CEDAR FALLS — They were thousands of miles away from home, attending college across the globe.
And the three Chinese natives really missed a favorite drink.
“After we came here, we didn’t have bubble tea for three or four years,” said Leo Ge. The concoction gets its name from the key ingredient of bubble-like tapioca balls.
“It’s very famous in Asia,” said Tiffany Sheng, and can be found in larger cities around the U.S., including Des Moines.
So, the University of Northern Iowa graduates joined forces with fellow alum Jay Gao in October to open PearlTea at 5725 University Ave., Suite A.
“We went to UNI before, and when we graduated we wanted to do something different,” said Sheng.
“We wanted to bring something new to town,” added Gao.
The shop in Black Hawk Village builds its drinks using five types of tea — jasmine green, royal black, brown rice, oolong and sakura sencha. The teas, which they noted are antioxidants and loaded with vitamins, are brewed fresh every morning.
“We add flavors to those and make combinations,” said Sheng, including multiple fruit flavors along with others like honey, coffee and sweet red bean. The flavored tapioca balls also are cooked daily.
Customers can order milk teas, cream covered teas, tea lattes, hand-shaken fruit teas, slushies, smoothies with ice cream and hot tea drinks. Most drinks are in the $4 to $5 range. Those who can answer the daily question on a black board in the entryway can get a free topping, and college students can get $2 drinks on Wednesdays.
Search for PearlTea Cedar Falls on Facebook to see the menu.
Sheng said bubble tea originated in Taiwan. The PearlTea owners first drank it in Shanghai, where they lived before meeting in Cedar Falls. All three were accounting majors at UNI.
The drink has had a good reception in the Cedar Valley, they say. The trio initially looked on College Hill for a location that would be accessible to UNI students before settling in Black Hawk Village near Asian Fusion restaurant and Sakura Japanese steak house and sushi bar.
“It’s kind of like Asian street,” said Gao.
“But it’s kind of far from campus,” noted Sheng. She said they attract about equal numbers of college students and other Cedar Valley residents.
Gao said the businesses’ logo, featuring a squirrel sipping a drink, is a sly acknowledgement of their UNI education.
“When we go to the college, when we go to the school, we see a lot of squirrels,” he noted, gathering acorns on the lawn or scampering up trees.
Why include the furry little animal on PearlTea’s cups and signs?
“Why not?” said Gao.