The Great Bubble Tea War: How Tealive & Chatime Sparked a Malaysian Boba Frenzy

Malaysian bubble tea brands

We thought we might have to say goodbye to Tealive. The brand’s infamous legal battle against Chatime had the nation talking, making it 2018’s top scandal. There were also rumours about Tealive shutting down for good, which added more spice to the bubble tea mix.

So what happened after all that commotion?

Turns out, Tealive and Chatime reached an out-of-court settlement, in which both parties agreed to some undisclosed terms. Tealive continues to operate under Loob Holdings and today, we’re happy to report that this Malaysian brand is thriving and adapting well to the new normal.

For example, during MCO when most eateries were closed, Tealive started to market a new way for people to get their boba fix. Their DIY ‘My Bubble Tea Kit’ allows customers to use Tealive’s original ingredients to make their own brew at home. It’s a great initiative to keep sales coming in while keeping customers satisfied.
Tealive had also collaborated with many brands such as Horlicks, Milo and Walls to offer new products and flavours every season. Their ‘Bobalicious’ ice cream, which was launched this year has been a great hit!

Their story began as a franchisee of Chatime, operated by Loob Holdings for the Malaysian market. The franchise was doing phenomenally well under the Chatime brand name, and they were responsible for starting the boba craze in Malaysia. However, in 2017, Chatime’s brand owner La Kaffa accused Loob of three main allegations. We wrote a little about this kerfuffle a while ago, have a read about it here for some context.
Thankfully, an out-of-court settlement was reached later that year. Loob was allowed to proceed to do business as Tealive while La Kaffa found another franchisee to keep Chatime’s presence in Malaysia.
Since Chatime and Tealive’s establishments, many other boba brands had mushroomed and dominated storefronts and shopping mall kiosks. In 2018, the Malaysian bubble tea market was valued at a whopping USD 49.8 million (MYR 211.80 mil), and it’s still growing!
Let’s look at some new players that are satiating Malaysians’ unquenchable thirst for bubble tea:
  1. Xing Fu Tang

    Xing Fu Tang came to Malaysia from Taiwan with a lot of hype a few years ago. It became a new Malaysian past time to queue for hours just to taste their signature brown sugar, caramelised and flambeed fresh. Xing Fu Tang‘s brand differentiation comes from their rich caramel flavour, with customers complimenting the chewiness of their tapioca pearls.

  2. Black Whale

    Black Whale is an emerging brand concocted right here in Malaysia. Together with Tiger Sugar, The Alley, and Daboba, they share a feature in which all of their brand identities involve animals. Black Whale’s signature drinks would be their Honey Golden Pearls and Fiery Brown Sugar Black Whale Milk, where hot freshly-melted brown sugar is served on top of cold milk tea.

  3. The Alley

    The ‘deer’ brand bubble tea, The Alley is also a Malaysian brand with an international outlook. Their brand differentiation comes from their use of natural and hand-made ingredients, resulting in a crafted bubble tea.

  4. Macao Imperial Tea

    An emerging brand from its namesake city, Macao Imperial Tea serves premium milk tea with unique Macanese flavours. The brand has a prominent presence in Sarawak & Sabah and is currently open to new franchises in West Malaysia.

  5. Chawanjia

    Chawanjia only has a handful of outlets in Klang Valley, Nilai, and Johor but it is already a well-known name among boba enthusiasts and connoisseurs. Customers seem to love their sakura pearls and unique flavours that play on sweet, fruity and flowery tastes.

  6. Chatime

    The OG bubble tea brand that started it all. Today, La Kaffa’s Chatime differentiate itself through trendy flavours and new drinks every season, such as their Dalgona series. Although they face tougher competition, they still boast a loyal customer base who prefer drinking boba tea from a brand they’ve known for a long time.

In Conclusion

Since Tealive and Chatime, over 100+ bubble tea brands had sprung up around Malaysia, which serve to topple the duopoly and stimulate competition and creativity. To avoid market saturation, boba brands have to differentiate themselves with distinct branding and use unique flavours, features and benefits to find a niche angle and match customer demand.
The great bubble tea war seems to have come to an end, but the battle is far from over. With so many old and new contenders bringing in bigger and better branding arsenals, we wonder how Tealive, Chatime and other main players will hold on. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch how these businesses will react to changes in demand and competition in the near future.