Vancouver’s bubble tea frenzy revives old neighbourhoods, but will the trend burst?

Vancouver’s bubble tea frenzy revives old neighbourhoods, but will the trend burst?

VANCOUVER—Two years ago, Calvin Lau didn’t have much of a reason to visit Vancouver’s central neighbourhood of Cambie Village except to eat at Café Gloucester, a restaurant serving pork chops baked in tomato sauce and Western-style grilled lobsters.

But now, Lau said the area has become one of his “go-to places” for ice cream or bubble tea. He was visiting earlier this week, standing in front of Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream while eating scoops of their frozen treat.

Things changed for him roughly three years ago when a string of dessert and bubble tea shops opened on Cambie Street. The cluster of bubble tea shops there is a microcosm of the bubble tea frenzy spreading across the city and Metro Vancouver.

The shops on Cambie St. selling the sweetened tea-based beverage with milk and tapioca balls include Xing Fu Tang, which slow cooks the tapioca balls in a brown sugar syrup and YiFang Taiwan Fruit Tea, which offers cups full of fresh fruit. New bubble-tea arrivals announced this year include Jenjudan, The Alley and Tiger Sugar — imported multinational brands from Taiwan.

Rania Hatz, executive director of the Cambie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), said bubble tea and dessert shops have helped transform the makeup of the community by drawing young customers like Lau — revitalizing a business district that has bid farewell to local retailers in recent years.

“We were missing that hip, young market,” said Hatz who has been with the non-profit BIA for 13 years with the goal of promoting the business district.

“There may not have been anything that attracted them to Cambie Village in the past, or there might have been only one or two businesses. But now knowing that we have more than a handful of bubble tea places along the Cambie Village corridor, it gives (them) an excuse to come down.”

Kerrisdale, another quiet neighbourhood in Vancouver’s west side, has also seen a shift in demographics of customers and residents.

According to Terri Clark, co-ordinator of the Kerrisdale Business Association, the neighbourhood’s changing demographics means appetites have also changed.

Before the wave of newer bubble tea shops like Boba Boy and Chatime opened, the community grappled with the closure of a handful of longtime independent businesses in 2013, including Hobbs gift store and Puddifoot, which sold glass and tableware.

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