Support Local: Bring On The Boba!
Written by Kailanianna Ablog
Cover Photo Courtesy of Dragon Tea LLC (@dragonteallc)
This probably won’t burst anyone’s bubble, but boba (also known as bubble tea or pearl tea) is arguably one of the most popular drinks in the world. Commonly made with milk tea and tapioca pearls, boba makes the perfect, sweet treat after a long day at work or school. With National Boba Day coming up on April 30th, we at Valia Honolulu wanted to highlight a few locally-owned and operated boba shops on Oʻahu for this month’s “Support Local” blog!
Boba has its origins in Taiwan, but its beginnings are debated. According to a 2018 Taipei Times article by Edward Jones, two tea houses in Taiwan claim to have created the beloved treat: Hanlin Tea Room and Chun Shui Tang.
As mentioned by Edward, the Hanlin Tea Room states that in 1986 their founder, Tu Tsung-ho, was inspired by white-colored tapioca balls he saw on sale at the Yamuliao Market in Tainan. After purchasing and cooking the tapioca at home, he added it to some milk tea. Edward continues by explaining Chun Sui Tang’s assertion, stating that an employee named Lin Hsiu-hui created the first boba in 1987 when she mixed tapioca pearls in her milk tea.
On This List:
Now available on a global scale, boba tea is enjoyed in a plethora of ways, with smoothies, fruit teas and frappés used as substitutes for milk tea and different toppings including popping boba, purple rice, azuki bean (red bean) and cheese foam being added to compliment (or replace) the tapioca pearls. This National Boba Day, be sure to visit at least one of the boba shops on our list (and let us know of any we may have missed)!
- Boba Bros
- Mr. Tea
- Sama Sama
- Top Tea + Espresso
- Coffee or Tea?
- Sun Tea Mix
- Dragon Tea
A Boba Trio of Matchatte, a combination of the terms "Matcha" and "Latte," (Top), Ladybug comprising of strawberries and milk (bottom left), and Tiger's Milk, created using chocolate, brown sugar and milk (bottom right). Courtesy of Boba Bros' Instagram (@boba_bros_hi).
You down for boba, bro? Named after their four sons who love bubble tea, Boba Bros was founded by Hawaiʻi-born husband-wife duo Bryce and Serena. Established officially on March 20th, 2019 at their first farmer’s market, Boba Bros has the mission to “set the gold standard in how to make milk tea so [they] can share the best for the best” by omitting powders, artificial flavors and non-dairy creamers out of their drinks.
Although having been in operation for three years, Bryce mentioned in a phone interview that the dream to create Boba Bros was about seven plus years in the making.
“Boba was such a big thing - it was big with us, too. We’d go to these boba places, but you know, when you go somewhere you think, ‘Man, you know, I think I can do this.” I wanted to do it in a more Hawaiʻi way - more for the locals,” Bryce said. “The whole concept was to make a milk tea boba place for Hawaiʻi. It took a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice and a lot of craziness to go dive into it.”
This mom-and-pop boba shop offers its patrons a plethora of drinks and topping options, including tapioca pearls and various jellies such as rainbow, coffee, and grass jelly. For those who enjoy their boba with a little bit of caffeine, then their signature Crème Tea and Matchatte (short for “Matcha Latte”) may soon become fast favorites.
For those who like their sweet treat without the zing of energy, their milk-based drinks such as their Tiger’s Milk (brown sugar and chocolate), Ladybug (Strawberry) and Purple Drank (taro) are great choices. They also offer Vietnamese Coffee, Hong Kong-style Lemon Tea, Thai Tea (which is their newest addition to the menu) and seasonal flavors, including their Strawberry Cream Soda, Mamaki Green Tea and Dragon Fruit Sparkler.
Bryce suggests that newcomers and first timers try their Matchatte and Vietnamese Coffee first.
Vietnamese Coffee with Coffee Jello and Sea Salt Cream, Courtesy of Boba Bros' Instagram (@boba_bros_hi).
When asked what makes their boba different from other boba shops, Bryce explained how it all starts with their signature drink: Crème Tea.
