'Pearls' dropped by some bubble tea shops

THE bubble has burst for several tea businesses here.

Five of the 20 beverage and dessert operators The Straits Times spoke to yesterday have pulled tapioca starch balls - also known as "pearls" - from their drinks following a recall of 11 starch-based Taiwanese products found to contain maleic acid.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said on Sunday that the products have been withdrawn after the additive - which has not been approved here - was found in them.

Consuming high levels of it can cause kidney damage. Two of the five operators to stop selling pearls were directly affected by the product recall.

A-Gan TEA Singapore, which has six outlets islandwide, said two out of the five tapioca products it uses were found to contain maleic acid.

It was informed by the AVA before the recall that its products had failed checks and stopped offering pearls in its drinks on Tuesday last week.

Sales will resume when it is cleared by the authority.

"We have voluntarily sent all our products for checks," said A-Gan's finance manager Soh Ban Seng, 41, adding that the chain has put up notices to inform consumers. "We sincerely apologise and assure our customers that all products used will undergo inspection in the future."

The other three businesses, Cool Cup Bubble Tea, Jollibean, and dessert store Bing Bian, said they do not use any of the 11 recalled products.

Jollibean and Bing Bian have stopped offering pearls temporarily as a "precautionary measure".

Cool Cup Bubble Tea withdrew its pearls due to poor demand because of the recall.

Most major players have been unaffected by the incident but have taken measures to reassure consumers.

Ms Jessie Guo, 35, public relations manager for Koi Cafe, said the chain intends to display notices at all its 18 branches saying that their products are safe for consumption.

Sweet Talk, ShareTea, and Gong Cha have put up notices on their Facebook pages or websites.

Business has remained largely unaffected for 15 of the 20 beverage operators.

"We have been in the business for three years and have very strong consumer confidence. Business is stronger than ever," said ShareTea's general manager April Ang, 34.

However, some customers have decided to err on the side of caution. Student Tiffany Lau, 22, usually drinks bubble tea about four times a week, but said: "Now I'm definitely going to try harder to avoid pearls and maybe halve my consumption."

chanhj@sph.com.sg

ldebbie@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Lester Wong and Lim Min Zhang