It's an addiction that has hundreds of young Cambodians flocking to get their fix every day – green tea shops.
Imported “milk green tea”, or green tea milkshakes, bring hundreds of youngsters to shops each day to socialise, prompting accusations that the shops are too much fun, and fuel absence from school.
Within a year of the first branch opening in Phnom Penh in mid 2011, around a dozen specialised green tea shops have popped up in the city, catering to children and young people who are hooked on both the sugary drink and using the shops as a social hub.
Milk Green Tea shop, the main café chain that stocks the US$1 drink, has opened four shops in the city. It aims to open two more by the end of the year.
Located near high schools and universities, some branches draw more than 400 drinkers every day. Some have ditched karaoke for the shops where they can gossip, play music and bring dates.
Chey Vileak, a freshman at Royal University of Phnom Penh said that the cafés have become an important place to socialise.
She said: “The new generation wants to express themselves in groups and in public. In the past few years, they haven’t had anywhere to go apart from the riverside or dating in private places.”
“But I’m not recommending they go to milk green tea shops every day without studying,” she added.
The craze has drawn comparisons with the bubble tea shop fad in 2010 when groups of young people used cafés that sold bubble tea as places to take dates and go beyond traditional sexual boundaries.
It came to an end when officials closed the shops, citing immoral behaviour. Some were accused of doubling as pornography theatres and drug dens.
The latest green tea shops have been subject to complaints that children are skipping school classes to go to the cafés.
Lim Sokly, 26, who works at an NGO, said: “Green tea with milk does taste good – but not good enough to make it worth dragging teenagers there to skip school. Teenagers like following one another. If they see their friends going there, they will be tempted to go too.”
Chan Ratanak, who owns a branch of Milk Green Tea, says the change of lifestyle is a good one. “Most of our customers come to my shop in groups. Besides the taste of the drink, they can enjoy the time spent together with their friends by sitting, talking, playing music, and singing. These are things I want to see young Cambodians doing with their free time,” he said.
The only threat the drink poses, he added, lay in its sugary potency. “For diabetics who can’t eat sweet things, you should reduce your drinking of that kind of beverage.”
Ly Seyha, in grade 12 at Tuol Tom Pong high school, drinks the tea once, if not twice, daily.
She said: “I come here every day. Some days I come here twice just to drink my favourite milk-shake green tea. My friends call me to join them chatting or doing homework together because the environmental is comfortable for us, and the price is reasonable.”
Ratanak said he settled on a cheaper price than other cafés, where drinks can cost $2 a cup – too much for teenagers, he said.
Next, he said, he wants to create the drink himself to sell rather than import it.
“To make drinkers long for the taste, I need to create new Cambodia taste for the shop instead of bringing the taste from abroad.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lim Meng Y at firstname.lastname@example.org