“We want to be the gold standard, but how do we do that? We use real, fresh heavy cream - organic heavy cream in our Crème Tea. That’s how it got its name; it's not a milk tea. I don’t think anyone does that, not to my knowledge,” Bryce said. “That’s been our take on everything: make the most decadent version of the drink you can find.”
To create the most decadent versions, Boba Bros knew they had to use the best ingredients and refuse to cut corners.
“Among all the small businesses, we are an even smaller business. We would have to use the gold standard ingredients so people know that when you’re coming [to see us], you’re getting the highest quality. It’s not the most convenient to find us because we’re in Farmer’s Markets, but at least you can be confident that you’ll find something high quality. That’s what we knew our edge had to be.”
Boba Bros can be found at the Kaiser PTSA Farmers Market every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Honolulu Farmers’ Market at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Kaka’ako Farmers Market every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
If you are not able to make it to the markets, you can also have your boba delivered. In 2020, Boba Bros was able to do weekly deliveries, but has since made some changes to their delivery schedule.
“We still do delivery every other weekend now. We have different minimums now and because we’re not available every day or every part of the day, it’s based on inquiry. What they need and at what time will determine whether or not we can do the delivery. It’s still very much an available option,” Bryce said.
If interested in hosting an event with boba, consider having Boba Bros cater through their Boba Bar!
“The Boba Bar is like bringing a milk tea or boba shop to your event. We concentrate our menu to get a few drinks they want or really like - we’ll feature that, have all the toppings, and if you’d like to, we can make it and serve it to you,” Bryce said.
Boba Bar featuring Rainbow Jelly (Left Bowl), Boba (Right Bowl), and Creme Tea (Left Dispenser) and Matchatte (Right Dispenser). Courtesy of Boba Bros' Instagram (@boba_bros_hi).
There is also an option for people to be more involved in the boba process: “For people who are more hands-on, you can make it on your own too - where you can pour your own drink, add your own ice and whatever toppings you’d like, even adjust your sweetness on some of the drinks. We make it so it’s like a “Build Your Own,” Bryce said.
You can make your boba delivery and Boba Bar inquiries on their website, via Instagram DM or send an email to email@example.com. They can send you a brochure with all necessary information, including price lists.
Like many small businesses in 2020, Boba Bros has seen a lot of changes and expresses how grateful they are for the local community’s support for their business.
“Being mobile like this has really opened a lot of doors for us. Next week, we’re doing a wedding. Just last month, we were at Kamehameha Schools - we were doing a volleyball tournament. Before that, we had another event at Kamehameha Schools. The next coming month, we’ll be part of a Teacher’s Appreciation thing,” Bryce said. “It really has been so great for us. We’re getting recommended by word-of-mouth. It’s been really special.”
Did you know Mr. Tea also serves purple rice yogurt drinks? Check out their Passionfruit Purple Rice Yogurt (left) and Strawberry Purple Rice Yogurt (right) drinks! Courtesy of Mr. Tea's Instagram (@mrteacafe).
What do you get when you combine a passionate love for milk tea and friendship? In some cases, you’ll get weekly visits to a boba shop with pals. For the founders of Mr. Tea, it created a business. First opened in 2014, Mr. Tea is dedicated to setting the benchmark for boba, creating their drinks with only the best ingredients and business practices. As stated in their “About Us” tab, they “believe in changing minds with a smile and a boba in hand.”
Growing up as lovers of boba, the team behind Mr. Tea found their beginnings one day while drinking boba they did not enjoy.
“Mr. Tea all started from a craving for milk tea. Late one night, we wanted to satisfy our craving for the boba milk tea we grew up with in Asia. However, what we got in hand did not satisfy us,” States the boba shop’s Mission Statement, “We felt things could be done better. It was obvious there were corners being cut and compromises being made. All of which got in the way of us, and our perfect cup of milk tea.”
Unwilling to compromise for “the bland watery drinks people called tea and the mushy tapioca balls people called boba,” they realized something new was brewing and quit their day jobs.
