What I found after trying bubble milk tea from Luckin Tea and Heytea

Luckin Tea recently opened its first pick-up outlet in Shanghai. On a weekday morning, I decided to get one bubble milk tea from Luckin Tea and another from popular brand Heytea. Here is my experience with both brands. Let’s start with Luckin Tea at Jinyin Shopping Mall in Jing’an District.

Luckin Tea

I selected a RMB 27 (USD 3.84) bubble milk tea from the Luckin mini-program on my Alipay app. The app let me select iced, hot, or room temperature tea, and I could decide how sweet it would be and if I wanted classic bubbles or red beans. Once I was satisfied with my choices, I paid directly through my Alipay account. It was 9:51am when I placed my order. The app said the drink would be ready in about 7 minutes.

I took my time to find the pick-up outlet inside the mall, as it was my first time visiting that particular shopping mall. However, I was a little surprised to find the Luckin Tea right opposite a Starbucks. The pick-up outlet was much smaller, but brighter, than the Starbucks.

There were a handful of delivery bags inside the outlet. I asked the staff if they were waiting for delivery workers and, surprisingly, was told that they had been busy working on a lot of delivery orders since 7am. Who knew that so many people drank milk tea in the morning? Then I took a few pictures and checked out the other drink options from the menu on the wall. I received a text notification saying the drink was ready 1 minute after the scheduled pick-up time. I guess I interrupted the staff’s work pace, or the delivery orders delayed the pick-up orders.

Similar to the pick-up process at any Luckin Coffee store, I double checked the order number on the cup and scanned the QR code. The drink was in a plastic cup and sealed tight. I punched through the lid using my straw. After the first sip, I became sure my drink was a delightful treat that young people would favor. The taste was on the mild side, not as strong as a typical English breakfast tea.

Heytea

I opened the Heytea WeChat mini program and selected a second cup of bubble milk tea for myself. The app navigation function works very similar to Luckin Tea’s. I could customize the temperature, sweetness, and bubble options. Additionally, I could decide if I wanted a plastic straw, paper straw, or no straw at all. The drink was RMB 25, RMB 2 cheaper than a bubble milk tea from Luckin. I paid directly through my WeChat wallet. The mini program periodically notified me on WeChat about my order’s progress.

The pick-up location was located at HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping mall. The Heytea app told me the store was located on the third floor at L377. This made it easier to find my way. But I had to switch escalators several times and needed to walk around the mall to get to the store. I received a WeChat notification telling me the drink was ready to pick up at 10:28am, which was about the same time I arrived at the store.

The store design looked a lot like like a traditional Hong Kong tea house with its neon lights. However, it did have some modern day elements such as its chic white walls and flat design. There was ample seating space inside the store. I saw the pick-up counter was full of drinks ready to be picked up. 

I told the store staff my pick-up code and got my drink. The tea was in a heat-resistant plastic cup and sealed with a separate lid with a pre-punched opening that matched the straw’s size. The flavor was a bit on the intense side compared to my Luckin milk tea, and I switched the bubbles of my Heytea to half taro balls and half Oreos. Overall, my Heytea drink was sweeter and more tea-like than my unsweetened Luckin bubble milk tea.

Comparison in a glace

In summary, on a 1 to 5 scale where 5 is the best, I would grade my two drinks as follows. I did not grade taste since it is very subjective. My ratings of the two cups of bubble milk tea are very similar. 


Luckin Tea at Jinyin MallHeytea at HKRI Taikoo Hui
Availability13
Outlet Location43
App/Mini Program Ease of Use55
Ordering and Customizable Options55
Price4 (The regular price is more expensive than Heytea, but Luckin Tea often sends coupons to customers)4
Wait Time53 (I happened to order in the early morning of a workday. But the waiting time is usually long)
Ease of Pick-Up 55
Overall2928

In the long-run, Luckin Tea will be available in more parts of the city as the brand expands. Heytea, however, uses a hunger marketing strategy which leads to people waiting in long lines. Given Heytea’s business model, I don’t foresee it rapidly expanding its network. It will be very interesting to see if Luckin Tea will win the business of inpatient young customers who like to splurge on delicious treats.

(Photos inside by Fang Yuan)

Fang Yuan
Fang Yuan

Fang Yuan is our columnist. She used to live in New York and is originally from Shanghai. She is a Certified Passive House Consultant and works on sustainable building consulting. She believes that technology helps people and the environment if it is being used mindfully.

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