Bubble tea in Saigon: Rise of a generation of milk tea drinkers   

A closer look at the trending drink in the southern Vietnamese hub 

This is a common sight at milk tea stores in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“Would you care for a bubble tea?” has become one of the most commonly asked questions amongst high schoolers, college students, white-collar workers, and even parents in Ho Chi Minh City.

Milk tea, basically a combination of tea and milk, comes in various shapes and sizes in around the world.

In Ho Chi Minh City, one can commonly experience Taiwanese bubble tea served with edible tapioca pearls, a Hong Kong-style milk tea, or even the green or red tea of Thailand.

Many types abound, but it is perhaps bubble tea that is the most prevalent and has quickly become a way of life for many.

Prices vary from roughly US$1 to as much as $5 per cup, more than the hourly rate of pay for many, but the on-trend beverage has continued to attract new customers.

High school students and undergrads queue patiently for up to 20 minutes for the drink, as do office staff all over the city.

Two girls enjoy milk tea at a store in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Two girls enjoy milk tea at a store in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Lunch hours and the early evening are the best times to spot long queues of bubble tea lovers, with some lines spilling over on to the sidewalk.

Even some parents cannot resist the temptation.

A text message from one father to his daughter reads, “Where do you get good bubble tea? I want to take your mom there.”

Bubble tea is also a customizable drink. Buyers can choose from a variety of scents, sizes, toppings, and sugar levels.

Milk tea buffs can have a sit-down drink or grab a takeaway, with specialty shops found in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, along Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street, and further afield on Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan District, an entertainment zone just over the bridge from District 1.

Huge brands stand side by side with local stores and well-known coffee shops now offer a clutch of bubble teas at prices of up to $5.

The popular milk tea has also made its way into shopping malls.

While The Garden Mall in District 5 is not yet fully operational, ‘bubbleholics’ are already queuing for their favorite drink from two now famous shops nearby.

How popular is it? Well, very

The drink has become a daily routine for many.

Thanh Phuong, a 27-year-old restaurant employee, buys takeaways after work.

She also goes for bubble tea while hanging out with friends.

A group of office workers have fun over tea milk in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A group of office workers have fun over milk tea in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Strolling along Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street on weekends, she enjoys her walk with a tapioca pearl milk tea.

She does, however, know all too well that it is definitely a fattening drink.

There was a time when she would skip lunch and simply drink the sweet liquid instead, as it would be way too fatty if she ate and drank!

My Khanh, 25, once took her colleagues to a milk tea shop.

The manager and her staff were easily spotted in their yellow restaurant uniforms.

After quickly organizing their duties for the next day, they indulged themselves in chats over bubble milk tea.

Tea milk is now a trending drink in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Milk tea is now a trending drink in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“We drop by the bubble tea shop 4-5 times week,” Khanh said.

Businessmen have been joining in the fun, too.

Minh Tram, 25, took a business trip to Binh Duong Province, about 30km from Ho Chi Minh City.

After the meeting, the ladies suggested bubble tea as refreshment.

Where does the attraction lie?

Bubble tea lovers understand that it costs more than coffee.

However, the drink offers a better taste, they say, and one can both drink and chew.

Most milk tea shops also have a relaxed atmosphere, with friendly seating plans and colorful decorations.

Inside a tea milk store in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Inside a milk tea store in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Far from new, milk tea has been around for more than a decade.

Besides the high street, there are also alley stalls that boast home-made takeaways for around $1.50 a piece.

There was a time when the decorative, sweet pearls in the drink were reported to have caused damage to consumers’ health, but District 5 resident Dang Minh Phuong, 27, seems unconcerned, saying “large stores have better hygiene, so it’s ok.”

She explained that the growing trend has a lot to do with those who are prepared to ‘go with the flow.’

Lots of youngsters might not like the location, but they will still take a selfie and do a social media check-in at the latest trendy spot.

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