Brewing up a fresh cup of joe has become a foundation of modern American life. However, on Dec. 20, Kung Fu Tea—a fast-growing Taiwanese influenced chain—opened a kiosk in the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, hoping to get people to kick the coffee habit, and switch sides to a newer rival: bubble tea.
While Kung Fu Tea is rooted in strong Taiwanese tradition, the company has added its own unique touch that stems from the name itself. “[The art] of Kung Fu takes patience and self discipline,” Mai Shi, Kung Fu Tea market manager, said. “A lot of the spirit of Kung Fu goes into how we make our drinks. Every drink is made with Kung Fu because our discipline and patience allows us to make quality drinks.”
Bubble tea, also known more traditionally as “boba” tea, was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s and contains a tea base mixed with fruit and milk, chewy tapioca balls are a common topping added to the drink.
The Taiwanese-inspired menu offers everything from popular traditional milk tea flavors like taro milk tea and coconut milk tea, to their more exotic punch flavors like lychee lemonade and peach oolong tea. And, of course, it wouldn’t be bubble tea without the traditional tapioca balls added as a topping. Sonny Liang, owner of the Kung Fu Tea franchise in the Broadway Mall, explained, “we only use premium ingredients and tea leafs that are handpicked from Taiwan to brew our tea. We even make the tapioca balls fresh every two hours, so each drink is made-to-order freshly on the spot.”
Before launching his franchise, Liang used to work a steady 9-5 job doing development, customer enterprise and advocating as a software engineer. “I was dying for bubble tea all the time,” Liang said. “I used to drive all the way to Chinatown to get it. I knew that there were other people in Long Island that liked bubble tea but didn’t want to travel far to get it, so I decided to open up a store closer to home.”
There are more than 100 Kung Fu Tea locations across the U.S and the company is projecting to open 30 more locations, and to enter Canada and Australia by the end of the year. With such widespread growth it may be surprising to note that the Kung Fu Tea located in the Broadway Mall is the first to open on Long Island. “Fearless is one of our strategies for the U.S. market,” Shi said. “Normally we would look into the 20 percent of the Asian market that would more likely buy our product, but placing Kung Fu Tea into 80 percent of local markets that have never been touched is a risk we are willing to take because we are fearless.”
Long Island is home to the second-largest shopping mall in the state of New York—Roosevelt Field Mall. But, Shi and Liang chose to locate to the smaller mall in Hicksville. “In the past we did try to enter [Roosevelt Field Mall], but the rent was much higher,” Shi said. They chose the Broadway mall because the rent was lower and the store would turn more of a profit.
Hicksville residents are happy that Kung Fu Tea has settled into the Broadway Mall. Jocelyn Reyes, a Hicksville resident who has frequented the new business, said, “there’s just something about Kung Fu Tea. It’s tasty, refreshing, addictive, inexpensive and, best of all, it’s made with non-dairy milk powder, so it’s easy to digest.”
Liang is building a sizable customer base, with an average of more than 100 customers visiting the shop during the workweek, but any new business comes with its fair share of challenges. “A lot of people don’t even know what bubble tea is, so my biggest challenge is trying to explain it to them,” Liang said. He added, “But once they try it and they end up liking it, the product really sells itself.”