A bubble tea drink is frothy with milk and cold to the touch. There’s soft and chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom that give the drink an extra hint of fun. As one of Taiwan’s favorite creations from the 1980s, bubble tea has made its way 7,950 miles to Harrisonburg.
Michael Wu and Peter Chan, JMU alumni of 2011, opened their own Kung Fu Tea shop because of Wu’s inspiration from a business plan in his COB 300 class. Wu originally wanted to introduce the culture of bubble tea to the East Coast, but before he could, a Kung Fu Tea opened across from his high school in Annandale, VA.
This struck Wu to bring bubble tea to his second home, JMU.
“It’s meaningful for us to bring something that we both love and believe in into the community that kind of nurtured us to who we are today,” Chan said.
Wu bought into the Kung Fu Tea franchise for the Harrisonburg, Blacksburg and Charlottesville areas, with JMU’s shop being his first one. In doing so, Wu wanted to use his shop to give JMU students variety when it came to hanging out or studying.
“My favorite thing about Kung Fu Tea is that it provides a great hangout atmosphere,” said Hannah Goulette, a sophomore anthropology major and weekly frequenter of Kung Fu Tea. “They have free wifi if you want to grab some tea and study, and games if you and your friends want to relax.”
Kung Fu Tea is much different than other bubble tea franchises found in the U.S. because of its menu. When walking into the shop your attention is immediately drawn to a menu consisting of eight categories of drinks and over 60 options within those categories. Therefore, making up your mind on a favorite flavor may mean visiting the shop more than once.
“We’re trying to cater to as many audiences as possible,” Chan said. “Bubble might not always be the first thing they will try, but we have so many different options in terms of tea.”
Bubble tea is also a significant drink from both alumni’s childhoods, and they’re happy to see the Harrisonburg community’s excitement in allowing their dream to come true.
“I wanted to do something with my business plan,” Wu said. “There’s no better place to do it than back at where it all started.”
The drink originated in Taiwan, and today, Kung Fu Tea has become one of the fastest growing bubble tea franchises in the U.S. For Wu and Chan, bubble tea has always been a part of their lives.
Chan grew up in Taiwan and hung out with his cousins a lot after school. One day, they were on their way to a favorite restaurant and saw that a bubble tea shop had opened next door. They immediately went in to try it and fell in love with the drink.
“That one that I went to is only in Taiwan,” Chan said. “That’s the place I always go to when I go back to visit Taiwan and my family.”
Wu shares a similar story with Chan in that he also grew up drinking bubble tea, but in D.C.’s Chinatown.
“It’s always been something that I hold close to my heart,“ Wu said. “It’s like our Starbucks, you know. It’s very unique to our culture and we can drink it every day.”
Chan manages the Harrisonburg shop and believes that quality, service and cleanliness are the most important factors upon entering the store. The staff’s also very knowledgeable and willing to help, especially for those new to bubble tea who may have no idea where to start.
The staff can explain the categories of drink in order to determine the customer’s preference for a milk-based, tea-based, coffee-based or fruit-based drink. They’ll also help pick the specific flavor and toppings that the customer will most likely enjoy.
Wu and Chan now see the potential for bubble tea’s business on college campuses after experiencing the great feedback they’ve gotten in Harrisonburg. This summer, they plan to open a second shop in Virginia Beach to try marketing to a more metropolitan area that’s much different than their campus focus.
“We believe that there is a demand for bubble tea,” Chan said. “That’s why I believe in Kung Fu Tea.”
Maddelynne Parker is a sophomore media arts and design major. Contact Maddelynne at email@example.com.