Milk, bubbles – and loads of sugar and preservatives.
The Foundation for Consumers released research on Thursday on 25 brands of bubble milk tea in Thailand, finding that a cup from most brands contains more than the recommended daily sugar intake of 6 teaspoons.
“Even if you drink bubble tea with only four teaspoons of sugar, for the rest of the day you pretty much can’t eat anything else, especially with Thais’ habit of adding sugar to food,” said Mantana Chanwakul, the deputy director of a Health Min organization that discourages children from consuming sugar. “The sugar in one cup is more than enough for an entire day.”
Out of 25 tested brands, only two had less than 6 teaspoons of sugar, or 24 grams, which is the World Health Organization’s daily recommended sugar intake. All samples were bought in the “regular” size, with the “normal” amount of sugar, and without ice. Each glass cost from 23 to 140 baht.
The worst offender by far was CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice, which has a chilling 18.5 teaspoons or 74 grams of sugar per glass.
Only two brands were found to be within the recommended sugar range. Koi The contains 4 teaspoons (16 grams) of sugar per 70 baht glass while Tea 65 has 5.5 teaspoons (22 grams) of sugar per 80 baht glass.
Although preservatives were found in all tested brands, hip Taiwanese import The Alley had the least – 58.39 milligrams of sorbic acid. The most preserved pearls belonged to Brix Dessert Bar, which has a combined 551.59 milligrams of both benzoic and sorbic acid preservatives.
No lead was found in the boba pearls from any brand.
Sari Ong-somwang, editor of the Foundation for Consumers’ website, said that the Kasikorn Research Center Company estimates the bubble tea market in Thailand to be worth around 2 billion baht. The largest single market share belongs to Ochaya Tea, which is worth around 148 million baht and has around 360 branches nationwide.
Worldwide, the bubble tea industry is worth around 65 billion baht, according to 2017 statistics, which is set to rocket to 100 billion by 2023.
Thanyaphorn Rungreungthanja, founder of Cha Bar Bkk, whose brand was not included in the study, uses coconut sugar in her milk tea rather than the glucose syrup and corn syrup used in most brands.
“[Syrup] gives you the sense of a thicker, creamier milk tea,” Thanyaphorn said, when asked why many brands use syrups. Thanyaporn estimates that a regular size cup at Cha Bar contains 1 to 2 teaspoons of “homemade condensed milk made from coconut sugar.”
“I would say my bubble milk tea can be considered a healthier choice,” Thanyaporn said.
She also says that her boba, made from riceberry, doesn’t contain preservatives. Unlike normal tapioca boba, her boba has to be stored in the freezer.
“I think bubble milk tea brands should be more honest with customers. They should be concerned with consumers’ health, not just with how the tea tastes and looks,” Thanyaporn said.
Mantana also urges bubble tea proprietors to produce bubble tea with consumers’ health in mind.
“Hospitals are now packed with people with diabetes, heart disease, and clogged arteries,” Mantana.
In Thailand, health food labels have begun appearing on products with low sugar, while even junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has urged people to use stevia. But diabetes and obesity remain on a steady climb. One in 10 children are overweight, and waistlines, even among cops and monks, are steadily expanding.