Chatime Original Pearl Milk Tea

overall Rating:

0.25

planets

Laura Lu
2/14/2021
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There’s nothing like a good ol’ bubble tea that satisfies most of Generation Z’s cravings. Admittedly, I fall in that category too. Chatime is one of my most frequented bubble tea stores and up until this internship, I hadn’t thought too much about what went into my drink. Getting a bubble tea after school was just so part of routine that there didn’t even seem to be a need for it. I only ever thought as far as the fact that the plastic cups and straws wouldn’t be environmentally friendly. But as I walk you through Chatime’s footprint, let’s try to be more conscious of our impact each time we cave to our bubble tea cravings from now on alright? Alright.

what it's made of:

1

There’s nothing like a good ol’ bubble tea that satisfies most of Generation Z’s cravings. Admittedly, I fall in that category too. Chatime is one of my most frequented bubble tea stores and up until this internship, I hadn’t thought too much about what went into my drink. Getting a bubble tea after school was just so part of routine that there didn’t even seem to be a need for it. I only ever thought as far as the fact that the plastic cups and straws wouldn’t be environmentally friendly. But as I walk you through Chatime’s footprint, let’s try to be more conscious of our impact each time we cave to our bubble tea cravings from now on alright? Alright. There are four main ingredients that make up an original Chatime Original Milk Tea drink. As you can probably guess from the photo: the tapioca, tea, sweetener and milk. Traditional tapioca balls are made from the cassava plant whereas the sweetener that Chatime uses are described to be “ flavour syrups are derived from fruits and naturally contain fruit sugars” and the additional sugar is fructose syrup, the same sweetener used for common pop drinks. Additional sugar - note that it’s not even plural - sounds vague, and given that it has a separate ingredient completely makes me suspicious. When do we know whether Chatime uses sweetener and when do we know that it uses additional sugar? Thankfully, as consumers, we have the option to choose what kind of milk to put in our drink. Chatime offers the option to either have your drink with its signature milk or oat milk. Now what makes Chatime so infamous is not just for its drinks but its brand recognition. Decked out in purple, each drink is served in a single use plastic cup with a plastic single use film sealing the top. Give it a little shake and you’re almost ready to drink. The last step is to poke your purple plastic single use straw in. Although there are the options to have your drink filled in a reusable cup (kudos to you if you’re one of them!), bubble tea is often an impulse purchase rather than a mediated decision. This means that most people are likely not carrying a reusable cup with them when they make a pit stop for bubble tea. Chatime’s footprint isn’t only in their cups, but also in how they are dealt with after a drink is finished. I sampled a couple of Chatime’s in my neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada and found that 3/4 of the Chatime’s only had one public bin for their waste. This is concerning because a Chatime drink is made up of components that go in the garbage or the recycling. Not together. While Chatime cups are recyclable, its straws are often a more complicated story. Made out of recyclable plastic #5, it’s hard to recycle straws because of their small size and there are very few facilities that have the resources to recycle them. Peering into the can, most of the plastic cups are thrown out with the plastic film on top, however the former belongs in the recycling bin and the latter belongs in the garbage bin. So if straws are hard to recycle, films go in the garbage, and the cups go in the recycling bin - why are they all going in the same bin? Assuming that they aren’t all going straight to the waste disposal, it would take extra gasoline and energy to transport misrouted materials to the correct facility. In China, before 2017, if a whole truckload was filled with perfect recyclables but contaminated by something as small as one baby diaper, the entire truck would be sent back. Furthermore, sending in the wrong things to the recycling centres could also damage their equipment which has profound implications when we think of the amount of things we need recycled each day.

how it's made:

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Traditional Tapioca balls are made from the roots of cassava plants. Cassava is very tolerant of poor soils and drought, so they’re often grown in acid and infertile soils where other crops weren’t able to grow successfully. Because of their durability, farmers rarely use fertilizers and even when they do, it’s in low amounts. However, it is important to note that when it’s grown on more fragile environments such as on a slope or nutrient rich area, it can deplete the soil’s nutrients and lead to erosion. What is most concerning about cassava plants are its serious deforestation to keep up with its rising demand. There is a strong incentive to continue this practice, especially in Vietnam where the government predicted for 450 000 hectares of cassava by 2020 but surpassed it by reaching 550 000 hectares in 2012. Tapioca is the flour that sits after squeezing starchy liquid out of the root and letting it evaporate. This process of creating tapioca requires around 2818 liters of water per kilogram of tapioca. There’s around 40 grams of tapioca in each cup so one drink uses around 87 liters of water! That’s about the same amount of water as a 10 minute shower. Nigel Melican, a tea industry consultant, had taken a deep dive into a tea’s carbon footprint and fount that it varies from 200 g of CO2 per cup to -6 g of CO2 per cup. It all depends on how and where the tea is grown and how the rest of the supply chain plays out (processing, shipping, packaging, distribution, brewing and waste disposal). Chatime uses loose leaf tea, which has much smaller carbon footprint than tea bags. A loose tea is around 20 g of CO2 and to put it into perspective, a cup of cow’s milk is 225 g. Which brings me onto the next ingredient which is looking at how milk is sourced. Dairy production has a large environmental impact as it releases methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide and improper treatment of the animals can also lead to higher GHG emissions. Dairy operations are as impactful in its water consumption since maintaining the lives of numerous cows is extremely costly and its possible that manure and fertilizer can run off and create algal blooms. Oat milk, Chatime’s other option, uses 80% less land than dairy milk and less of a carbon footprint than soy milk and dairy milk. However, the option to substitute your drink with oat milk is another 50 cents so if anything, it doesn’t seem like it’s suggested as much as it’s offered. The additional sugar, fructose, is just as concerning environmentally. Made from corn, which is often grown in a monoculture rather than rotated, depletes soil nutrients and requires more pesticides and fertilizers to keep it alive. These pesticides and fertilizers run off into the ocean and we can just take a look at the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to realize the depth of our actions. With a dead zone the size of New Jersey, nothing can survive in such a hypoxic zone because of the fertilizer run off trailing from the Corn Belt down the Mississippi.

who makes it:

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Chatime is one of the world’s leading chains in bubble tea, yet, there’s almost nothing that I could find on their website. I couldn’t find any information on where any of their ingredients were sourced from, let alone, any of the ingredients inside a drink to know the ratio between fruit sugars and fructose syrup. There was also no public commitment to sustainability other than a couple of articles I found last year regarding Project Turtle in Chatime Australia which aimed to eliminate single use plastic by 2020. Even then, I was not able to find any information on their progress which is surprising after a year has passed since the deadline of their goal. How are we expected to hold them accountable when we, the consumers, don’t have an update on their progress? Given that it also was limited to a single location, it seemed like it was more of a press release than a true commitment to sustainability. Let’s also take in the fact that all Chatime drinks come with a cup, film and straws. Imagine if they just created bins specific to each component. Then the sorting would be done and we’d be able to at least ensure that all the drinks are disposed right. I wish I had more to say but there seems to be little information, even on news outlets, revealing a more whole picture of Chatime than the brightly colored menus covering its website. However, I think the lack of information speaks volumes for Chatime’s lack of concern and dedication for transparency and the greener world they promoted in their Project Turtle campaign. For a brand that has been the go-to spot for many of my friend gatherings and spotted in almost every Instagram story, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed with Chatime’s complacency, especially because they are such a large corporation, and how they have turned a blind eye to such obvious problems such as poor waste management inside their stores. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know about the large impact that such a small drink can have on the environment. And I’m disappointed that every day, there are, on average, 250 000 drinks being purchased each day with ignorance. The bubble tea industry is only growing and it requires a change to its production and disposal processes now.

sources:

https://samuraibeatradio.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/the-3-rs-of-boba/ http://www.fao.org/3/y2413e/y2413e04.htm#:~:text=Cassava%20production%20and%20the%20environment,crops%20would%20not%20grow%20well. https://www.iucn.org/news/viet-nam/201607/forest-conservation-quang-tri-what-can-be-done https://healabel.com/t-ingredients/tapioca https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/tapioca#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3 https://www.samovartea.com/teas-carbon-footprint/#:~:text=In%20his%20research%2C%20Melican%20discovered,packaged%2C%20brewed%2C%20and%20discarded. https://cornellsun.com/2019/12/09/an-exploration-of-alternative-dairy-the-environmental-and-economic-impacts-of-oat-almond-and-soy-milks/#:~:text=Thus%20far%2C%20oat%20milk%20does,compared%20to%20soy%20and%20almond.&text=Furthermore%2C%20oats%20also%20use%2080,soy%20milk%20or%20dairy%20milk. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/still-spooked-by-high-fructose-corn-syrup/#:~:text=This%20maximizes%20yields%2C%20but%20at,prominent%20critic%20of%20industrial%20agriculture. https://askwonder.com/research/what-s-us-market-size-projected-growth-rate-bubble-tea-vnczgqdk9#:~:text=This%20may%20be%20between%20150%2C000,each%20day%20in%20the%20US.