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Siblings Xi and Yanyun Li

Bubble Tea at the Big Mall

The Li's, local pioneers, extend their reach.

by Sabine Bickford

From the November, 2019 issue

Bubble tea cafe Sweeting has opened a new location in Briarwood Mall. Sweeting's original South University location opened in 2015, and its predecessor, Momo Tea, opened in 2009--a decade ahead of international "boba" chains CoCo Tea and Chatime, which arrived on the scene this year.

Like Sweeting, the new bubble tea establishments are located close to campus, where they can draw on large international student populations already familiar with the Taiwan-originated beverage. But brother-and-sister owners Yanyun and Xi Li say moving south has paid off so far. "We wanted a location somewhat closer to residential [areas]," says Yanyun.

The new spot is in the mall's newly established "food court" in the northeast (ex-Sears) wing. Unlike the campus location, which serves hot food and a variety of intricate desserts, the new spot is more of a grab-and-go affair.

The options, however, are far from limited. The detailed menu features more than twenty-five variations of hot milk or creamer teas, sixteen flavored milks, three long lists of iced tea variations (in green, oolong, and black), plus categories for caffeine-free lemonades, frozen "frosteas," and creama teas topped with a salty cheese foam (closer to a very light cream cheese than a cheddar or bleu).

"We wanted more people to know what a traditional bubble tea is," says Xi. "We make every order fresh, and we make every order hand-shaken."

The two Sweeting locations are also the only places in town to get "rolled ice cream." "It's from Thailand originally," says Yanyun. "We decided to do it because we think it's really fun and it's really creative." She thinks their South U location was one of the first in Michigan to offer the dessert, which is made by freezing cream in a pan and gently rolling it into cylinders. Sweeting offers eleven varieties (plus extra toppings), including Yanyun's favorite, the "Morning Call," made with coffee ice cream and graham crackers.

The Li siblings immigrated to Ann Arbor with their family from southern

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China in 2009. They say bubble tea was popular with their classmates growing up. Yanyun worked at Sweeting (then still Momo) while she attended college at EMU. She and Xi became owners in 2016.

Like neighbors Salads Up and 24th Cheesecakerie, the Sweeting store consists of one main counter and a small seating area. Immediately noticeable is the wall opposite the counter, covered floor-to-ceiling with an array of blown-up photographs of Ann Arbor and Michigan landmarks interspersed among classic movie posters and other vintage artworks. "We had it customized in our home country and then had it shipped here," says Yanyun.

When the Lis first became owners, they changed the name from Momo to Sweetology, only to receive a legal notice from a company in St. Louis already using the name. They changed to Sweeting a few months later. Both names, says Xi, are intended to suggest a place "to make sweet things, where the people are sweet. Everything is sweet!"

Sweeting, 100 Briarwood Cir. (Briarwood Mall). (734) 213-5213. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2019.]


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