Bubbly Copenhagen – how a TikTok trend turns into a pop culture

It’s colourful, it’s tasty, it’s bubbly. Bubble tea keeps conquering the market in Denmark since the rise of the pandemic and the popularity of social media like TikTok. For some, the strict lockdown restrictions were even the reason for starting a business in this niche field.

Mad Hatter was the first bubble tea shop in Denmark, that opened in 2012.
Image: Margarita Ilieva

Copenhagen: Boba or bubble tea – The trendy drink made of milk tea, flavoured syrups and “boba” – mostly tapioca pearls, originated in the late 1980s in Taiwan, where milk tea was already well-known due to the dominant tea culture in East Asia.

In Denmark, bubble tea made its debut in 2012 with the opening of “Mad Hatter Bubble Tea Emporium” in the heart of Copenhagen. By now, nine years later, there are 16 stores selling bubble tea in Copenhagen. Thanks to the “bubble tea challenge” on TikTok, where a person has to pop the straw into the plastic lid of bubble tea with their eyes closed, the drink gained even more popularity among the young generation in Denmark’s capital.

“The bubble tea culture in Copenhagen started to blow up around two years ago and I think it is because of TikTok and social media. Over the two years, we have seen that the average age of people has gone low – kids coming out mostly in with their parents, cause they’ve seen it on TikTok and want to try it”, tells Lucas Bowman Thorsen, manager at Mad Hatter.

Shop manager of “Mad Hatter” Lucas Bowman Thorsen. Image: Margarita Ilieva

Due to the restrictions and the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many gastronomic facilities were forced to shut their doors to visitors. Many of them shifted to the “take-away” model, allowing customers to still purchase food and beverages and take them home. This is what has helped the bubble tea businesses in Copenhagen to survive the crisis.

Some of them even saw the chance to open their doors just because of the increased interest during the pandemic: “We opened on March 1st and basically why – because of corona. Everyone is at home and bubble tea takeaway is popular and is coming more and more in Denmark. It’s just like a new brand for everyone basically” – explains Aukse Limontaite, employee at “Boba Drop” – the newest bubble tea shop in Copenhagen, located in Vesterbro.

The vast majority of the bubble tea shops is optimistic about the future of the business and doesn’t believe it is just a trend: “Four years ago, we hopped on the trend, but now we hope that it’s here to stay. But I guess it’s staying, because our community is not the old ones, it’s the young ones. And when they grow the small ones are coming again and they are introduced to it already, so it will grow, and it will stay”, replies convinced Heshley Tulop, manager and owner of Tea:licious in Copenhagen.

Heshley Tulop (right), manager and owner of Tea:licous Copenhagen. Image: Margarita Ilieva

The Philipino-born explains that it was hard in the beginning to introduce Danes to the bubble tea culture, especially because of the strong coffee drinking culture in the Nordic country. But once it has overcome the initial skepticism, it made it into the niche market. Tea:licous opened their first shop in 2016 and a second one followed in March 2020, just before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Asked about her vision of the future of bubble tea in Denmark, Tulop shares that she’d wish for it to be able to find its place next to coffee when it comes to the popularity of the drink among the Danes: “Our vision is to promote the tea-drinking trend in Denmark by bubble tea. It’s healthy…ish (laughs) and it’s just so lovely to have it here in Denmark. When there’s coffee, there’s tea, why not have it both. We just hope that it continues to be here, and people love it as much as they love drinking coffee”, concludes Tulop.

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