Boston Tea Party Part 1: An in-depth look at bubble tea culture around campus

A Tufts student drinks milk tea in Kung Fu Tea in Davis Square on Sept. 29, 2019. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

Kung Fu Tea, Boston Tea Shop, Teamoji, Tea-Do, LimeRed Teahouse, Gong Cha, Vivi Bubble Tea Cafe, Pin Ming, Boba Me, TBaar, Chatime and more — with so many chains of bubble tea shops scattered across the city, it’s obvious that bubble tea is no foreign concept in the city of Boston. The satisfying beverage has made its way across oceans and into the hearts of thousands of Bostonians, integrating American and Asian culture.

The popularity of bubble tea extends to Tufts campus, working its way into well-known events like the Taiwanese Association of Students at Tufts’s yearly Night Market event and the Equinox spring event with the Tufts China Care Club. 

Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea or boba, was invented in Tainan and Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. Physically, the drink was originally composed of a tea-base mixed with milk and sugar. One creative soul eventually made the decision to throw tapioca pearls into the concoction, and thus bubble tea was created. In addition to the drink itself, many consumers also opt to add toppings to their drink. Such accents include the tapioca pearls often referred to as “boba.”

Kung Fu Tea may be the most easily accessible place for Tufts students to grab a quick sip between classes. Located in Davis Square at 237 Elm St., Kung Fu Tea is one of the largest bubble tea chains in America with franchises ranging from Boston all the way to California

Ken Park, senior barista of the Davis Square Kung Fu Tea branch, said he feels that his store objectively has a high quality of bubbles, which are carefully coated and infused with honey before being added to each customer’s cup. 

“After I graduated [from Williams College,] I was working on my application for grad school, so I had some free time left and wanted to earn some extra money. I just came here [to Kung Fu Tea] as a loyal customer, too. I thought I was just going to do it short term, but I ended up really enjoying it, so I’ve been doing it for two years.”

Having worked at Kung Fu Tea for two years, Park cited taste, freshness and texture of the tapioca pearls as noteworthy features of the establishment. In addition to its tea, Kung Fu Tea’s tapioca pearls are also imported from its headquarters in Taiwan.

Kung Fu Tea also prides itself in maintaining its dedication to traditionally brewed tea. Every Kung Fu Tea establishment  brews its tea fresh every three hours using tea leaves imported from Taiwan

Kung Fu Tea also works to make the process of getting one’s daily bubble tea fix easier with its own app. Park said that the smartphone app can be linked to a credit card to make payment as simple as scanning a QR code. 

“The most popular drinks are the milk tea, taro milk tea and oolong milk tea,” Park said. “We have some good fruit punches, like mango green tea and passion fruit green tea. We also have some yogurts and slushes.” 

He stated that Kung Fu can be a popular destination for Tufts students seeking weekend getaways from the chaos on campus.

“I see a lot of Tufts students here every day,” Park said, a sentiment that students echoed.

“I’d say I’ve been to the Davis Kung Fu Tea at least like four times in the last couple weeks,” first-year Clive Myrie Sinfuego Co said.

When asked about how many drinks he makes per day, Park noted how weekdays and weekends often differ from one another.

“In the winter time, we sell about 1,500-ish per week, which equals about 300 cups [per weekday],” Park said. “Weekends are definitely more, about 3,000 per day.” 

Beyond Kung Fu Tea, Boston is populated by other notable bubble tea establishments. Located at 3 N Beacon St., in Allston, Mass., sits the popular tea store TeaMoji

When first opening the establishment, store manager Ivy Ye said that she wanted to combine the idea of bubble tea with “emoji faces” to create a relaxed and chill environment for customers to unwind and enjoy a quick drink or snack. 

The walls of the store are thoughtfully decorated with brightly colored pastel mural, wall art and softly flickering fairy lights. 

The store is now nearing its two-year anniversary of business in the Allston area. Ye, who is originally from China, came to the U.S. for college. Following her studies, she decided to open TeaMoji on her own. 

The store sports a menu with options ranging from fusion fruit teas to “Mojifrappes.” 

“The taro milk is one of our bestsellers, and a lot of American customers really like taro milk because of its appealing purple color,” Ye said. “Americans also like coffee, so one day we combined these two ideas together and customers really liked it. It has been on our menu for a while now.”

Of all the drinks on the menu, Ye said that the hardest drinks to prepare are the frappes. At TeaMoji, she said that workers are dedicated to preparing the best quality of drinks.

“To make it as smooth as possible, we have to make sure all the ice is blended very well. This also requires a lot of hand work, using the spoon to stir the ice very well and then blend it again,” Ye said.

To achieve the smooth and creamy texture of its frappes, she said that baristas at TeaMoji blend the drinks multiple times. 

Ye said her favorite drink on the menu is “matcha coconut,” a mix of matcha tea and coconut milk. She noted that its heavy coconut flavor comes with the addition of grass jelly, stating that it is a drink everyone should give a try if they are a fan of coconut.

In addition to its delicious bubble tea concoctions, TeaMoji also offers snacks to customers who are craving something more.

“Honestly, just having something to drink is not always enough,” states Ye. “Some customers crave for some desserts, some sweet bites. A lot of students come here when they get out of class to study and hangout, and sometimes they need snacks.”

She said that was the motivation behind the store’s ingenious option of combining egg puff waffles and bubble tea, noting that the egg puffs come in both sweet flavorings and savory flavors like cheese, pepperoni and more.

Ye described future plans to expand beyond the store’s current offerings, stating that Teamoji aims to incorporate animated characters into its bubble tea and treats. 

“In the future we want to create a brand that does not just sell bubble tea,” Ye said.