“...we embarked on a new adventure. Left our day jobs and got on a plane to learn everything there was about milk tea. After tasting countless teas and learning traditional milk tea production in Taiwan we came back to Hawaii and began work on what is the Mr. Tea recipe available today. Hundreds, if not thousands, of attempts later we have created what we believe to be the best cup of milk tea you can get anywhere!”
Using the finest loose leaf teas, grade A boba and a flowing cup of innovation and creativity, Mr. Tea offers a diverse menu of milk teas and smoothies. With drinks like Thai Tea, Dalgona Coffee, Wintermelon Iced Tea, to Lychee smoothies and toppings including boba, custard pudding, azuki beans and haupia, patrons will be able to expand their boba palette in various ways. Mr. Tea strives to craft a “made-to-order cup of boba,” and offers different sweetness levels, as well as a cream alternative: almond milk!
If you're looking to celebrate spring, then Mr. Tea's Potted Milk Tea may be an option for you! Courtesy of Mr. Tea's Instagram (@mrteacafe).
If you’re craving food with your boba, Mr. Tea partners with La Tour Cafe to bring scrumptious morsels like sandwiches and macarons to the shop. They also offer online ordering, so you can place your order at home and pick up your drink(s) without needing to wait in line.
For folks new to Mr. Tea, George Huang, the owner of the shop and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa alumnus, suggests giving their Oolong Milk Tea and Cereal Milk Teas a try.
“Our favorite for milk teas is the oolong milk tea, but our cereal milk teas like Fruity Pebbles are a must try. We also started doing our own take on a purple rice yogurt drink,” George said.
“...and I get in trouble every night I forget to bring one home for my wife.” He added.
For Mr. Tea, creating a boba shop that breaks down “the classic stereotypes and preconceived notion of what a boba shop is and should be” is vital to their mission: “We wanted to create a hub for creativity and atmosphere to transport you away from the boba shops you have been used to in the past.”
When asked about what makes their boba different, George explains the answer lies within where they source their ingredients: Taiwan.
“We really go for the most authentic boba we can. There are a lot of fads and what not in boba but we go for the best tasting boba we can. Everything we buy except for the water and ice are straight from Taiwan so we can source exactly what we want,” George said. “The ingredients we use would definitely be a Tier 1 boba shop in Taiwan. Most of the shops locally use local distributors so really, it’s the same product made in a different cup.”
If you are interested in checking out Mr. Tea and visiting them on National Boba Day, you can stop by one of their two locations on O‘ahu: at Ala Moana Shopping Center on the street level and along Kapiolani Boulevard.
Their Ala Moana location is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. If Kapiolani Boulevard is easier for you to get to, their location there is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
For folks in Las Vegas, you can visit Mr. Tea’s recently opened sister location called Honolulu Boba Co. (@honolulubobaco on Instagram). Their hours are 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
They also cater their drinks for special events, and accept inquiries on their website.
Mr. Tea also caters and can provide a boba bar for your next event! Courtesy of Mr. Tea's Instagram (@mrteacafe).
As Mr. Tea enters its eighth year in operation, George says Mr. Tea hopes to continue bringing the best boba to the islands.
“We hope to bring the best boba we can everywhere…and hope to keep spreading around Hawaii and the mainland,” George said.
Logo image courtesy of Sama Sama (@samasamatea),
For those familiar with Island Craves events and Island Craft fairs, then you may have heard of Sama Sama! Known for their Filipino inspired boba drinks, Sama Sama officially opened in 2021 on Mother’s Day at Island Craves’ pop-up event in Waikele. It was founded by co-owners and husband-wife duo Lalaine Ignao and Eric Ganding.
Featuring various flavors commonly enjoyed in Filipino cuisine, Sama Sama’s drinks come in three sizes: 16, 20 and 24 ounces, with all 24 ounce drinks having the option to be blended. Patrons can choose their tea base and milk (non-dairy creamer, almond or soy); they can also choose to omit milk entirely. Next, folks can choose from a list of 16 unique flavors including ube, buko pandan, turon (banana lumpia) and calamansi, along with toppings including boba, macapuno (coconut sport), cheese foam and sago’t gulaman.
