perfect mix.”

Tang, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Canada, calls himself a “religious drinker” of the sweet, topping-loaded milk tea beverage. For Tang, being able to represent a Taiwanese brand with ambitious plans to expand in North America was an amazing opportunity. 

“The opportunity and the mix was perfect,” said Tang. “They’re a Taiwanese brand and I’m born and raised in Taiwan. There was nothing that wasn’t a good fit.”

With Presotea’s recent expansion of eight new locations in America, the partnership of the ubiquitous Taiwanese bubble tea brand and Asian Canadian actor shows the rising influence of Asian culture in North American society. 

See also: No Label, No Filter: Chase Tang joins TIKITA to empower women around the world 

Bubble tea and Asian diaspora

Presotea’s recent expansion in North America comes at a time when bubble tea is enjoying immense popularity. But more than just the beverage, bubble tea has also become a symbol for Asian North Americans.

Growing up, Tang remembers being somewhat ashamed to be associated with Asian things. This sentiment that has completely flipped for him now.

Tang was always a huge bubble tea fan and seeing bubble tea shops pop up in Toronto’s Chinatown when he was younger made his Taiwanese background visible in Canada. And with the rise of social media came a shift in bubble tea trends, Tang noted. Gone are the days of the simple black tea, milk, sugar and tapioca mixture in lieu of crazy new flavors, from brown sugar to salty cheese, a new trend that Presotea popularized.

“Now, everybody takes pictures of their drink,” said Tang. “You look at all these boba drinks that people post and it’s like a massive dessert with so many toppings, with layers and layers of stuff.”

Photo Credit: Presotea Australia Instagram

For many diasporic Asians, bubble tea is a symbol of their culture. A Taiwanese staple beverage becoming widely accepted in North America provides Asian visibility within the Western food and beverage industry.

“It’s become such a staple in mainstream, Western culture for sure,” Tang said.

Likewise, Tang’s work as an actor is another cultural bridge between the East and the West. He said that he embraces being an Asian actor in North America despite the small amount of roles and sees it as an advantage in some ways.

“It’s a lot easier right now to adopt or to embrace anything to do with Asian culture or even other cultures, but definitely right now more than ever,” said Tang.

See more: Meet Chase Tang, Netflix’s Latest Supervillain in Juiter’s Legacy

From tea factory to global leader 

Similar to how bubble tea started as a humble beverage, Presotea also started from a humble origin: an old tea factory.

Photo submitted.

Around 30 years ago, Presotea originated from an old tea factory and has since patented its tea-making process and technology. In 2006, Presotea was founded and began to establish itself as a leader in the bubble tea industry. As bubble tea became more popular, the company remained at the forefront of the wave both in Taiwan and abroad. 

Tang attributes Presotea’s long time popularity with the company’s innovation, adaptability, and determination to expand beyond Taiwan, Canada, and the U.S. “I’ve also noticed that all their locations look very different,” said Tang. “They also understand that what made them successful in one place, that same model, may not make them successful in another country.” For example, Tang said that single-ingredient drinks like simple green tea flavours are popular in Taiwan whereas sweeter, topping-filled concoctions are what North Americans enjoy more.

Additionally, he praised Presotea for how nimble they work as a business, despite their vast size. With more than 400 locations, Tang noticed that the way Presotea operates is still “quite agile, almost like a family-run business.”

“We kind of make decisions and adjust on the fly,” said Tang. “I think that’s given us a bit of a competitive advantage being in this extremely competitive field.”

More than a drink

Another key aspect of what made Presotea and Tang a good fit was their mutual activeness in philanthropic work. Tang is a vocal mental health advocate as well as an ambassador for the United Nations’ “The World is in Our Hands” climate change awareness campaign.

Presotea Australia has donated to Australian bushfire fundraisers, and in Toronto, they sponsored a mental health advocacy initiative run by a local Chinatown association. The company also launched their own reusable cup, offering a bonus topping for customers who opt for the environmentally-friendly option of bringing their cup to Presotea locations. 

“What we have done so far, even just the past year, has only been the tip of the iceberg,” said Tang. “It’s just a great opportunity to promote the brand but also be able to give back. It’s a win-win from all angles.”

Photo submitted.

Although bubble tea started as a simple drink, it’s now become a symbol for Asian North Americans and a way to support different causes. Reflecting on the growth of the beverage, Tang said, “When I think about eating culture, it’s something more to embrace and be proud of.” 

“Maybe as a kid, it felt weird, but now I feel it’s more different, unique, special.” 

Photo submitted.

Feature image from Presotea Australia Instagram.

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