The underused courtyard at Cory Hall may see renewed life — and an influx of undergraduate students — after a bubble tea cafe, Tea 1, opened last week on the second floor.
The new location is Tea 1’s second store in Berkeley and offers a variety of fruit juices, sparkling teas and coffees with toppings such as red bean and jelly. The electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, department hopes the cafe will revitalize the courtyard — constructed decades earlier — which in recent years had fallen into disrepair from infrequent use.
The space sometimes hosts staff yoga sessions or student organizations but saw little use by students to study, said the department’s director of space planning and facilities, Scott McNally. On Wednesday, customers with half-off discounts for Tea 1’s opening day formed lines out the door.
“(It’s) a place that’s been for far too long an empty courtyard,” he said. Now, he added, “it’s like version 2.0 — it’s like the remake of the movie for the next generation.”
In town hall discussions with EECS students, staff and faculty, McNally said, student feedback led department leadership to consider the cafe’s potential to help with another problem — limited facetime between busy faculty and students. The cafe, he said, could function as an alternative to “optimizing those chance encounters in the hallway” as an informal meeting spot outside the classroom.
Students at the cafe Friday said they liked Tea 1’s location near their classes and they’d be more likely to come back to Cory Hall and stay past the cafe’s closing. Others, such as Angel Najera, a UC Berkeley junior and EECS major, appreciated the Xbox console that projects onto the store’s back wall.
“I can see people come here after 6 to study, most definitely,” said Nathaniel Aceron, a recent UC Berkeley alumnus in EECS, at the cafe.
Earlier this summer, Tea 1 opened its first Berkeley location on Telegraph Avenue a few blocks from campus. The co-manager there, Nemo Dang, said that after witnessing packed lines at Cory Hall on opening day, he’s excited to expand the store’s brand further and continually tinker with recipes.
“We’re constantly improving the quality of ingredients as well as taste,” he said.
The tea vendor was chosen after surveys of undergraduate students and graduate students found undergraduates heavily in favor of a tea cafe.
“Interestingly, 90 percent of undergraduates wanted bubble tea. And (with) the graduates and faculty, who are older, the margin was 52 percent tea and 48 percent coffee,” McNally said.
A new cafe that serves primarily coffee is planned to open at Etcheverry Hall later this semester, run by the same management of Nefeli Caffe on Euclid Avenue.
Retrofitting the room to accommodate a cafe was paid for with private funds raised by former EECS department chair Tsu-Jae King Liu, according to McNally.
EECS associate professor Anant Sahai, who teaches on the same floor as the cafe, said that while not all faculty are fans of sugary teas, he appreciates the spot as an important chance for students to see faculty in a different context than lecture or office hours.
“Just seeing us as people, I think, improves the atmosphere,” he said. “Berkeley can be intimidating.”