All the Ways to Make Bubble Tea, Taiwan’s Pearl-fect Drink

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United States

Publishing organisation: Taiwan Data Stories

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-01-06

Language: English, Chinese

Authors: Daisy Chung, Julia Janicki


Daisy is a visual communicator from Taiwan and New Zealand. She currently works as a Graphics Journalist at Reuters Graphics creating visual stories with a focus on environmental topics. Previously, she was the DataViz Designer at Surgo, Creative Director at wikiHow, and graphics editor at NatGeo. She aims to make complex science more accessible through visual storytelling.

Julia is from the U.S. and Taiwan, and currently lives in Paris. She is a data journalist, developer and cartographer with a focus on environmental and human rights issues. Her clients include Climate Policy Initiative, Reuters, Global Fishing Watch and various UN organizations.

Project description:

This is a visual Interactive make-your-own-drink bubble tea adventure. We wanted to answer the question of how many unique boba drinks are there in Taiwan? And how many different combinations can one make with the various customizations? This project attempts to answer both through the visual journey.

Impact reached:

This is the first project to kick of our “Taiwan data stories” serie, a passion project initiated by Julia and I to expand visual storytelling in the Asian community. We chose bubble tea as our first topic in hopes of using a relatable topic as a friendly stepping stone for more in-depth topics we want to explore in the future.

We presented our collaboration journey during the 2022 Outlier DataViz conference, and were thrilled to see much support and interest from other like-minded talents. The small side project grew from the two of us to now a team of 14, and the interactive was featured by the SND newsletter, FlowingData, the 2022 Pudding Cup and various platforms. We have now built five stories, and are constantly exploring new ideas and approaches. This is our budding effort to diversify the media landscape that’s often curated through a Western lens.

Techniques/technologies used:

**Overview of tools, techniques and technologies used:**
* Interactive design: Javascript, more specifically d3 (By Julia Janicki)
* Data analysis: Excel and google sheet (By Julia and Daisy)
* Illustration: Hand-drawn every bubble tea drink using procreate (By Daisy Chung)
* UX/UI design: Paper/pencil sketching and Adobe XD (By Daisy Chung)

**In depth creative process of using these tools: **

For the data we selected the top five most popular drink stores in Taiwan as of Feb 2021, based on data from data66 who used Google Trends data. We then collected all the most updated menus, and started distilling the data to find only the unique drinks using excel and google sheet. This turned out to be much more challenging to untangle, as each store has different categorization systems. After much exploration, we developed six main categories (milk tea, pure tea…), then broke them down further into components (base 1, base 2, milk, flavor, texture), with different combinations of components leading to 157 unique drinks.

With the cleaned data, a hierarchical format seemed most appropriate. Using D3, Julia rearranged the tabular data into a hierarchical data, and drew a visualization that has such layout.

The design seen on the live page was inspired by Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrations of kitchen shelves in the book Salt Fat Acid Heat, and the curvy lines of the treemap as flows of tea ingredients all cascading and colliding into the final product.

To create a story experience, it was important to provide cultural context. For us, the most interesting part of boba is the experience of customizing the drink.We wanted our users to experience the joy of building their own tea. Through a step-by-step drink ordering experience, we introduced the Taiwanese unique tea culture, local ingredients and texture preferences, and recent environmental efforts to reduce single-use plastics.

Context about the project:

Since this project was purely a passion project with no resource and funding support, and with time constraint since both Julia and I having full-time jobs, it was challenging to carve out time and resources to navigate our goals and structure for this first project that will define the direction of our Taiwan Dat Stories series. However, it was immensely rewarding to see how two Taiwanese connected by a mutual goal were able to collaborate across two continents (Daisy in the US and Julia in Frace) to really create something together! It especially allowed us to see the impact of combining complimentary skills to build something that neither of us can achieve alone (see our presentation at link4 where we discuss about our collaboration journey).

In addition, it was important to have the story in both English and Mandarin, so that we can truly break down the language barrier and connect with a wider audience. We did not have connections to professional translators, so this heavily relied on help from our relatives and friends back home in Taiwan.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

If you are wondering if it is worthwhile to pursue a passion project, we say go for it! While it’s nice to get paid and have defined structure on an assignment, doing personal side projects allowed us to have room to play without the fear of being judged by a roomful of directors and we became much braver and confident in our decisions. It was definitely not easy to craft out additional time on top of our careers, and hard to justify initially without taking the first step. But after one year, we also realized the collaboration has pushed us to explore new learning experiences that extend to our professional practice.

And if you also resonate with our observation that the current visual storytelling scene is in need of diversification and broadening of perspectives beyond the western lens, we invite you to find other creative ways to share your own stories from your culture or unique perspectives.

In the creative industry space where new tools, techniques, and amazing work are being shared every second, t’s common to feel that we don’t know enough or can’t keep up. But maybe, we’re not supposed to try to do it ALL by ourselves: instead of feeling like we need to compete with others, we are really destined to work together and collaborate to create something amazing!

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