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With popularity booming, tapioca suddenly in short supply

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Young women line up to make a purchase at the Tapici tea stand in Osaka on Friday.

The Yomiuri Shimbun Drinks containing “tapioca,” made from the cassava root found in tropical regions, have become the latest rage, especially among young women. Many chains in Taiwan, where the drink originated, have opened branches in Japan, and major restaurant operators have started to add it to their menus.

However, rapid success has also created an unwanted situation — supply just can’t keep up with demand.

At Tapici Tea Stand, a tapioca drink specialty store that opened Friday in Umeda, Osaka, more than 100 people were lined up before the doors opened. “I like the way it looks and its chewy texture,” said a 14-year-old junior high school girl from Osaka who waited three hours for the store to open. “I would never get tired of it, even if I drink it everyday.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A drink containing tapioca served at Tapici

Its popularity among women in their 10s and 20s stems from its colorfulness that looks good on social media sites, as well as providing a feeling of fullness. Doughnut shop Mister Donut and Coco’s family restaurant are among the major chains that have started selling tapioca products.

Tapioca is a starch made from cassava rhizome. It is ground to remove toxins and processed into granular “tapioca pearls” by machine. As is, it is pure white and tasteless. Tapioca pearls used in drinks are colored and flavored with caramel coloring or other syrups.

But tapioca is in short supply because of the boom. At Hamazushi, a sushi bar which introduced a tapioca drink for a limited time in May, demand far exceeded expectations and it often ran out of stock. At the moment, it is not on the menu. “Even if we want to resume sales, we can’t find a way to secure tapioca,” said a spokesperson.

Sales of frozen tapioca at wholesale supermarkets run by Kobe Bussan Co., based in Inami, Hyogo Prefecture, have increased more than 10 times the previous year, but most of its outlets are out of stock. “Even if we replenish the stock, it continues to sell out immediately. Most of the calls are inquiries and the lines are always busy,” one wholesaler said.

Tapioca produced in Taiwan is particularly popular, and prices are soaring. “The purchase price has tripled compared to last spring,” said Tapici senior official, adding the shop does not presently intend to raise prices.

In Japan, “nata de coco” coconut jelly from the Philippines and “tiramisu” of Italian origin were once the hot items, but eventually enthusiasm faded. In anticipation of such a trend, one industry source said, “Producers in Taiwan are hesitant to increase supplies to avoid overcapacity.”

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