San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Taiwanese tea sales bubbling

Trying to create a market for a Taiwanese tea in Costa Rica may be considered unconventional, particularly when it’s for bubble tea, a drink with small gelatinous balls that rest at the bottom of each glass.

But bubble tea is a concept that has found a devout following in several markets around the world. Originally a Taiwanese concept, people slurp bubble tea across Asia, in Europe and also the U.S., particularly the Northeast region.

And now it’s popped up in Costa Rica.

In San Pedro, east of downtown San José, a small, quaint restaurant known as T++, or Té Más Más in Spanish, has sprouted up on the infamous Calle de la Amargura, known more for late-night college drink-a-thons than eclectic tea joints.

But that’s exactly where owners Sergio and Eduardo Masís wanted to put their new venture. They previously lived in the U.S. state of Maryland, where they first gulped down a bubble tea.

“We first tried bubble tea at a mall in Maryland and often visited to have more,” Eduardo Masís said. “When my brother and I decided on what kind of business we wanted to bring to Costa Rica, we both agreed bubble tea would be something new, unique and different.” 

Bubble tea is undoubtedly peculiar, and some of the worldwide clientele it attracts fancies itself as the type that has already sniffed out the next big thing. It is a trend usually seen in cosmopolitan enclaves, busy city neighborhoods, college campuses and shopping malls. It’s different and funky, and seems to have found some charm in its still relative obscurity.

But for those who have dared to guzzle down bubble tea, devout commitment to the drink is sometimes a side effect. One bubble tea becomes 10, and a chance visit with a friend becomes a biweekly must. 

With their store located near the University of Costa Rica (UCR), the Masís brothers hope an unsuspecting anthropology student walking home from a Tuesday afternoon quiz stumbles into T++ and decides to quench her thirst by downing a maracuyá, or passion fruit, bubble tea. The brothers are convinced customers will be hooked after the first visit.

“We’re looking to be something different,” said Sergio Masís, who opened the two-story locale in late November. “There are sodas that serve casados and traditional dishes on every corner of this street. Most offer the same traditional things you can get anywhere in the country. We’re not planning on offering traditional things. We sell bubble tea.”

So what is bubble tea? Basically it’s a fusion drink whose ingredients are small, darkened, gooey tapioca balls (made from starch) at the bottom of the see-through cup, a few shots of black or green tea, ice, water and a selected flavor. The 26 flavors of bubble tea at T++ range from blueberry to almond to café latte, lavender and kiwi. 

“All of our drinks are made from real fruit extracts and are healthy and refreshing,” Eduardo Masís said. “We get many of our ingredients here, but for our specialty teas, we have the ingredients imported from Taiwan to make them authentic.”

 T++ definitely has an authentic feel to it. With stacks of spices and ground Taiwanese teas stacked behind the counter, its quirky presentation and product distance it from the traditional bar and pizza offerings near the UCR.

“Several students have shown up here on Saturday mornings and told us that bubble tea is a great remedy for a hangover,” said Hazel Castillo, an employee at T++. “They come in dehydrated from a long night of partying, and the bubble tea replenishes fluids they lost the night before.”

Whatever the motivation for having a slug of bubble tea from T++, it’s something that begs to be tried prior to being judged. And while the tapioca balls may be daunting at first glance, try to suppress any initial resistance. You might be passing up on the next big thing in the world of tea.  

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