From zero-sugar boba tea and coffee to an assortment of keto desserts, AURA Boba Tea & Coffee, located on 121 Spear St. Suite B05 in San Francisco, provides community members a chance to indulge in healthier alternatives to their favorite sweet drinks.
Having grown up in Cupertino, Kashish Juneja, campus alumna and the store’s founder and CEO, said her lifestyle has revolved around trying different boba shops. Whether hanging out with friends, going on a date night or trying to get some work done, she always got the chance to drink her go-to order, a classic milk tea.
She noted, however, that consuming these sweet drinks had her thinking about her health. This prompted her to look into creating zero-sugar alternatives that would help satisfy her sweet tooth while improving her relationship with food.
“It’s about creating a healthy relationship with your body because even when I lost weight, I was still insecure. So it wasn’t actually a matter of how I looked but it was more of my mentality when I was eating these foods,” Juneja said. “My whole thing is about bringing positive vibes into our habits and I’m doing that with my favorite drinks.”
Having created the first prototype of drinks out of her dorm room during the pandemic, Juneja held her first blind taste test on campus in 2020. She served her own beverages against competitors such as Boba Guys and other boba shop chains around the area.
After nailing down the recipe for her boba drinks, she pitched her idea to investors and received what she described as a “tapioca-sized” fund, which she put towards opening her store in San Francisco.
“There’s no right time to start (your business),” Juneja said. “If you have an idea, and you believe in something, you believe that that idea is solving a problem, it’s really just about executing after that point.”
Comparing the act of starting a business to a marriage or raising a child, Juneja explained that points of failure and success along the way were inevitable. She added it is important to be flexible when starting a business and contrasted her role as founder to a Swiss Army knife.
She noted one of the challenges she encountered was with the health department, sharing that she initially used the incorrect material for her countertops. This delayed her opening by three months.
Juneja also explained that while her store is located next to the Google headquarters, the pandemic caused many employees to work from home, which decreased local foot traffic to her shop. To combat this hybrid working model, she introduced bottled versions of her drinks which allowed her to offer delivery services.
Juneja said she has stayed firm on her mission to provide everyone an opportunity to consume their favorite sweets.
“When you’re having drinks, you should feel good — you shouldn’t feel those negative feelings,” Juneja said. “I’m on this good vibes movement about telling people that food can be healthy and it can taste good because there’s a lot of healthy stuff out there that doesn’t taste good. My whole thing is about no compromise.”
She said one of her store’s favorites is the Cinnamon Toast Milk, inspired by the cereal Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which she described as reminiscent of the milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl. She also noted many customers enjoy their mango jasmine green tea, classic milk tea and cocoa mocha, which she said tastes similar to Nesquik chocolate milk.
“When I describe AURA I used to say, ‘Oh, we’re zero sugar, the healthier alternative,’ but it’s bigger than that,” Juneja said. “What I say is (it is) essentially releasing and fueling your inner child and helping you bring back that nostalgic taste of your favorite childhood flavors without the sugar or calories.”
Juneja said she hopes to expand her business across the country and is currently in talks with the Berkeley Student Food Collective to offer her bottled boba drinks on campus such as in the Cal Student Store.
“I’m trying to bring AURA back to UC Berkeley, like a full circle kind of moment,” Juneja said. “This is launching in a way where it’s like, ‘Alright, things are coming back.’ UC Berkeley is a reason why I started this so I’m excited to bring it back to the people who supported me.”