The Conflict of Bubble Tea

Contemporary tea culture in Taiwan has mixed views throughout the country. “Bubble tea is a sweet milk tea, often served cold, filled with chewy tapioca balls one drinks up through an extra-large straw.” (Friedman, Kerim). It is also a form an exotic and unique form of Asian post-modernism, seen in a McCafe advertisement provided by Friedman. In his article, Friedman expresses the concept of semiotics, or meaning-making, to a great extent in explaining his views on bubble tea. While tea is just tea, there are different variations that need to be looked at to explore an ongoing clash between bubble tea and more traditional teas.
The tradition of drinking traditional oolong teas is “simultaneously fetishized and informal”. Formal teas are often served when one has guests over, and the process of making it can be meticulous and can require a good amount of thought put into the serving. This makes for a more social drink that is shared between multiple people. On the other side of the spectrum, the popular bubble tea is primarily sold on the street as a quick refreshment to a single person; it is rarely sold in restaurant-like settings where customers will gather together. The process is much simpler and less organic than that of traditional tea with sealing machines that seal over seven-hundred cups in an hour and the “vast concoctions of milk, cream, and… syrups”. While the serving of milk tea may be more efficient, it creates a mechanized individualistic style of life, as much as tea-drinking can at least, that is often unsatisfactory.
This conflict between teas is representative of the (Taiwanese) nationalist desire of defining Taiwanese modernism as something different from that of China. Friedman further supports his view by bringing up a recent Taiwanese film, Twa Tiu Tiann, a Taiwanese adaptation of Back to the Future. Such a production can be seen as an attempt to “brand Taiwanese modernity as though it is grounded in historical nostalgia” to proclaim a difference from mainland China.
The ongoing conflict between China and Taiwan can be seen in Taiwanese attempts at achieving a modernity in their own sense; the tea conflict and adaptation of the nostalgic Back to the future are just a couple examples of this motive. However, this creates a dissatisfaction as a new mechanized individualistic form of modern life conflicts with traditions of the past.

Reference:
http://savageminds.org/2014/09/24/the-semiotics-of-bubble-tea/

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