Cheng and Zhaojian Li were both air traffic controllers at the Shanghai Area Control Center before Zhaojian left to study aerospace engineering at the U-M, where he earned his PhD. They had been classmates in college, and after three years in different countries, Cheng followed Zhaojian to Michigan, where he’s now on the faculty at MSU. Cheng stayed at home taking care of their family, and in their home kitchen the idea for Jasmine Bubble Tea in Tower Plaza began to flourish.

Zhaojian Li says he and his wife Cheng were just “one step behind”
ChaTime the last time the Maynard St. storefront was available. | Photo: L. Marquette

“Bubble tea is one of her favorite things,” Zhaojian explains. Cheng started doing research and developing her own recipes at home, using trial and error. At summer gatherings with friends, she would serve her homemade bubble tea concoctions, along with dishes inspired by Chinese street food.

“They did really like it,” Zhaojian says. “They encouraged her to open a store.” That store would eventually become the independently owned Jasmine, located in the spot previously occupied by ChaTime.

“We actually looked at this location about two or three years ago,” Zhaojian recalls. They were “one step behind” ChaTime’s owners then, he says, but this year they got the call that they were selling and leaving behind their bubble tea equipment.

“We’re not trying to make tons of money, but we said, ‘Okay.’ It’s going to be a very unique, interesting kind of life experience … we’re going to try our best,” Zhaojian recalls. Jasmine had its soft opening on October 6, just a few weeks after ChaTime closed.

Cheng says she has “very high standards” for her ingredients, using organic fruits, fresh milk, and unsweetened yogurt. “We need to feel very comfortable for our kids to drink” their tea, she explains. She makes several components from scratch, including the taro paste and the mochi topping (using only tapioca flour and water), aiming for “subtle and fresh” flavors rather than “strong, artificial” ones.

They’re already serving hot snacks like Shanghai scallion oil noodles (which Zhaojian loves). In the future, she hopes to add Chinese crepes, a “crispy thin crust” that customers can customize with toppings like sausage and seaweed.

Their signature drinks include a strawberry mochi latte at $5.85. Another caffeine-free option, the mango yogurt with sago, is $4.95. A variety of toppings like cheezo (similar to cheese foam), egg pudding, red bean, and coconut jelly can be added, and milk substitutions include oat milk and an organic lactose-reduced milk.

A staff favorite, the Supreme Orange Jasmine, is priced at $6.45. The store, however, is not entirely named after the tea. Cheng explains that the flower is one that she likes, and a lot of Americans like, and also the name of a traditional song in China that she loved when she was young. And, fitting for this family business, jasmine is also Cheng’s mom’s favorite flower.

Jasmine Bubble Tea, 340 Maynard St. (Tower Plaza). (734) 369-2064. Tues.–Sun. noon–11 p.m. Closed Mon.