Add it to the long list of imported goods experiencing delays these days.

By Jelisa Castrodale
April 14, 2021
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A couple of days ago, the Boba Guys posted a video on their Instagram account, warning everyone that their favorite boba shop has probably either already run out of boba, or that it will run out shortly. "It started with the global pandemic, which has caused major congestion and shortages in the supply chain," they said. "The quick summary is that America is having trouble importing anything from overseas, especially from Asia. The port and container issues are impacting us, along with apparel, electronics, and anything that isn't made domestically." 

Purple Sweet Potato bubble drink.
Credit: Swanya Charoonwatana/Getty Images

They're totally right: according to the San Francisco Chronicle, boats carrying thousands of shipping containers are backed up at California ports, which is causing a chain-reaction of delays. Ninety-nine percent of boba—those chewy tapioca balls that you're definitely craving right now—come from Asia, so U.S. importers, suppliers, and restaurant and cafe owners are still waiting to receive orders that they placed months ago. And, as the Boba Guys mentioned, even those who source their boba from their California-based U.S. Boba Company will have to wait, because the tapioca starch they use to make boba is somewhere between Asia and the U.S. right now too.

"In the next week or so, tapioca will be a luxury because no one is going to have it," Tommy Huang, a senior sales manager at boba supplier Leadway International, Inc., told the Chronicle. "It's going to take a long time to be able to say we will not have a shortage of tapioca." 

Last week, Bloomberg reported that 28 container ships were waiting for their turn at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and that, on average, those ships were waiting eight days to score an open berth at one of the ports. (That's about three times longer than it took last November.) 

The Boba Guys say that due to a combination of other factors—including additional delays when imports have to clear U.S. customs—intermittent boba shortages could continue for several more months. "We speak on behalf of all the boba shops across the country that, if you see them run out of boba, don't get mad," they said. "It's not their fault. This is a global worldwide thing, and everyone's trying their hardest." 

They recommend taking this time to order something different at your go-to bubble tea shop, and trying something that doesn't involve those signature tapioca balls. Best case, you can continue to support a local business, and you'll find a new favorite to tide you over between now and whenever the boba supply gets back to normal. That definitely counts as a win.