How to Open a Bubble Tea Shop

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The tapioca pearls that sink to the bottom of the glass make it fun to drink bubble tea with a fat straw.
The tapioca pearls that sink to the bottom of the glass make it fun to drink bubble tea with a fat straw. (Image: haisondang/iStock/Getty Images)

Bubble tea, also known as boba tea or pearl tea, is a popular drink in Southeast Asia that's gaining a following in the United States. The comparative lack of competition in that market at present means there's potential for building a thriving business. The key to selling the sweet drink flavored with fruit and featuring chewy pearls of tapioca is educating potential customers so they can’t wait to stop in every time they see your shop.

Customer Awareness

Since bubble tea is relatively new in the U.S. market, using your shop decor to help customers understand where bubble tea originated can boost awareness. For instance, use bamboo furniture and potted ferns to create a more Asian or tropical feel. Hang signs and provide information at the counter about what goes into a bubble tea drink, such as the types of tea or the tapioca that's added to each drink. Explain that the tapioca resembles bubbles. When the drink is shaken, foam appears on the top and the tapioca bubbles sink, giving the drink a bubbly look on top and at the bottom.

Equipment and Supplies

The equipment requirements for making bubble tea are minimal. You'll need a refrigerator to keep ingredients cold, a stove for making tapioca and a way to crush ice if you choose to make your own rather than buy it. You also need blenders and shaking cups to create the bubbles for which the drink is known. Condensed or sweetened milk and fresh fruit will be needed as well if you plan to make bubble smoothies. Get cups in several sizes and buy fat straws for sucking the tapioca off the bottom of the drink. Business kits containing bags of flavored powders, tapioca, tea, fat straws and measuring scoops are available.

The Price Is Right

On average, boba tea shops charge between $3 and $5 for a 16- or 20-ounce drink, says Boba Tea Direct, a company that sells bubble tea products wholesale to businesses. The drink costs about 75 cents per serving to make, providing room for a big markup if you can convince people to keep coming back. The key is to buy supplies and ingredients at wholesale prices.

Free Samples

Introduce people to bubble tea by offering trial-sized servings on the street just outside your shop or inside your shop. Set up large sandwich and above-the-door signs pointing the way. Seek the help of your local media to cover your grand opening. Provide information about the history of the drink, which was created in Taiwan in the 1980s. To differentiate yourself from other specialty-drink shops, consider using organic or fresh local fruit or specific brands of tea and let customers know that’s what makes your drink so delicious.

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