Boba shop brings traditional Taiwanese milk tea to local boba scene

Daniela Cervantes/Senior Staff

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Berkeley added one more to its collection of boba milk tea shops when Taiwan Professional Tea, or TP TEA, opened a location on Telegraph Avenue on Oct. 28.

TP TEA is based in Taiwan but has locations in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Vietnam. In 2018, the company opened its first U.S. store in Cupertino, California to much acclaim. TP TEA finally celebrated the grand opening of its Southside location after six months of preparation.

TP TEA shows off the high-quality nature of its tea and strives to give customers the experience of a less sweet, more traditional-style Taiwanese milk tea according to TP TEA representative Olivia Juh, who handles the California franchises.

“We try to emphasize tea. … we want you to taste the tea, not the sweetness in sugar and syrup,” Juh said. “We don’t offer too many toppings and too many flavors in drinks — you wouldn’t be able to taste the tea.”

In an area already saturated with a multitude of boba shops, one might wonder how a new establishment might be able to carve out a place for itself in Berkeley.

For TP TEA, the move to Berkeley was less about trying to compete with other shops than it was about bringing its distinct product to a new audience, according to Juh, as the goal was to bring its more traditional take on the beverages to a new market.

“It tastes like authentic Taiwanese milk tea,” said campus sophomore Wan-Yu Lai, who grew up in Taiwan and has been drinking milk tea for much of her life.

Lai said the milk tea she ordered reminded her of the tea she drank back home.

Although Lai said it was not the best she has had, she enjoyed the more traditional take on boba. Its traditional Taiwanese classic and black tea latte are among the favorites of Berkeley residents who have visited the shop so far, according to Juh.

TP TEA is a subsidiary of Chun Shui Tang, a company that got its start in the 1980s as a sit-down establishment in Taiwan, according to Juh. The company claims to have invented boba milk tea as we know it today.

Campus junior Daniella Cluver grew up in Oakland, where milk tea shops are sparser, and did not try boba until coming to UC Berkeley. For her, the draw of TP TEA was in the aesthetic of the shop.

“I understand now why people like it. … When something is popular like this, they just tend to open up everywhere,” Cluver said. “The presentation made a difference.”

The number of milk tea establishments in Berkeley adds to the variety that boba fans have access to, according to Kevin Nguyen, an employee of RareTea, a boba shop across the street from TP TEA.

To Nguyen, it seems as if there is enough business to go around, and each of the different shops have distinct qualities that allow milk tea patrons to find the beverage that is right for them.

Contact Jacob Souza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.