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3491 19th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
USA

415-967-2622

We grew up drinking milk tea and to this day are still obsessed about it. We started Boba Guys as a way to share the milk tea we remember from our childhood (only this time with fresh ingredients; none of the powdered stuff).

We use only the finest ingredients: Straus Family Creamery organic milk accompanied with homebrewed heirloom organic tea from Five Mountains. Our syrup and almond jelly is homemade and we use Grade A balls. (We just like saying that. )

Boba Guys Blog

Bin Chen

We want to write a post about the goodness of our fans and their effect on our lives. We really do have the best customers and fans in the world. 

Last week, I was working the register for an entire shift. I usually don’t work the register for such a long period, but we’ve been getting back into daily operations to see what we can improve on for the new store.

In three separate instances, a customer randomly tells me that we’re doing a great job and that we are onto something. The first time I heard it, I was just in shock. I asked her about what prompted her comment and she said, “I read some comments about Boba Guys online.” I asked her to elaborate and she said, “For a bubble tea place, you sure have some haters.” I heard the same sentiment again an hour later.

Then, one of our regulars comes in. She has been coming in for a really long time, ever since we opened the shop last June. Our conversations usually stay at the surface level of shared pleasantries. However, it was different that day. She randomly says, “I read a couple reviews and I am sad to see what some people write about you. They don’t get what you guys are about. Don’t mind them.” My heart grew three times that day. It was what we needed to hear at that moment.

You see, public perception is a topic that few business owners ever write about. Some might say it’s a bit too transparent. But we’re not writing just to our fans, we’re writing for small business owners across America.

The reality is that us business owners know what people say about us (well, the ones that care do). Many of you know that Bin and I come from the corporate world. In both the corporate world and business school, you are conditioned to withstand criticism. You develop very, very thick skin. But we’re all human at the end of the day, so believe it or not– we have feelings!

When Bin and I started Boba Guys and subsequently chose to use #FightThePowder and #DoTheRightThing as our Kickstarter taglines, we knew our positioning could potentially polarize the public. Some people get what we do, others don’t. By saying we are the highest quality boba shop in the world and that we don’t use powders, it is drawing attention to the fact that other shops use ingredients of lesser quality. We understand how it sounds.

To us, it’s less about something being inferior, but rather it’s about positioning. In fact, we always get asked about our favorite boba shops and we openly recommend them (for the record, we like Wonderful Foods in SF and Half & Half in SoCal, but Sharetea is our favorite mega chain). We emphasize quality because that helps us achieve our mission in changing perceptions in boba and tea– it’s an industry where quality is not expected. If we went with a low-cost strategy, then we’d be no different than most of the boba shops in the world.

 

In business school, I was taught that all companies make a trade-off between cost and quality. You almost always get what you pay for (despite what my Asian relatives think!) And if there’s arbitrage, it won’t last long because people will surely find it and abuse it until the opportunity is gone. In a pseudo-free market, you are only successful if your product is in demand despite viable alternatives.

And that’s what struck me this weekend when our fans gave us words of encouragement. It is also what we’re learning through the outpour of support for our Kickstarter campaign. In a sea of cynics, we are connecting with people who truly care about quality and running a business responsibly.

What Bin and I never talk about (until now) are the internet trollz and taunting phone calls that we– yes, a boba shop– receive. And it’s usually from other Asian Americans! It’s amusing to us as Bin and I came from a world where the best businesses or brands are typically very polarizing. Usually, it’s a good sign when a brand is loved or hated. (Just make sure you are loved by enough people!) We can live with unwarranted criticism as it is a result of our positioning. We want to change the industry, so it will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers. We don’t mind the label of “hipster boba” if that means we’re the highest quality boba in the world!

Our real concern is when people call out specific members of staff in a public forum. This is in addition to the racial comments we read online or hear in person. To put it mildly, that is not cool. It’s been done several times and probably countless more if we had more time to track things down. It is cyberbullying and passive-aggressive. One of our core values is giving a damn and that means standing up for other small businesses who are exposed to these people.

As we have said since our GOOD magazine articles, we’re about changing perceptions and bridging cultures. To us, cyberbullying and trolling is almost as bad as blatant racism because it’s divisive without accountability. Yes, by writing this, we are antagonizing cyberbullies and internet trollz which isn’t exactly building bridges– but it comes from a spirit of love like a big internet noogie! Sadly, we all know these people.

