The Boba Invasion Continues
With rival Taiwan-based franchises
From the June, 2019 issue
Two Taiwan-based bubble tea franchises opened Ann Arbor locations on May 17. Chatime joins Bubble Island and Sweeting in South University's student food district, while CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice is across from North Campus in the Courtyard Shops.
Both have thousands of stores globally, and both offer similar selections of sweetened milky tea drinks with tapioca bubbles. But the intricacies of the menus, combined with natural complications of translation, may need unraveling for a newcomer.
Chatime, for example, offers a foamy cream topping for their teas, with a sprinkling of salt, called "mousse." They offer it in chocolate, matcha, and tieguanyin flavors. On CoCo's menu, a similar style with a sweet creamy salted foam is called a "macchiato"--though on their website it's called a "cloud."
All the bubble tea is made with a machine that brews tea with a specialized cream powder (if you want milk you order a "latte" at Chatime or a "fresh milk tea" at CoCo). Customers specify whether they want it hot or cold, sugar level, and add-ins that include tapioca pearls (or "boba"), different kinds of jelly, sweet red beans, or custard (called "pudding" on both menus).
Other options include smoothies, juices, and, at Chatime, "QQ," which owner Angel Chen explains is "juice with half pearls and half coconut jelly. It's like a little slang [expression] in Taiwan that's used to mean 'really chewy.'"
Chen is from Hong Kong and her business partner David Lee is from Taiwan. They both grew up around bubble tea, she says, and wanted to share an authentic version. They hadn't realized CoCo had the same idea until construction was underway.
"We thought we had the game two years ago," Chen says, but by the time their space was ready, CoCo had caught up. CoCo's managing director, Albert Lin, was not available to comment before we went to press.
Both stores have a similar minimalist, modern feel (down to the white store logos over fake green grass
backgrounds on the walls), but Chatime's contemporary hip-hop playlist and late hours push it more toward the "cool" end of things, while CoCo's cute boba mascot and relative quiet atmosphere leave it a little more mellow. Still, Chen says students aren't Chatime's only customers. "I want to target everyone," she says, "I want to show people what bubble tea is."
Chatime, 340 Maynard. (734) 531-6896. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. chatime.com
CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice, 1731 Plymouth Rd. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m. en.coco-tea.com
[Originally published in June, 2019.]
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