Ube Milk Tea (left) and Sampaguita (right) with Boba. Courtesy of Sama Sama (@samasamatea).
For first timers, Eric recommends trying a few of their green teas and their ube milk tea.
“Our popular drinks include ube milk tea, strawberry green tea and calamansi green tea. For any newcomers, we always recommend trying the calamansi green tea because you don’t really see any other boba shops offering that flavor,” Eric said. “Since we are a boba business catered to showcasing Filipino flavors and cuisine, we want to make sure that our customers can experience exactly that!”
On April 15th, 2022, Sama Sama opened a food truck with Chef Maleko Lagmay from Minasa, who brings a modern Filipino food twist to Sama Sama’s menu through dishes like Pork Belly Sisig Fries, Chicharon Fish Katsu and Ube Churros.
Co-owners and husband-wife duo Eric Ganding and Lalaine Ignao in Sama Sama's new food truck. Courtesy of Sama Sama (@samasamatea).
Although the business has been open a little less than a year, Sama Sama has been one of many dreams realized for co-owner Lalaine Ignao, who is also the founder of Pusong Filipinx, “a quarterly market that highlights Filipinx millennials, creatives and small businesses.”
In an email interview with Lalaine and Eric, Lalaine shared that her dream to open a boba shop stemmed from her visits to a Chinese restaurant on special occasions with her family growing up. For dessert, they would frequent a boba shop next door, and because boba was not as popular at that time, Lalaine wanted to introduce her friends to the shop whenever she could.
When Lalaine and Eric began dating, part of their bonding time centered around trying different drinks around Oʻahu. As their partnership grew, so did their passion for finding ways to highlight and honor Filipino culture. After hosting Pusong Filipinx, Lalaine and Eric were inspired by their fellow Filipinx creatives and entrepreneurs and realized it was time to make Lalaine’s boba dream a reality.
From 2019 until 2021, Lalaine and Eric worked with their families to cultivate a Filipino cuisine and flavor-inspired menu. According to them, there were two pivotal moments that influenced when Sama Sama’s start: the passing of Lalaine’s grandmother, who played an important role in the planning of the menu, and binge sessions of “Start Up,” a Korean drama.
Despite being less than a year old, Sama Sama is determined and hoping to continue cultivating a space where Filipino culture can be shared and honored.
“We are both passionate about our Filipino culture and showcasing it whenever we are given the opportunity. We hope to empower and educate the greater community of our Filipino culture through Sama Sama. The name “Sama Sama” in Tagalog means togetherness and through this business, we aspire to bring people together, one drink at a time,” Lalaine said. “We hope to one day open up a boba shop that can continue to grow the idea of building community and bringing people together for the love of Filipino culture, boba and food.”
Sampaguita with Boba and Ube Churros. Courtesy of Sama Sama (@samasamatea).
Top Tea + Espresso Logo. Courtesy of Top Tea + Espresso (@topteahawaii).
As we go through life, we go through many versions of ourselves. For Top Tea + Espresso, this concept was the purpose of its rebranding!
First known as Friend Cafe and operating since 2015, Top Tea + Espresso was created by Kevin Li and Janelle Chan with the hopes of creating a one-stop boba shop. In an interview with Kevin, he expressed the purpose behind Top Tea + Espresso’s name change.
“We rebranded because we want our customers to easily tell that we are a boba drink store, including tea and coffee as you can tell by name instead of ‘cafe,’” Kevin said, “Our hopes are to bring top quality boba drinks with varieties for every single member in the family. That’s why we offer varieties of caffeinated, non-caffeinated, smoothies, etc., so just one stop for everyone.”
Those who loved Friend Cafe will also love Top Tea + Espresso! With the same owners and recipes, the only difference is the name. Drinks: Brown Sugar Milk Tea (left) and Brown Sugar Tiger Milk (right). Courtesy of Top Tea + Espresso (@topteahawaii).
