China's bubble tea boom is winning the attention of investors.
Bubble tea upgradation comes along with the consumption upgradation. The Chinese consumers are shifting from low-quality drinkable tea to New Style Tea Drink, tea products with better ingredients and/or better design. EqualOcean considers the Chinese bubble tea market is a huge market with tremendous investing opportunities.
In the Chinese bubble tea market, there are millions of players which can be categorized into two main categories, namely traditional street bubble tea and the New Style Tea Drink. Their main differences lie on the ingredient, price, marketing, and product design.
This article will start with a list of Top 19 bubble tea brands, including both emerging New Style Tea Drink and street milk tea brands, followed by details and highlights of each individual brand and the big picture of the emerging tea drinking trend and bubble tea market in China.
The Top 19 Most Popular Bubble Tea List
The Chinese bubble tea market is huge with the expected market size of CNY 4-500 billion, says CITIC Security, China’s largest full-service investment bank. Among this large market, there are hundreds of thousands of players in this market. Therefore, this article selected 19 promising brands which will work as a quick reference for investors.
Summary: from the table shown above, it can be concluded that 1) New Style Tea Drink raised more capital than its traditional peers, 2) New Style Tea Drink tend to be more active on social media and 3) Top players attracted the most funding in the industry - similar to winners take all.
Details of each
The first Heytea opened in Jiangmen, a small city in Guangdong, on May 12, 2012
Its key products include cheese-topped tea and fruit tea. It recently started selling snacks and Hong Kong styled coffee
- Unique IP and packaging
- Active on various social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat Offical Account, Xiaohongshu (小红书) and Douyin (抖音), etc
- Ingredients: Fresh, high-quality and partially imported
The first Nayuki shop was founded in Shenzhen in 2015
Its main products include tea and bread aiming to achieve 1+1>2 effects. Its main customers are female (70%) and aging between 20-35
- The first unicorn in the Chinese tea market
- No franchise – better quality control
- Ingredients: Fresh, high-quality and partially imported
3. The Alley
The Alley started in Taiwan in 2014. Its best selling product is brown sugar bubble tea. It fixed the setting of reach type and does not allow consumers to do adjustments such as sweetness level. Till July 2018, it has around 11 shops in China
- Ingredients: more than 90% of the ingredients are imported from Taiwan
- Unique brand IP and packaging
- Active on social media and shown up many times on celebrities' social media posts
Yidiandian is a brand originating in Taiwan in 1994. In 2010. it entered China starting from Shanghai.
Yidiandian is the hype among teenagers but its more like a traditional street bubble tea brand because of its relatively lower quality ingredients, less distinguishable packaging and cheaper price
- Affordable price and more choices
- Hidden menu to encourage users innovations and sharing on social media
- Lor U shape indoor design - making bubble tea-making time longer and keeping more people waiting in line to make the illustration that many people want this
5. Coco Tea
Coco Tea is also a street bubble tea brand originating in Taiwan in 1997. It entered the Chinese market in 2007 and has more than 500 stores in three years. In 2015, it has more than 2,000 stores world. Other than China and Taiwan, it has also entered the US, Australia, and many South East Asia countries
- Strong offline presence across the world
- Extensive bubble tea industry experiences and knowledge
6. Happy Lemon
In 2006, the first Happy Lemon shop opened in Shanghai. It started overseas expansion in 2010 with its first shop opened in Manila, Philippines. It now has more than 1,000 stores globally
- Unique IP
7. Answer Tea
Answer Tea started in Zhengzhou, a tier 2 city, in 2017. It gets incredible popularity on Douyin (抖音), the most popular short video App in China, shortly after being launched. Within two months, it received more than one million likes on Douyin and signed franchise contracts with more than 250 business partners. Within one year, it has more than 400 stores nationwide. Its products include pure tea, fruit tea, milk tea, and cheese tea
- Unique packaging and marketing: Its hype is mainly from the answers to customers' questions will be printed on the cups. The technologies behind are AI, data analysi and 3D print to analyze a large dataset of similar questions, come up with its own answer and print it on top of the bottles.
- Social media presence such as Douyin
8. Chan Yan Yue Se
Chan Yan Yue Se started in Hunan province, a tier 2 city, in 2014, and still have a strong focus and popularity among that region
- Unique IP and design: in its packing design, product designs and menu, it has included many traditional Chinese elements which distingushes it from other bubble tea brands
9. Yi He Tang
Yi He Tang was founded in Wuhan. Till October 2017, it has more than 1,000 stores nationwide. Its customers are mainly college students, and 90% of its stores are located near schools or universities
- Affordable price
- A greater variety of choices
KOI is a Taiwanese bubble tea brand starting its business in Singapore in 2007 and had operations in many countries. Its main brand is KOI Thé and others include KOI PLUS (high-end), KOI express, and KOI Signature
- Unique packaging
- Global presence
- Multi-brand strategy
11. Prime’s Thai Tea
Prime’s Thai Tea, as its name suggests, it serves bubble tea in Thai style different from the majority which is either Taiwanese or Hongkongstyled bubble tea. It started its first shop in Jiangmen, the same place where Heytea started, in 2015. Ending 2018, it has more than 500 stores
- Thai Style
- Unique IP and packaging:
12. Cuo Nei Village
Cuo Nei Village started in 2010
- Unique brand name and image - "Cuo (厝)" in Taiwanese means home and is a rare character in Chinese. Its name is distinguishable and give customers some different feeelings
- Active on social media: been mentioned around 4,000 times on Xiaohongshu
13. Xiexie Tea
It was founded by MA Dong (马东), a famous Chinese host, in 2018.
It serves the most basic type of bubble tea and salty bums. Sixty percent of sales are from the bubble and the rest are from bums, says iYiou
- Celebrity host as the founder
- Different product offering – introduce bums as supplements to the drinks to better targets the Chinese’s eating habits
YiFang is Taiwan-style and most famous for its fruit tea. It started in 2016.
- Ingredients: 80% are imported from Taiwan. Fresh fruit and tea.
15. Lele Tea
Lele Tea first opened in Shanghai in Oct 2016. Now, it has 30 stores in tier 1 and new tier-one cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Xi'an. It recently completed its Pre-A Financing Round. For the next move, it plans to more than 50 stores soon and expands overseas
Active on social media: recommended 150 thousand times+ on Xiaohongshu, 8,000+ Weibo interactions, and 11 million plays on Douyin
Fast updates: every week there will be 2-3 new products be launched
inWE means "I and We" starting in Shanghai in 2015. Now, it has around 30 stores across China
- Famous investor: Richard LIU (刘强东), the founder of JD.com has invested CNY 500 million on its Series A financing round
- Experienced leader: MIU Qin (缪钦), the founder of CEO of inWE, was the first Chinese vice president and youngest senior executive of McDonald's. He made many achievements while working for McDonald's
Dakasi is a brand originating in Taiwan in 1990. It entered in China in 1999. It has more than 100 stores in Guangzhou, its headquarter
- Offline experience
18. Hei Long Tang
Hei Long Tang started in Hangzhou, a tier 2 city, in 2014. It has more than 2,000 stores in China
- Fast expansion
18. Tai Gai
Tai Gai started its first shop in Shenzhen at the end of 2015 and expanded rapidly with 19 stores opened in 2016.
- Ingredient: premium ingredient
- Efficiency: Taigai values efficiency and tries to make the waiting time less than 15 minutes