A friend from Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley recently grumbled about how she had to resist patronizing more than ten tea establishments during her 15-minute daily commute home.  Perhaps she was battling her addiction to pearl milk tea, also known worldwide as tapioca, or boba tea. 

Tea shops in the region do spring up like mushrooms, or, as Chinese literature likes to describe it,  “bamboo shoots burgeoning after rainy days.”  These are not your typical tea houses adorned with imitation Post2 (5)impressionist paintings and artificial floral arrangements.  But they are places where the advertised free wi-fi is not really free because it is password-protected, where students congregate to finish their homework – despite all of the cacophony and distraction – and where even the most loyal customers do not lament the operation’s comings and goings, because they can always migrate to a comparable establishment just down the street.   

Paying a little bit of attention at an archetypal boba tea house often leads to the following observations: 

The menu lists myriad drinks, and should be examined prior to ordering, especially if the line is long.  Pearl milk tea may not be a house’s signature, or specialty beverage, but will often be a staple among other flavored milk teas such as almond, taro, honey, barley, Thai, coconut, caramel, coffee, chocolate, sesame, ginger, and even more. One can enjoy the concoction without the milk, although no one calls it the dairy-free tea.  Vice versa, a drink can be prepared without the tea, which can no longer be classified a milk tea because there is no tea.  

Post1 (2)For me, a tea place disappoints if it does not own a particular piece of machinery – the conspicuous cup sealing machine!  After four years of relentless experimenting and prototyping, Mr. YiFang Yeh invented the first sealing machine in Taiwan and founded the company Y-Fang Sealing Machines, Ltd. in 1985.  Through the years Mr. Yeh and his team continue to develop systems that are not only more sophisticated and versatile but also more cost-effective and compact, for example, Model ET-899-3,  a table-top sealing machine for various cup sizes.  Today Y-Fang Sealing Machines, Ltd.’s products are sold in 23 countries! 

Like any other business, a tea house must be thoughtfully named.   TBAY and Ladybug Tea House are somewhat memorable, but Tea Bar Starry and OZERO by Cofftea?!   What is even more amazing is that almost all of these establishments are extensively reviewed on Yelp.

If there is not a pearl milk tea cafe in your neighborhood, maybe you would like to open one. Even if it is a fad, a craze, its allure will not be ephemeral.  Franchise options are abundant too.   Does Williston, North Dakota –  recently surveyed as the city with the highest average rent in the States – have a pearl milk tea shop?

  Images courtesy of the contributor.