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Milk Tea in the Philippines: From a Novelty to a Classic Staple

Milk Tea in the Philippines: From a Novelty to a Classic Staple

November 4 2022

The ongoing journey of milk tea in the Philippines:

1. Pre-Arrival
2. Landing at the Pearl of the Orient Seas
3. Journey to Being a Classic

Many Filipinos, if not all, have an affinity for milk tea. It doesn’t matter which form, too—be it powdered milk tea, healthier versions such as those with oat milk and vegan boba, or the classic pearl + dozens of sugar + tea + milk combo.

How could they not? Filipinos take delight in anything remotely sweet. It almost seems as if each dish has to have sugar mixed in. Case in point: Filipino-style spaghetti.

Milk tea used to be touted as “novel” or an occasional treat after a particularly hard day. Those days eventually petered out. Its strong following that’s composed of Gen Xs, young professionals with newfound adult money, and Gen Zs no longer treat it as an every-now-and-then-type of commodity but rather, a well-loved staple.

But where does milk tea’s popularity in the Philippines root from?


Truth be told, it comes as no surprise that Filipinos love milk tea. Long before its arrival, Pinoys have already had a penchant for experimenting with tea. Salabat, the term coined for brewed ginger tea, is a common practice in households.

Chowking, a popular Filipino fast-food chain, already adopted Nai Cha as part of its multifarious menu long before the milk tea craze. The drink literally translates to “milk tea” in Chinese. It is a saccharine concoction made of black tea, evaporated milk, and pearls.

We are also avid fans of powdered tea, like Nestea. This is also why when you think about it, powdered milk tea doesn’t sound novel after all.

Landing at the Pearl of the Orient Seas

Landing at the Pearl of the Orient Seas

The above precedent is one of the many reasons for the warm welcome milk tea received when it arrived way back in 2008. Only short of a month before the new year, milk tea landed on our shores. The people behind this brilliant idea? Juliet Herrera-Chen and Peter Chen.

After a fateful trip to Taiwan, the motherland of boba, the couple decided to espouse the idea and open up their own shop in the Philippines. Voila! Serenitea was born in San Juan, Manila.

The advent of milk tea in the Philippines was explosive, causing a proliferation of milk tea shops all over the country. Since then, its legion of Filipino supporters has exponentially grown.

Journey to Being a Classic

Journey to Being a Classic

With Serenitea spearheading the milk tea game, many more began to follow suit. Near universities were where they broke ground. In 2009, Happy Fanshu Tea Haus opened in the neighborhood of Far Eastern University Manila. Continuing to target students and their need for a sugar rush and a cozy place to study and hang out, more shops sprouted near other big schools like UP Diliman, Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle University.

Pretty soon, the milk tea shops being patronized today entered the scene. There came the likes of Gong Cha, Happy Lemon, and Chatime.

Unfortunately, what rises must also fall. Come 2013, a Dakasi branch in Iloilo served spoiled milk tea that was contaminated with E. Coli, Salmonella, Coliform, molds, and yeast. Yikes! The fateful event caused the demise of one customer and 49 others to fall ill. The incident inevitably rattled the industry and caused consumers to rethink their favorite beverage.

Is this safe to drink?” “Should I still buy from this place even if it isn’t the same shop that caused the accident?” These were just some of the thoughts plaguing customers’ minds then.

But once you hit rock bottom, there’s no way but up. Eventually, milk tea regained back its title. Milk tea has now moved on from what initially felt like a fad to a comforting beverage that most, if not all, love.


Since its arrival, milk tea went through countless evolutions. It has gone from fruit boba, to an expansion of toppings, swapping to healthier bases like soy and almond milk, and like the aforementioned a change in form like powdered milk tea. Nowadays, acquiring one has become very convenient. With just a few taps, you can have a comforting cup of milk tea delivered right to your doorstep. You could also make it fresh at home with Chemag’s wide selection of powdered milk teas or follow an online DIY recipe. Whatever floats your boat!

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