At one point in my life, it was me. I was that guy, the person who would post a one-star review simply because the waiter gave me attitude. We write because we think, “Surely, I’m going to show them!” In reality, it doesn’t prove anything and it isn’t constructive at all. The owners, if they even care, will read the review and offer an apology and an offer to make it right. However, the issue, if valid, is usually something systemic, so the one review won’t change the business overnight. But the waiter was often my true target of contempt. It’s like I want him or her to get fired over spilled milk (ironically, that did happen one time). That was just mean-spirited and immature.

The reality is that my critiques were a myopic instrument of power. It was my way of feeling better about myself. It’s why people yell at customer service reps over the phone, even if the rep has nothing to do with the issue. We just want someone to vent at so we can feel better. As some of you know, my father is a proud bus driver for the great city of San Francisco. My mom, bless her soul, is a customer service rep at a telecom who deals with the crazy shenanigans from people all over the country. So yes, I do feel strongly about this topic!

The point of this is to thank our fans for the timely vote of confidence and to continue channeling our passion into our mission: bridging cultures to change the way people think about boba and tea. There are days when Bin and I feel as though the mission isn’t worth it. We hear the cynics. After all, what’s wrong with cheap snacks and drinks? Why can’t we just make cute food and leave it at that? Why do we have to be the ones that challenge the status quo and do the right thing

The reason we keep going is because change is inevitable and the end result (i.e. social change) is worth it. Through Boba Guys, we’ve met other great entrepreneurs who share the same desire to bridge cultures, many of whom encounter the same sentiment. We cannot stop because of internet trolls. If we want a better world– one with more understanding and compassion– then we need to #DoTheRightThing and change culture. 

We say to our fans, team, and entrepreneurs who face social adversity, keep ya head up!

“Keep ya head up, oooo child things are gonna get easier
Ooooo child things are gonna get brighter” - Tupac

~ Andrew

Bin Chen

This post has been a LONG, LONG time in coming. In lieu of today's Gizmodo post, we think now is the best time to talk about our milk… and shake things up a bit. *cheesy rimshot*

A lot of people ask us why we made the decision to use Straus organic milk in all of our milk teas. We hear it a lot:

“Milk is all the same, right?”

“People across the US drink it every day and they’re fine. Why do you guys have to use organic milk? That’s soooo bourgy." 

"I’m fine with non-dairy creamer. Tons of people drink it every morning. We all can’t be wrong.”

Well, we tried to address it on our FAQ page, but it’s hidden in the deep recesses of the website. It’s just easier to highlight it every so often like today.

Before we get started, we wanted to set the context. We don’t try to be “bourgy, "hipster,” or “artisan” because it’s trendy or different. We do it because it represents values that we can be proud of. We’re deathly afraid of being labeled as self-important, so it’s a very fine line to straddle. For example, our brown sugar for our housemade syrup base is not organic mostly because it’s so crazy expensive– we try to be as prudent as possible and always ask if the customer finds value in whatever it is we do.

So back to milk. We’ve all heard “Milk does a body good.” We believe organic milk does a body better. And Straus Family Creamery is the leader in this space. That is why many of the best ice cream shops in the Bay Area like Bi-Rite or Humphry Slocombe use Straus

Once upon a time after business school, I worked in CPG (consumer packaged goods). I was put on a food brand in my first assignment and worked in the salad dressing market with brilliant food scientists. Let’s just say I learned A LOT about the processed food and dairy industry. While I am forever grateful that I got world-class training, I always felt weird about promoting something I had issues with consuming myself.

It is there that I developed the strong conviction that some, though not all, foods are much better when there are high-quality standards (e.g. organic, no rBST). Fortunately, my business partner is very passionate about this, too.

Although there are debates on whether or not organic products are truly better, most agree on two things: organic milk does not have rBST and are processed with savory production conditions. Also, we think the cows are happier, too. Doesn’t that count for anything?!

The real question is if all of this is worth the price. To us, it is. 

So that’s why our milk brings all the boys to the yard. Damn right, it’s better than yours.

Cheers,

Andrew

#FightThePowder
#DoTheRightThing

#fightthepowder #dotherightthing

Bin Chen

Boba Guys and Gals,

It’s Day 15, which means we are officially half way through our Kickstarter Campaign!

The overwhelming support to our Kickstarter campaign really touched our hearts. When we saw that we hit 33% of our goal within three days, Bin and I did a little “Happy” dance. If we reach our goal, we just might have to bust out a whole special number!? =)

Today, we wanted to answer one FAQ: why did we make our Kickstarter about #FightthePowder and #DotheRightThing?