When one looks at their menu offerings, then the idea of a “One Stop Shop” will become apparent. Top Tea + Espresso provides patrons with a plethora of options, such as flavored milk teas including Okinawa Black Milk Tea and Lavender Green Milk Tea, fruit teas such as lilikoi and peach, caffeinated treats like their White Mocha and Oreo Frappes. For those who love coffee but want to keep it light on the boba, then their iced and hot coffee selections may be perfect substitutes!
According to Kevin, their Brown Sugar Tiger Milk, Ube Taro, Espresso Milk Tea, and Kumquat Lemon Green Tea are popular at their locations around the island of O‘ahu.
When asked what makes their boba different, Kevin said the secret is in the details - of their boba making process.
“Our boba - each batch is made on a regular basis, even during slower time. After cooking, we soak our boba in brown sugar and keep it in a warmer until it goes into our customers’ cups,” Kevin said. “That’s why our boba is soft, chewy, warm and sweet when the customers get their drinks to their hands.”
Did someone say ube? Check out Top Tea's Ube Series! Image courtesy of Top Tea + Espresso (@topteahawaii).
If you’re looking to get your Top Tea + Espresso fix this upcoming National Boba Day, then you have three locations on-island to choose from! You can visit their store on Liliha Street, which is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., along Kapiolani Boulevard between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. everyday except Wednesdays, and their Waipahu location on Leoku St. between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, as they are closed on Tuesdays.
Strawberry Soda (Left) and Strawberry Milk (Right) using their homemade Strawberry sauce. Courtesy of Chaya Hawaii (@chayahawaii).
Located at the kiosk in front of SoHa Living and Island Sole at Kahala Mall, Chaya (meaning “tea shop” in Japanese) began operations in 2021. Founded by owner Yuji, Chaya features various forms of milk tea and Plantation Tea, along with taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake filled with azuki beans or another form of sweet filling like custard or chocolate.
Yuji explained that through Chaya, she wanted to bring a sense of Japanese culture and quality to O‘ahu.
“I wanted to start something new that I can introduce some Japanese culture and quality, and I noticed that people liked boba, so I wanted to try boba shop here,” Yuji said. “Also I named Chaya because it meant a place that people would get together to drink tea and eat snacks,”
Despite being a little under a year old, Yuji is confident that their drinks can become fast favorites, and recommends that newcomers and first timers try out their Strawberry Milk Tea, which is made from green tea and Chaya’s original syrup.
“Strawberry syrup is our original and we use premium green tea, so I want people to try strawberry green tea milk with boba,” Yuji said.
Chaya also features a unique drink on their menu: their Kuromitsu Kinako. Kuromitsu, also known as “black honey, is a syrup that is commonly found in Japanese desserts, and Kinako, or roasted soybean flour, is often enjoyed sprinkled over mochi.
“Kuromitsu Kinako is pretty popular now, and I’ve never seen the same drink in Oahu [based on] what I know so far, so I want people to try this one, too,” Yuji said.
Kuromitsu Kinako Milk with Boba. Image courtesy of Chaya Hawaii (@chayahawaii).
Along with their drink flavors, Yuji believes that the sense of amiability among her staff members and their combination of local and Japanese ingredients is what can make Chaya stand out.
“All of my staffs have great hospitality. And our drinks have Japanese ingredients and some Local ingredients, like Li-hing,” Yuji said. “I think these essences make Chaya and our drinks different from other boba places.”
Strawberry Soda (Left) and Jasmine Milk Tea with Boba (Right). Courtesy of Chaya Hawaii (@chayahawaii).
If you’d like to add Chaya to your go-to boba shops, be sure to visit them at Kahala Mall! They are open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can also find Chaya on Instagram.
Coffee or Tea?
Courtesy of Li Ling Chao (@coffeeorteahawaii).
Coffee or Tea? is arguably a staple when it comes to boba shops on O‘ahu.
Established in 1999 by Hunter and Li Ling Chao, Coffee or Tea is locally- and family-owned, and has five locations on the island: Waikiki, Kailua, at the Crossroads at Waipio and the Pearl Kai and McCully Shopping Centers.
