When Westfield Valley Fair mall, the preeminent shopping mall of Silicon Valley, became more accessible, I visited there after about a year and was struck by one thing: the sheer number of places you can get Boba Tea. I don’t drink the stuff myself, but Number One Son does. He told me that that are six or seven places in the mall to get Boba. A quick search confirmed that Valley Fair does have indeed seven places to buy Boba. There are two stores that sell Boba and are right next to each other (shown above), and a store scheduled to open, Shihlin Taiwanese Street Snacks, is going to be yet one more. I started to wonder: is there a Boba bubble brewing?
It’s not just in that one mall. I live in one of the many Asian ethnoburbs of Silicon Valley, and I can walk to three boba shops. There are 12 boba places within a 12 minute driving radius. Like with the Valley Fair mall, there are even more on the way, as Tiger Sugar is opening a branch near my house. Growth in Boba has occurred despite a pandemic caused tapioca shortage that has forced some Boba vendors to call security on customers upset about not being able to get their favorite drink.
Boba places have been around for years in the Bay Area, and way back in 2013, our writer Tina wrote on the “million places in the LA” to get Boba. Still, the seemingly sudden rapid acceleration in Boba shops made me think about whether the Boba bubble will burst any time soon. My guess is not for a while. Some capacity was taken out when Quickly permanently closed down 50 US stores. My observation is that Boba seems to be a true Asian American phenomenon, with Asian Americans of different origins liking it. My sons drink Boba, as do their friends of different Asian ethnicities, and the population of Asian Americans are growing. Even as a nonconsumer of Boba, it seems pretty clear to me that different Boba shops are differentiating themselves from each other in a variety of ways, and for some, Boba Tea is just one more thing that they sell. Number One Son is far more excited about Shihlin because of the Taiwanese snack food that it will sell rather than its Boba.
If Boba becomes mainstream, we could even see more sellers of Boba. At this point, I don’t see Boba as being totally mainstream, with most of the people I see lined up at these many places being Asian American. The Boba bubble will not be bursting any time soon.