For those who don’t know, it is a reference to an awesome movie called Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee. It’s a provocative movie that everyone should see as its themes are still relevant 25 years later. We had to re-watch it a couple times before we decided to integrate it across our campaign. We knew that reintroducing the phrase “Fight the Powder” in today’s vernacular could potential ignite unnecessary controversy across the internetz. That’s why we want to explain ourselves now.

Do the Right Thing spoke to Bin and I because it shares the same passion for social change. It’s a funny, yet authentic portrayal of race relations in the 1980s. I was only eight years old when the movie came out, but I remember watching it on VHS at a neighbor’s house. While some of the dialogue was way over my head, I remember it affected me deeply— it was one of the first times I saw Asians in mainstream cinema. The Asian immigrant store owners in the movie reminded me of my family’s situation—we ran one of the only Chinese restaurants in our little township of Woodbridge, New Jersey.

I am the first to admit that I am very fortunate when it comes to racial discrimination. I can only recall a few select instances in my childhood where I was on the receiving end of explicit racial prejudice. Most of the time, I heard silly one-off comments like “Hey Jackie Chan!” or “What are you going to do, Bruce Lee?” Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee were/are still heroes to young Asian Americans, so if that’s what people wanted to call me, so be it. There are a lot worse things to be called than a Drunken Master tyke.

Two of my best friends from childhood were Italian and Hungarian. It is through them that I experienced true racial and ethnic discrimination. They endured the full gamut of racial epithets and I was often present to empathize with them. Even as a kid, I found it unfair to insult a person based on the color of one’s hair, family possessions, or even what they brought in for lunch—these are things out of my friends’ control. Although it wasn’t exactly a conscious decision, I developed an acute awareness of social and economic division.

Fast forward twenty years later, I meet Bin and find out we share a similar point of view. This time it’s flipped. In a city where 1/3 of the population is Asian American, we can easily fall prey to reverse discrimination. We hear tinges of it when people comment about the diversity of our staff (i.e. 70% of our staff are not of Asian descent). We have the best, most loyal employees in the business—it is disappointing when people think they cannot make a good drink simply because of the way they look. As we wrote two years ago, Boba Guys is our way of sharing our culture with the world. It’s not about being Asian American, Taiwanese, or Chinese. It’s about bridging cultures.

One of the biggest hurdles in bridging culture is helping people understand the boba scene. In our opinion, the boba and tea industry is a bit clandestine and insular. We felt this when we started Boba Guys and met with potential suppliers. One supplier laughed at our face when we said that the future of boba lies with transparency and quality ingredients. He (the CEO) proceeded to say we were being naïve and foolish. We still think about the conversation to this day. The CEO happens to run one of the biggest industry conglomerates today.

The massive menus and endless combinations of flavors also make the whole experience very intimidating for people who are new to boba. It’s hard to know who to trust and what to drink, especially if everything looks like a nondescript, colorful powder. That’s why we care so much about transparency. If people can see how we make things or the ingredients we use, it makes the experience more palatable.

We’re not here to stick it to the industry, but we are very intentional about our campaign. In order to change perceptions, we have to disrupt things a bit. We use the traditional Taiwanese brown sugar syrup method, but we also use Straus organic milk. We sell world-famous Sunny Hills Pineapple Cakes from Taiwan, but we also make Hong Kong toast with a buttercream topping instead of the typical can of condensed milk. The disruption may be uncomfortable for some, but better for the whole. By bridging cultures, you get crazy new creations like horchata boba or milk tea with chia seeds. And more importantly, you start breaking down barriers and just maybe, we all start to love each other a little more.

So we hope that explains why we chose to use the hashtags. #FightThePowder is our call to challenge the status quo and #DotheRightThing. Thank you for joining us in this mission!

Cheers,

Andrew

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Bin Chen

We have big news to share!

Our mission is to change the way people think about boba and tea. We chase this dream through three core values: quality, transparency, and giving a damn. 

That mission has now lead us to build our 2nd store inUnion Square! This time though, it’s not just another store, it’s about building what we’ve always dreamt of building…Boba Guys Labs! 

Boba Guys Labs is a place where we can continue making our products in-house, experiment with new ideas, and build lasting community. It’s the boba revolution!