As stated by Li Ling, after she and Hunter immigrated to the United States from Taiwan with their two young sons, they started “Coffee or Tea?” in order to “bring the ‘boba’ craze sweeping Taiwan at that time to Hawaii, all while pursuing their American Dream.”
According to a paragraph sent by Li Ling, Coffee or Tea? “specializes in milk tea, tapioca pearls (boba) drinks, shaved ice, shakes and smoothies, using the freshest materials imported directly from Taiwan to create the best milk tea in Hawaii and products of the highest quality.” They also “are a proud seller of Italian Lavazza and Kona coffees.”
Coffee or Tea?’s menu brings a diverse amount of sweets and flavors for your palette. From drinks their including Pearl Milk Tea, Espresso Shake and Peppermint Milk Tea with toppings like tapioca pearls (boba), grass or herbal jelly, and custard pudding, to shaved iced with condensed milk and various types of jellies and fruits, patrons can partake in a piece of O‘ahu’s local food history (and snap some lovely photos for the ‘gram!).
Ginger Milk Tea with Boba, made with Assam Milk Tea with Ginger Powder and Boba (front) and Hot Ginger Latte, a Caffe Latte with Ginger Powder (back). Courtesy of Coffee or Tea? (@coffeeorteahawaii).
To top this off, Li Ling mentions that Coffee or Tea? takes their boba seriously, and ensures it is of top quality.
“We make our boba fresh each day to guarantee that chewy texture we all love,” Li Ling said.
Having been operational since 1999, Li Ling expressed that Coffee or Tea? seems to have left a positive impression on the local communities and considers their patrons as more than customers.
“Today, Coffee or Tea? is a longtime favorite for local boba lovers and continues to provide consistently high-quality beverages,” Li Ling said. “Our customers have been visiting us for years, in some cases, decades, and they are like family to us.”
Milk Tea Smoothie with Boba (Marshmallow Snack Not Made by Coffee or Tea?). Courtesy of Coffee or Tea? (@coffeeorteahawaii).
With five locations, you can check out Coffee or Tea? at the shop closest to you! Folks in Honolulu may find their McCully Shopping Center and Waikiki spots the most accessible. Alternatively, those seeking to explore the island may want to expand their trip toward Kailua or Aiea to visit the Pearl Kai Shopping Center. As each store has varying days and times of operation, please be sure to confirm ahead of time that your selected location is open.
Follow Coffee or Tea?’s main Instagram here, and feel free to follow the IGs of each specific location to stay updated on new information pertaining to those locations!
Interior of Sun Tea Mix's Kaka'ako Location. Photo Attribution: Studio Agfa (@studioagfa)
Co-founded by friends and proud mother entrepreneurs Joy Chen and Emma Pan, Sun Tea Mix calls the Keawe Retail at Our Kaka‘ako home. According to the tea shop’s Brand Story, Sun Tea Mix officially opened in March 2020 and was “created to serve up authentic, healthy, creative handcrafted drinks, fluffy Soufflé Pancakes and fresh Acai Bowls to the locals and travelers alike.”
From Honeydew and Grape Smoothies, White Peach Oolong Milk Tea and fruit milks such as Strawberry and Mango to scrumptious morsels like Brown Sugar Boba and Crème Brûlée soufflé pancakes, Matcha Latte Panna Cotta, and Acai and Gelato Bowls, fruit and tea lovers alike may soon find multiple favorites from this menu. Seasonal flavors are also available. Their drinks are customizable, allowing patrons to choose their sweetness and ice levels so that they get the best drink for their preference.
Strawberry Snowcap Milk Tea. Photo Attribution: Studio Agfa (@studioagfa)
Part of what inspired Sun Mix Tea’s menu offerings was Joy’s realization of “a need for a healthy, modern lifestyle.”
“We believe in quality. We saw a need for a product for those who would like a natural and healthy lifestyle, yet can still taste and enjoy the pleasure of life.” Joy said. “We hope the customers enjoy the clean and stylish environment to hang out with friends and families, or for some alone time.”
