A recent report from regional broadcaster Shandong Television has set the internet alight after revealing that one of the country’s favourite drinks may contain leather shoe soles and used tyres.

In package for lifestyle programme “Life Help,” a reporter in Qingdao drinks a pearl milk tea from a local shop and then goes a nearby hospital to undergo a CT scan. The scan showed a stomachful of undigested tapioca pearls.

Undigested tapioca pearls. Photo: Shandong TV.

At Qingdao University’s Chemical Experimentation Centre, scientists were baffled by the substance. Although they were unable to confirm what the pearls were made of, they described the material as “highly adhesive.”

See also: Farmer arrested for allegedly opening fake China Construction Bank.

Undercover interviews with milk tea shop managers around the city revealed that none of them seemed to know either. At one shop, however, one of the unwitting subjects appeared to come clean: “They’re all made at chemical plants. To put it bluntly, they’re made from the soles of leather shoes and old tyres.”

“Chemical plant – Shoe soles.” Photo: Shandong TV.

The popularity of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea, took a dive 2012 after a report from a German university suggested that the tapioca balls may cause cancer. However, bubble tea shops still remain a staple throughout Chinese cities.

Although the Shandong Television report could not conclusively prove that the pearls were indeed made from shoes or tyres, this latest raft of bad publicity is likely to spell more bad news for the beleaguered bubble tea industry.

See also: Fake prosecutors arrested after blackmailing officials in mock-up interrogation room.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others