Today we launch our Kickstarter to help build our most ambitious project to date. But we need your help to raise $30,000 to open our doors. Please watch the video, back us and most importantly…help us get the word out! We’ll be sharing more information in the days to come.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bobaguys/boba-guys-labs-a-new-way-to-discover-boba-milk-tea

Bin Chen

It’s been almost one year since we opened the doors to our first location. We’ve had our fair share of bumpy roads and heavy criticism. But that’s what made us into who we are today. 

Now, we are proud to present our newest creation. What you see is a drink crafted to perfection, a next-level milk tea engineered to change the world of boba forever with the most epic of boba drinks. Boba Guys is proud to introduce the world’s first $100 boba milk tea.

We call it “The Golden Boba.”

Bin Chen

While studying abroad in Taiwan over this past summer, our teachers, who were students at the National Taiwan University (NTU or 台大), offered to take us on a few weekend trips to famous and culturally significant places in Northern Taiwan. On one of these weekends they took a small group of us to Maokong (貓空) to visit a “tea master” and drink some of Taiwan’s most famous tea. The trip there wasn’t your typical school bus field trip; we all rendezvoused at the Taipei Zoo, then proceeded into Sky Gondola building, where we boarded the zoo’s “Maokong Gondolas” (which, I think in the U.S, we call ski lifts), which propel your “gondola” along a cable to different parts of the zoo and to the final destination, Maokong.

After landing in Maokong, we walked about a mile (and maybe got a little lost), until the teachers pointed out a large (fake) silver rock on the side of the road with the “Wutie” in Chinese spray painted onto it. Past the rock and down a small path through a garden, we found a precariously perched cottage over looking a large plot of land dotted with bushes of tea. The man inside (our “tea master”) greeted us warmly. His small farm is family owned an operated, and produces a relatively small amount of tea every harvest, but he wanted us to be able to pick our own tea, roast it, and brew it for ourselves with his guidance.

Baskets in hand, he explained which tea leaves to pick, which to avoid, and why. It depended on the look of the leaf, not too young, but not too old, and the feel of the leaf (some had a glossiness to them you could feel if you rubbed them with your fingers). Picking the leaves correctly, and quickly, was something all of us struggled with. After some time, we gathered our harvest and tea master showed us how to roast the tea and periodically “squeeze” the leaves with our hands throughout the roasting. He even used a large square of cloth to roll the leaves and squeeze them tighter, then left the ball to rest, before roasting them further.

Our tea, in the end, was pretty good, despite a hastened roasting process and our amateur tea-picking technique. The real treasure of this trip, however, was the Wutie Alishan Oolong. Served in much tinier tea cups, and served after a long, complicated, brewing process which involved several cups and more than one tea kettle, this complex tea was well worth the wait. Alishan high mountain tea is very expensive, and you can taste why. My own interpretation was that this oolong had almost a hint of a coffee taste to it, and to this day was the best tea I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

A truly memorable experience I will never forget in my travels, hopefully, someday, we can take all of out Boba Guys to Maokong to try their world famous tea at it’s source.

Ashley

Bin Chen

We were the first to do it at our old popup shop and now we’re bringing it back at our new Berkeley popup…reintroducing Alcoholic Boba!

Boba Guys Berkeley Popup
2502 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley (Telegraph & Dwight)
Friday & Saturday: 5pm to 10pm

Bin Chen

Boba Guys is growing and looking to hire! We are looking to add one more part-time barista to our team. It could be you!

About Us:
We are a food startup that began as a popup shop, grew to our own cafe in the Mission District of San Francisco, and we are expanding even further this year!

What We Stand For:
We’ve built and continue to cultivate a close-knit team and culture that embodies the three things we stand for: Quality, Transparency, and Giving a Damn. To read more about our mission, click here.

What you’ll need to rock in this role:
The work you’ll be doing is fast-paced, fun and team-oriented so a strong work ethic and playing nice with others is required. We also have some of the best, most loyal customers in the world so an upbeat attitude is a must; you’re the face of our company! Cafe experienced preferred but not required.

If this sounds like your cup of tea (sorry we couldn’t resist), head over to our jobs page and follow the instructions to apply.

http://www.bobaguys.com/jobs/

Bin Chen

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Here at Boba Guys we stand for quality. Food is our craft. We use small batch methods when possible and work with the finest ingredients. We strive for the best and work towards it every day.

If you ever have a problem with your drink or want it adjusted, let us know! We are happy to oblige and we’ll even make you a new one if you’d like. That’s our promise to you.