Tapioca fans may be impatiently awaiting the opening of Terry Hung’s downtown bubble tea shop, but Hung’s relatives are even more anxious for Tapio to start serving soon.
“Our whole family, they’re pretty superstitious, and they’d like to make sure we open before the New Year,” Hung says.
Hung wouldn’t reveal the exact date which his relatives have selected as the most auspicious day for Tapio to open its doors, but says “we’re pushing as fast as we can.”
Although Hung and his brother were raised in Atlantic City, N.J., Hung’s extended family is still in Taiwan, where his aunt runs a bubble, or boba, tea shop. Bubble tea — a late-1980s Taiwanese invention which may have evolved from a teahouse staffer spontaneously pouring rice pudding into her iced tea — is a highly competitive business in Taiwan, but Hung says his aunt’s edge is correctly-cooked tapioca balls.
“If it’s cooked too much, it’s too chewy, and if it’s not cooked enough, it’s hard in the middle,” says Hung, who a few years ago worked in his aunt’s shop and plans to make drinks according to her recipes. “The most important thing is how you cook the tapioca and how you brew the tea.”
Boba is notoriously hard to find in Charleston, and the few restaurants serving the beverage botch its preparation by starting with water instead of tea. “Listen, it wasn’t the same,” Hung says of the local bubble teas he tried before deciding to open Tapio.
Bubble tea’s also best when it’s fresh, but Hung says it’s hard for purveyors to work through their stock when so few Charlestonians order it.
“I’m from Jersey, and everyone knows (bubble tea),” says Hung, who’s lately discovered most Charleston residents aren’t familiar with the concept.
In order to introduce local eaters to bubble tea without overwhelming them, Hung and his wife, AJ, plan to limit their opening milk tea menu to five flavors. On the west coast, where an entire subculture has sprung up around boba shops, it’s not unusual for the milk tea menu to feature 10 times as many flavors.
“We don’t want to bombard everyone with flavors,” Hung says, adding he plans to offer seasonal flavors.
Tapio, located at 159 Church St., will also serve fruit teas, made from real fruit, and frozen teas. The food menu includes sandwiches, pastries and a pair of rice bowls.
“We’re really trying to aim for December,” Hung says of the opening.