Milk tea brands cover their sins with artificial sweeteners

It is not news that milk tea is outrageously popular in China. Young people are at times willing to line up for ours to sample a new flavour of a newly opened shop. However, there is clash of interests in the popularity of the colourful beverages. Chinese consumers are talking all day about more healthy eating and drinking milk tea definitely does not fit into that realm.

The various brands are engaged in a murderous competition and the less than healthy image of the product does not make that battle easier. Recently, the brands have started to work on that image and their competition for the healthiest version has become as fierce as the one for market share.

A relatively easy aspect to work on is sweetness. In line with the ongoing no sugar no salt no fat vogue in the food and drinks markets, many top brands have started advertising with their favourite sugar substitute. In this post, I am showing a few of these ads.


Nayuki (Naixue) has chosen the monk fruit (luohanguo or arhat fruit, in Chinese). This gives its sweetening a very Chinese image. The ad claims 0 calorie sweetener and also adds that it is ‘vegetable sweetness’, which sounds very natural.

Hi Tea

Hi tea (Xicha) is is sweetening with stevia. This, according to the ad, decreases the energy content with 90%. The ad also tells us twice that stevia is a natural sweetener. This is supported by the Chinese name for stevia: tianjutang, literally ‘sweet chrysanthemum sugar’.

Baifen Tea

Baifen Tea (Baifencha) has selected a less common sweetener: L-arabinose. The add uses a pun ‘pa tang bu pa tang’ ‘afraid of sugar not afraid of sugar’. This is based on the fact that the final character of the Chinese translation of arabinose (alabotang ‘arabian sugar’) is tang. A minor problem with arabinose is that Baifen Tea cannot claim zero calories, as this sweetener is low caloric.

Anyway, Chinese milk tea companies keep looking for more alternative sweeteners as well as alternative ingredients for the fatty ingredients. I will keep you abreast on this page.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.