Whenever a bubble tea shop becomes Instagram-trendy in China, you can count on scalpers to be there reselling a drink for many times its retail price.
Like paid line-holders in the States, scalpers—known in Chinese as 黄牛 (huangniu), or “yellow cattle”—have become ubiquitous at limited-edition pop-ups, from White Rabbit bubble tea stands to just regular bubble tea stands that have inexplicably become famous.
And the latest shop to be besieged by these “yellow cattle” is a Taiwanese chain that was featured in the music video for Jay Chou’s latest single “Won’t Cry” 说好不哭, which was such a hit in China that it literally broke a streaming site.
Annoyed Chou fans complained on social media that scalpers swamped the Machi Machi pop-up in Shanghai soon after it opened last week—and were charging up to $40 each for a drink that was selling inside for $2 to $4.
Some reportedly even had the gall to charge fans $7 to take a picture with the tea.
Taiwan-based Machi Machi is known for its cheese tea, a remarkably balanced blend of sweet tea and a slightly savory aerated cream cheese topping.
The chain’s store in Tokyo was the backdrop for Chou’s “Won’t Cry” music video, which topped the charts in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan when it came out on Sept. 16.
The music video tells the story of a barista at the shop who works extra hours to buy an expensive camera for her boyfriend, an aspiring photographer.
Chou himself has been known to be a fan of Machi Machi’s tea.
Ten days after the song dropped, the chain opened a limited-run pop-up in Shanghai.
Who is Jay Chou?
A classically trained musician, Chou debuted in 2000 with the album Jay. His sentimental lyrics, dulcet voice, and skillful blend of R&B, rap, and classical music have solidified his status as the king of Asian pop.
Chou has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and runs a business empire that includes a clothing line and his own agency, JVR Music, which now distributes his tracks. He has also dabbled in acting, most notably as Kato in The Green Hornet (2011) and a supporting role in Now You See Me 2 (2016).
Several dozen men were seen queueing for several blocks near the store when it opened for the first time at noon on Sept. 26, Shanghai outlet The Paper reported last week.
Social media chatter included complaints that the men had been lining up since early morning and were charging 600 yuan, about $80, for two bottles.
“If I had this kind of money, I’d eat anything.”
“If I had this kind of money, I’d eat anything,” one person wrote on the messaging app WeChat.
(Read more: An ‘Avengers: Endgame’ ticket sold for $100 in China)
By Friday, signs prohibiting scalpers were displayed near the entrance of the shop, China Youth Daily reported.
The shop was also forcing customers to open their drink before leaving to prevent reselling, and police officers were standing by the entrance to shoo away any loiterers, the report said.
One officer told the paper that the rules had effectively limited the activities of the scalpers.
Scalpers have been common at trendy bubble tea shops in recent years.
When the Guangzhou-based chain Hey Tea was expanding across China in 2017, customers would pay line holders to get them a drink at newly opened shops. Some in Shanghai reported waiting up to five hours.
The tactics have since evolved. Now, most scalpers buy the drink and resell them on delivery apps like Meituan and Ele.me.
In June, when White Rabbit opened a pop-up in Shanghai selling bubble tea flavored with its iconic milk candy, scalpers were also seen on the line.
The retail price was 20 yuan, about $3.
But on the resale market, a cup reached $70.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.