How the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal is impacting how bubble tea is made in Calgary

It’s been nearly one month since a huge container ship got stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking traffic for almost a week before being dislodged, but the impacts of that disruption are now being felt at Calgary bubble tea shops.

The container ship canal blockage interfered with a number of supply chains and now Canada is experiencing a shortage of tapioca pearls, or boba, which is used in bubble tea.

“It’s actually hitting hitting us pretty hard when your suppliers are telling you that there is only one box per customer,” Lindsay Do, owner of Royaltea in the Beltline, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

“Our biggest fears right now is that bubble tea is not bubble tea without the boba.”

Most Canadian wholesalers get bubble tea supplies from Asia, particularly from Taiwan, where the popular drink originated, said a Vancouver-based supplier of bubble tea products.

“Right now, the supply of popping boba and [tapioca] pearls are running really thin,” said Greg Tieu of Bubble Tea Canada, which provides wholesale supplies to companies in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.

This satellite image shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near on March 28, 2021. (©Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

AB Distribution, a Canada-wide bubble tea products distributor based in Calgary, said it is also experiencing a shortage tied to delays.

Some shipments that should have arrived in March are only arriving this week, said Carol Tang, AB Distribution’s sales manager.

“There’s definitely a lot of unpredictable factors. Shipments can be cancelled, containers can be cancelled, even when we already have them scheduled,” she said.

Tang said this can cause a lot of stress for businesses.

“We’re hoping that once we get through this jam, the remaining arrivals will continue to arrive,” she said.

As for Do, she said she has enough boba in stock to last her about three weeks. But with nice weather, she predicts there will be a lot of thirsty customers in the days ahead. 

“A lot of people are going to be wanting to come out and just grab a nice cold drink, so that means that my supplies will … probably not last for three weeks. It’ll probably just be two.” 

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