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From the September 7, 2001 print edition
Local couple tastes sweet success with bubble tea
Christy L. Cain
Pacific Business News
A slushy drink layered with tapioca balls is popular across the U.S. and Canada and now can be found in the islands.
One Hawaii couple is distributing the ingredients and machines needed for the frothy and chewy drink created in Taiwan.
Evan and Kari Leong are the founders of Honolulu-based Bubble Tea Supply, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a sales revenue of $200,000.
"In Taiwan, if you go within a two-block radius, there are several places selling this," Evan Leong says. "It's starting to sell well over here because it's hot here, people like to snack and they enjoy sweet stuff."
Coffee Works, located in Ward Warehouse, sells about 70 drinks a day at $3 a cup, says manager Linda Galdeira.
"Sometimes we can't keep up with the demand of the drink," Galdeira says. "It's a huge craze right now."
The shop goes through about 36 pounds of the tapioca balls a week, ordered from Bubble Tea Supply, she says. The black, marble-shaped tapioca balls and the powder or syrup mixture are the key ingredients.
Leong's company processes about 140 to 200 orders a month, with a price range of $100 to $1,000.
"In the next six months it should pick up really well," Leong says. "We get a lot of calls from California and we supply to many local shops that sell the drink. Starting in the fourth quarter we'll look into doing international distributions."
The majority of Bubble Tea Supply's sales come from its Web site, http://www.bubbleteasupply.com. Local favorite flavors are offered, including mango, taro and lychee.
The new drink and the opening of new theaters at Windward Mall helped Terry Hermann-Santos' shop, Ono Yogurt, increase sales by 70 percent since May.
"When we started, we didn't have any advertising for it, and we sold about 16 a day," she says. "Now about 75 to 100 are going a day."
Bubble tea drinks began in the early 1980s in Taiwan. Originally mixed with tea, the syrup or powder flavoring would create bubbles, hence the name bubble tea. Tapioca balls were added later, and the drink has since been named pearl tea drink, black pearl tea and tapioca-ball drink.