As stated in their Brand Story, Sun Mix Tea imports top grade loose-leaf teas from Asia and utilizes local, fresh fruits and dairy products for their drinks in order to uphold their dedication to health and providing the community with top-tier goods; they also use “the latest tea-brewing techniques and technology to bring forth the aromatics and tastes of various teas.”
Fans of locally-founded and -owned Il Gelato Hawaii will be happy to know that Sun Tea Mix has a partnership with them. This means that patrons can enjoy a scoop of gelato in their drink or on their soufflé pancakes.
Some of Sun Tea Mix’s best sellers that newcomers and first timers may be interested in include their Strawberry Latte with Panna Cotta, Lilikoi & Pineapple Tea, and Crème Brûlée soufflé pancakes.
Strawberry Latte with Panna Cotta. Photo Attribution: Studio Agfa (@studioagfa)
As a small business, Sun Mix Tea hopes to not only serve the community delicious goods, but also be an inspiration for girls.
“We both have children - my business partner has a daughter. We wanted to encourage her and other girls everywhere that a woman can do whatever she wants and be whoever she wants in this modern world,” Emma said.
If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to sate your sweet tooth and want to support a business that seeks to inspire girls and women, visit Sun Mix Tea in Kaka’ako from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Monday. You can place your orders in-store, via phone, through delivery apps or online through their website. Keep up with the tea shop on Instagram and Facebook!
The Teapresso Milk Tea is consistently one of their most loved flavors. Courtesy of Teapresso's Instagram (@teapressobarhawaii)
Established in 2014 with the hope to bridge the world of health and boba, Teapresso Bar was founded by Steve Nguyen with the “vision of bringing healthier drink alternatives” to Oʻahu.
“We want to spread the word of boba. We have a different way of doing boba. Our way is to be a healthier alternative, which has organic options and all kinds of variety,” Steve said. “We want people to enjoy boba in a healthy way.”
Teapresso Bar has 17 locations within the state, with their drinks available in ABC stores on Oʻahu, Maui, Hawaiʻi Island, and Kauaʻi. For our community members in Texas, there is a Teapresso Bar in Houston and Teapresso Bar’s sister company, TeaLatte Bar, opened in May of 2018 with five locations including Carrollton, McKinney and Frisco.
Being the first Brew-To-Order boba shop in the Hawaiian Islands is what Teapresso Bar prides itself on. Using their own machine and 22 types of tea imported from various places around the world (including Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam) in their drinks, Steve says you are getting the freshest tea in your order.
“We created a Teapresso machine. My barista will put the tea - the loose leaf tea - in the machine and it will come out when you order it. We don’t have it pre-stored or pre-made,” Steve said.
He also mentions that highlighting diversity in his vision to offer healthier alternatives to boba drinks is important.
“Traditional boba shops have four or five different types of tea; they have the black tea, oolong tea, green tea and the jasmine tea,” Steve said. “But we have 22 different teas, and we import our teas from all around the world. We have teas from Sri Lanka, China, English, Vietnam - that’s the diversity I’m trying to get out there.”
Along with allowing patrons to make their own Brew-To-Order drink, they also offer various milk teas, including Coconut Milk Tea and Hazelnut Milk Tea, smoothies, frappes such as Green Tea Kit Kat, organic lemonade, slushes, and organic coffee. To enhance your drink, Teapresso Bar has many add-ons including Egg Pudding, Sea Foam, Crystal Boba and Rainbow Jelly.
Left or Right Twix? With Teapresso Bar's Twix Crumble, why not enjoy both? Courtesy of Teapresso's Instagram (@teapressobarhawaii)
The variety of drinks on the menu is part of what Steve thinks is the source of Teapresso’s growing presence and success.
“It’s for the whole family,” Steve said. “Besides boba, we have coffee and we have smoothies and we have slushes. Some of the drinks can have ice cream. We wanted to broaden the boba. So, the Mom - oh, she wants her boba but her kid can’t have caffeine, so they can go with a fresh fruit smoothie or they can go with a fruit slush or a lemonade, organic lemonade. Then the Father - doesn’t know what boba is - he can have a coffee.”
