An article in the New York Times this week about SF-based Boba Guys and their popular new New York City location, since edited, made the faux pas of "discovering" boba tea as if it were some brand new invention, with the original title of the piece "The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There." After an outcry from readers who are better informed than the article's writer, the Times issued an apology Thursday, saying, "In retrospect, we wish we had approached the topic differently (if at all). There may be a story in the expansion of bubble tea businesses in the United States, but there is no denying the drink has been around for quite a while."
Bubble tea has been around in Taiwan since the 1980s and began trending in major cities in the US a decade and a half ago, if not a full two decades ago. It's just that the Business section at the Times wasn't consulting the paper's own Food section, which wrote a piece just this past December titled "Bubble Tea? So 2002. A Sampling of Food-Trend Predictions."
This NYT boba piece, besides being comically late & breathtakingly stupid, is exactly why we need diverse newsrooms https://t.co/Gb5pbG0LsH— Frank Shyong (@frankshyong) August 17, 2017
Cool so the NYT published a story about Boba Guys in 2017 calling boba a confusing new food trend of exotic blobs from the Far East pic.twitter.com/Wf1DXL0E9g— ahmed ali akbar (@radbrowndads) August 17, 2017
As Eater NY points out, "hundreds of bubble tea shops dot the five boroughs, with companies like Boba Guys putting a trendier spin on the drink, serving it in Mason jars with organic ingredients as of late." They also note the "subtly ignorant parts to the [original] story, [which have since been edited,] like calling this Asian drink 'exotic' and 'curious' when it has been in the country and beyond for upwards of 30 years."
But this is hardly anything new for the Times as Quartz reports, the paper Gawker used to call The Grey Lady "discovered" banh mi in 2009, ramen in 2004, and Korean food, generally, in 1999.
Andrew Chau, co-founder of Boba Guys (six years ago), tells Eater SF, “I do think it was a genuine mistake. When we talked to them for our comments, we walked them through the industry, flavors, and backgrounds. They definitely had the intention of understanding what we do." He continues, "On the one hand, we don’t want writers to stop writing about ramen, pho, sushi, or other ethnic foods that the mainstream culture thinks is ‘exotic.’ But on the other hand, journalists have to develop more empathy and write from a more immersive and holistic perspective. Otherwise, we start objectifying culture. It becomes tone deaf in times when tone is everything."
So when it comes to calling out fake news, this would be a legitimate case, and the Times has owned up to it. Perhaps business writer Joanne Kaufman needs to get out more.