At Tea Cha Cha, It Pays To Have A Friend
Illustration by Minju Sun
Just a block or so from Flushing’s Main St. station, a small sidewalk queue almost seems to bounce with anticipation—waiting for lemon grapefruit, red bean and green tea, mango and several other milk bubble tea flavors. Located in ChaTime’s former home (the publicly listed Taiwanese chain with over 1,000 stores worldwide), beside a passport photo booth and cell phone repair shop, the tiny mall space mostly operates from its walk-up window, though it’s possible to order from inside. Tea Cha Cha serves an array of bubble tea options that can be topped with red bean, taro, aloe vera, egg pudding and sundry flavors to passersby and aficionados in need of a tea fix.
A relatively new treat that originated in Taiwan in the ’80s, bubble tea’s genesis as a popular iced tea drink didn’t really take off until the ’90s. There are a few different origin stories—some say the first to serve their tea cold was a concession owner at Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung who was inspired by iced Japanese coffee. From there, bubble tea was first invented by his bored product development manager at a staff meeting who dumped a packet of tapioca into her tea. Others say it was invented by a tea stand owner who started adding fruit flavoring to her teas that needed a good shake to be mixed thoroughly, creating a top bubble foam layer. However it began, the multiple versions and flavors of the drink have been widely popular ever since. Even McDonald’s has gotten in on the trend, offering 250 flavor combinations on their German menu in 2012.
There are countless other vendors in the area hawking the bulbous Taiwanese-made stuff alternatively known as pearl milk tea, boba milk tea, boba tea or tapioca tea; but on my latest visit to Flushing, Tea Cha Cha caught my eye. I couldn’t imagine anyone having a bad time at a place called Tea Cha Cha, and the cute, smiling yellow bear on the logo holding its own fruity beverage beckoned me. I had some sitting and waiting in my near future, and the thought of slurping up soft jelly fruit bits and starchy tapioca pearls—chewing the cud so to speak, to facilitate rumination—was soothing.
I stood in line and chose at random the whole milk three brothers tea, because it made me think of three milks cake (tres leches), which I have a penchant for. Sensing my presence behind her, a bespectacled black-and-navy pouf of a woman wheeled around and asked if I wanted to order together. She pointed out the limited time special discount on the board (limited, but it appears they are always running great promotions). Beaming at her brilliance, I handed over my cash, and when our teas were ready, they came one atop the other in cellophane-sealed twin plastic cups—a thick neon straw for each of us, mine pink, hers orange, to puncture the taut lid after a thorough shaking for a spill-free mobile tea experience.
I didn’t get a chance to talk much with my new friend, Beatrice, save to learn that she is a bus driver for Queens College; but I was thankful for her thrift and effervescence on that day. She saved me money and gifted me with a smile and friendship. The rapidity with which a stranger can become a chum has always marveled me—like watching milk twine around a deep espresso, in an instant changing the darkest roast to a creamy tan. Clutching my beverage as I rode Manhattan-bound, the tea was bubbly, and so was I.
40-10 Main St., Ste. A, Flushing