The Boba Bandwagon

It might be a fad, but it's a tasty one

Once unheard of, boba tea, or bubble tea, features chewy tapioca, or “boba” balls that patrons slurp down with a wide straw, along with a milky iced tea.

“It started in Taiwan in the 1980s,” says D.I.Y. Tea & Beyond owner Richard Zheng. “Now it’s all over the world.”

Zheng says his shop’s boba tea is a standout because of its brewing process, using a tea espresso machine, and the way they prepare the addictive little boba balls themselves:

“We call it ‘brown sugar taste,’” Zheng says, describing how the Boba balls at D.I.Y. are dredged in sweetness for a particularly rich, nutty taste.

Zheng came to the U.S. from mainland China to go to college in New York City at age 19. “I worked on Wall Street for a while, then I quit my job to open a tea shop in L.A.,” he says. Fierce competition in California drove Zheng to a quieter community, without so much boba per square inch.

Zheng’s cozy space at 13th and Patterson near the UO campus offers tea, coffee and snacks. “Our house milk tea is our biggest seller,” he says.

Made with roasted green tea and a blend of milk tea powders, the iced drink is creamy without being cloying.

“Lots of people, they put grass jelly in their drink,” Zheng adds.

For the inexperienced, grass jelly is a Jell-O-like treat, dark green-brown in color, which makes a surprisingly tasty addition to any cold or hot beverage. “Some people put it in a drink or as a topping. Or they’ll have it as dessert, with a little honey,” Zheng says.

For snacks, D.I.Y. offers homemade popcorn chicken, flavored with salt and pepper and special spices. “It’s hand-marinated and prepped fresh,” Zheng says.

Other offerings include sweet-butter toast, made from locally sourced milk bread and topped with chocolate, cream and sweet butter.

“I went to every Asian grocery store in town and no one had this bread. So finally I asked a local Japanese restaurant [Kamitori Masa] to bake it for me.”

Zheng is thinking big and hopes to franchise his concept as it gains traction. But in the meantime, he’s hoping folks might try something new.

“This tea is very popular right now,” Zheng says. “A lot of Chinese students, they know this kind of stuff, and more Americans are coming here every day, too.”

D.I.Y. Tea & Beyond is open 11 am to 11 pm Monday through Friday, and 1 to 11 pm on Saturdays, at 1290 Patterson Street. See the restaurant’s Facebook page for more info.

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