For newcomers and first timers to Teapresso, Steve suggests they try their signature drink: the Teapresso Milk Tea.
“Within all of our stores, the best seller has always been the Teapresso Milk Tea. That’s our signature drink,” Steve said. “The flavor and the aroma of that tea is not overpowering, not too creamy, not too sweet.”
The diversity of their offerings also goes hand-in-hand with Steve’s belief that all people can and should be able to enjoy boba, even those who are health conscious and like to avoid unnecessary sugar.
Strawberry Lilikoi Lemonade (Left) and Chocolate Milk Tea (Right). Courtesy of Teapresso's Instagram (@teapressobarhawaii)
Teapresso Bar locations also serve as a place for all people to hang out and relax, as WiFi and board games are available for dine-in patrons. According to Teapresso Bar’s “About Us” tab, they also love to work with communities for fundraisers and functions. Additionally, their locations can be “reserved for private parties and catering services can be provided for special events.”
For those who have been fans of Teapresso for a while, then they may recall they offered fresh, locally-made Boba Popsicles for a limited time. Steve gave us the permission to share that, with enough inquiry, they may bring them back as a menu offering!
With how hectic the past two years have been for small businesses, Steve wanted to express his gratitude toward the owners of each Teapresso Bar location and his customers for supporting the business through difficult times, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.
To celebrate National Boba Day with your own Brew-To-Order boba drink, consider visiting one of Teapresso Bar’s many locations on-island! Be sure to follow @teapressohawaii on Instagram and the IGs of each specific location to stay updated on new information pertaining to those locations!
Pineapple Lemon Jasmine Green Tea. Courtesy of Dragon Tea LLC (@dragonteallc).
When you cannot find something to sate your food cravings, sometimes making it yourself can be the solution. For Steve Lai and Yukie Chan, their unsuccessful search for a Taiwanese bubble tea store in Waikiki during their honeymoon in 2010 inspired them to open Dragon Tea, a boba spot that features a variety of teas and Taiwanese treats.
One of the main inspirations behind Dragon Tea was creating an oriental Taiwanese bubble tea store in Hawaiʻi.
“We had our honeymoon in Hawaii in 2010, and when we lived in Waikiki, we could not find a Taiwanese bubble tea store in Waikiki,” Yukie said. “And Steve [had] grown up in Taiwan and was starving for bubble tea, so we decided to move to Hawaiʻi to have an oriental Taiwanese Bubble tea store. We import teas and most ingredients from Taiwan to keep the oriental Taiwanese taste.”
Dragon Tea, located on 1339 N School St. in Kalihi, offers its patrons a variety of teas and smoothies, including their Almond Slush, Yakult Lemon Green Tea Fruit Tea, Cold Longan Red Date Goji with Brown Sugar, and Hot Milk Tea. Along with these, you can add boba, pudding, grass jelly, aloe, and chia seeds to your drinks, among other toppings!
Fresh Lemon Black Tea. Courtesy of Dragon Tea LLC (@dragonteallc).
For first timers, Yukie suggests they try their Original Bubble Milk Tea and their Brown Sugar Milk.
If you’re craving a bite, visitors can peruse their food menu, which features Taiwanese bentos, noodles and street food. Along with their use of premium Taiwanese tea, Yuki mentions their food offerings is what makes Dragon Tea different.
“We also expanded our menu to Taiwanese food and Taiwanese snacks,” Yukie said. “Our Popcorn Chicken, Taiwanese omelette, beef noodle soup, Taiwanese bento are all popular.”
Enjoy some Pork Chops with your boba! Courtesy of Dragon Tea LLC (@dragonteallc).
Sichuan Beef Noodle Soup, Pan-Fried Dumplings, Tea Eggs, and Braised Pork with Dried Bamboo Shoot are just some of their other available dishes.
This National Boba Day, if you’re craving some Taiwanese food with your refreshing boba drink, consider visit Dragon Tea in-person everyday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and keep up with news and announcements via their website and Instagram.