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Food & Beverage

Taiwan cheesy tea purveyor waits for Japan's tapioca bubble to burst

Cafe operator hatches franchise plan ahead of next beverage boom

Cheese tea was developed in Taiwan, using black, maccha or oolong tea and topped with foam made from whipped cheese. (Photo by Yuki Kohara)

TOKYO -- A Taiwanese beverage chain is planning to launch a "cheesy" tea in Japan, hoping to serve the next big thing once the country's obsession with tapioca bubble tea fades.

Taiwan-listed Yummy Town Cayman Holdings intends to bring its "happylemon" cafe to Japan by franchising its business next year. It plans to open 100 shops in Japan over the coming decade.

Yummy Town Cayman set up a joint venture, Freshtea Japan, with Japanese railway operator Keio and opened its first cafe in 2015 and mainly sold bubble tea. Under the new plans, the company will open more cafes nationwide.

Developed in Taiwan, cheese tea is often made with black, maccha or oolong tea and topped with foam made from whipped cheese. Cafes also often give the option of adding tapioca balls, or bubbles, in the drink. Yummy Town said its happylemon shops will use tea leaves imported from Taiwan.

Cheese tea is widely drunk in Taiwan and China, but it has yet to be sold widely in Japan. The chain will also sell lemon tea using fresh lemons imported from Taiwan and sparkling tea.

Bubble tea has been popular in Japan. Japanese imports of tapioca surged to 2,928 tons in 2018 from 2,053 tons in 2017, according to government trade data. Many retailers and restaurants such as Family Mart and conveyor-belt sushi chain Akindo Sushiro now also sell bubble tea.

But one Japanese food trader sees the trend fading. "I predict the bubble tea bubble could burst around May 2020, because their main consumers are young people and they are more likely to move swiftly to other trendy drinks."

Yummy Town Cayman group launched happylemon in 2006 in Shanghai and now operates around 1,000 shops worldwide mainly in China, although it has also expanded to the U.S., Philippines and South Korea, among other countries.

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