Fans of Gong Cha were caught by surprise when news broke last weekend that the Taiwanese bubble tea business would be ceasing operations across its 80 outlets in Singapore by 5 June, as part of efforts to be re-branded as LiHo.
Reactions to the re-branding have been largely negative, with many expressing shock at the sudden change in direction, the change in menu and LiHo’s new cheese tea.
When Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore visited several of the few remaining Gong Cha outlets in Singapore, bubble tea fans could be seen trying to get their last drinks before the shops shutter at the end of the week.
Long queues could be seen at the JEM outlet, with some customers specially visiting the shop just to buy their last cup of Gong Cha.
Guo Hong Yi, 20, said “I actually did a search online for remaining shops before I came, because I knew the outlet at Jurong Point was already closed. I came down specially to buy this, because I wanted to get my last drink before they closed down.”
“I was so bewildered when I heard the news, it came out of the blue,” said customer Lim Jia Hui, 22, “I made it a point to come and buy [a drink] today, because I saw the new menu at LiHo and they didn’t have my favourite matcha drink.”
Lim continued, “I might have to go to other bubble tea shops like Koi or Sharetea now, since I won’t be able to buy it from Gong Cha anymore.”
For 31-year-old Amanda Ng, “I was so shocked when I saw that Gong Cha is going to close by this week. I drink it a few times a week, so the sudden announcement really shocked me. I’m just going to drink as much of it as I can before they close.” Ng’s final drink was Milk Foam Alisan Tea.
While Gong Cha customers have varied drink favourites, the brand’s Alisan Tea, or green oolong tea, had the most number of mentions.
Besides fans, infrequent customers of the brand also rushed to Gong Cha outlets to buy bubble tea.
Lim Jun Wei, 32, said: “I’m not a very big fan – I only buy the drink once every few months at most, but I thought I should buy it one last time since I won’t be able to buy it beyond this week. Better buy while I still can.”
Twenty-six-year-old Shermin Xie, who works near the Gong Cha outlet at 100 AM mall in Tanjong Pagar, said: “I don’t buy Gong Cha very often – probably about once a year – but I decided to come down and buy one today because they’re going to end operations by the end of the week.”
Gong Cha vs LiHo
Curious customers were also seen trying out LiHo’s new drinks, with varying reactions. Most customers agreed that the two brands tasted similar, with some preferring LiHo over Gong Cha.
“I think the quality is the same, and the taste of the tea is the same, but I prefer the cheese tea from LiHo because I really like cheese. The cheese foam is not too different from Gong Cha’s milk foam, but there’s a mild cheese taste when you drink the foam directly, which I like,” said 18-year-old Chelsea Yap.
Andre Lee, 38, said “The tea flavour is slightly stronger, which is better. You can taste the cheese in the foam as well, which is quite interesting.”
However, some Gong Cha fans weren’t impressed by LiHo’s drinks. Jeremy Wong, 27, said: “The combination [of cheese and tea] sounds peculiar, and I was quite apprehensive about trying at first. But it doesn’t taste very much different from Gong Cha, and LiHo’s menu isn’t as good as Gong Cha so it’s a real pity. My favourite is still Gong Cha.”
Eunice Kwoh, 38, typically purchases drinks from Gong Cha five times a week. She said: “I was pretty angry when I heard the news. I’ve been a fan of Gong Cha since they opened their first branch in Singapore. It’s so disappointing to find out that they will be closing, because I really like their milk foam.”
She continued: “The cheese foam [at LiHo] tastes about the same, but I still prefer Gong Cha because of the special, slightly salty milk foam. LiHo is also a lot more expensive than Gong Cha.”
While Gong Cha drinks come in one standard size, LiHo offers medium and large sizes. There is also a very minimal difference in prices for bubble teas from both brands, with Gong Cha’s prices ranging from $2.20 for freshly brewed teas such as green tea, Alisan tea and oolong tea, to $4.90 for a cup of milk foam dessert. LiHo’s prices for medium-sized drinks range from $2.20 for freshly-brewed black and jasmine green teas, to $4.20 for a classic Earl Grey Milk Tea.
Here’s LiHo’s drinks menu:
Here’s Gong Cha’s menu:
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