There are those who are addicted to shopping–the shopaholics–and those who are addicted to working–the workaholics. As for me, I am a self-professed bobaholic who is addicted to boba (I may need an intervention, but I don’t want one).
For those not well-versed in the boba arts, “boba” is used as short for “boba milk tea,” which is the delicious and filling combination of milk and tea (usually with black tea or green tea bases) with soft, chewy tapioca pearls inside. “Boba” is also synonymous with the tapioca pearls.
At the beginning of February, news of a brand new boba shop in town spread from boba-enthusiast to boba-lover like wildfire. Unsurprisingly, my throat went dry and my mind went ablaze after hearing the news. Immediately, I headed down to their location in the Albertson’s plaza on Redlands Blvd. After going there a few times and smiling back at the same people behind the counter, I began to wonder more about this unicorn of a boba place and the people.
Tiffany, one of the friendly faces crafting drinks, introduced me to the store and some of their products. Chaca Tea Bar sells milk teas, special drinks (containing yogurt, coffee, and milk), flavored teas, frappes, slushes, smoothies, and mini cakes.
Among all these drinks, their “speciality is boba,” said Tiffany. “70 percent of people know what boba is. 30 percent don’t.” So she and other store co-workers aim to introduce the 30 percent to the “sweet and warm” tapioca. Wanting me to try something new, Tiffany made me an avocado frappe with boba. As someone who doesn’t like avocados, the frappe was surprisingly delicious with its thick and semi-sweet slushy consistency and warm boba pearls.
Unlike some boba places, Chaca Tea Bar makes their boba fresh every day.
“We make it every other hour because it sells out,” Tiffany explained.
For the milk tea, they brew tea leaves and use non-dairy classic creamer, which makes all their milk teas lactose-free. Tiffany clarified that their milk teas are “not like a powder.”
The boba-rista (or boba barista) lives in Redlands and is currently taking a gap year between high school and continuing her studies at Crafton Hills College. Her favorite drink is the strawberry green tea w/ lychee jelly.
More than half of the times I’ve been to Chaca Tea Bar, I’ve also seen Tian.* Before becoming the Chaca manager, Tian worked at Half & Half Tea House (in the San Gabriel Valley) for one year and Boba Fiend Tea House (in Riverside) for two and a half years. When discussing his motivation for staying in the boba industry for so long, Tian explained simply, “I really like it, so I want to do it.”
After being in the the U.S only a few years after immigrating from China, he offered to help out around his friend’s boba shop in exchange for English lessons, and poof! He began working at Boba Fiend.
“I didn’t want to be in the San Gabriel Valley anymore because… I wanted an environment in which I can improve and practice my English, so I moved with all of my possessions,” Tian said.
With all this experience under his belt, Tian helps the owner, Richard, curate the drinks. Tian’s favorite drink is the original milk tea with boba.
There is definitely passion behind the little square shop.
“Everything in the store was created with details in mind… including sugar level, quality, and suppliers of products,” Tian said.
The new boba place is slowly making a name for itself in Redlands. Tiffany explained that many Redlands High School students know about them, but not a lot of university students do. As of March 18, it has 4.5 stars on Yelp from 30 reviews. But the tea bar has plans to expand beyond its menu and its store walls. Tiffany revealed that a new dessert is in its testing phases, but she “can’t tell [us] what [it is] yet.” As if that’s not enough, Chaca Tea Bar just put in its application to be a vendor during Thursday Market Nights!
Tian and Richard dream of having a “milk tea enterprise” that may one day be as big as Starbucks. They’re using this first shop to experiment and get things right, and plan to expand into San Bernardino by the end of the year. In the future, they want to take it all over the U.S.
*The entire interview with Tian was conducted in Mandarin Chinese, so all quotes were translated from Mandarin to English.
all photos contributed by the reporter, Hedy Yu