The Daily Iowan

A new café bubbles along

Customers+wait+in+line+to+order+at+Encore+Life+on+July+8%2C+2017.+Shanru+Meng%2C+the+owner%2C+thought+about+having+her+own+shop+while+taking+college+classes.+%28Hieu+Nguyen%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
Customers wait in line to order at Encore Life on July 8, 2017. Shanru Meng, the owner, thought about having her own shop while taking college classes. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)

Customers wait in line to order at Encore Life on July 8, 2017. Shanru Meng, the owner, thought about having her own shop while taking college classes. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)

Customers wait in line to order at Encore Life on July 8, 2017. Shanru Meng, the owner, thought about having her own shop while taking college classes. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)


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One recent University of Iowa graduate capitalizes on her UI marketing degree to operate Iowa City’s newest bubble-tea café, Encore Life.

By Lucia Wagner

[email protected]

Two colossal raindrops, each enveloping a sakura, or cherry blossom, lie perched on a tray of blond wood. While water is a main ingredient in the Sakura Raindrop Cake, this treat originates from Japan — not from a cloud in the sky.

The Sakura Raindrop Cake is a signature dish at Encore Life, Iowa City’s newest bubble-tea and dessert café. The café, 119 E. Washington St., opened in April.

Shanru Meng, the founder and owner of Encore Life, graduated in 2016 from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business with a major in marketing. The 24-year-old decided to remain in Iowa City after graduation to stay in touch with her friends and pursue her goal of opening a bubble-tea café, she said.

“My friends and I love bubble tea, so I created a place for people to enjoy the tea and rest,” she said.

Meng and her friends researched traditional tea and Asian dessert recipes before crafting Encore Life’s menu, which features milk teas, “milk caps” — or tea topped with frothy milk and cream — fruit teas, smoothies, and desserts. Most bubble teas, which originated in Taiwan, consist of a tea base mixed with milk or fruit and contain pearl-sized balls of chewy tapioca.

Catherine Champion, the owner of Catherine’s Boutique, 7 S. Dubuque St., is a fan of Encore Life’s Encore Green Tea Milk Tea. She said the café brings a big-city vibe to downtown.

“Encore Life is super-adorable,” Champion said. “I love that you can get your bubble tea with less sugar, with fruit, with more bubbles — all the works.”

In addition to the drinks and desserts, Encore Life offers home décor and gift items such as neon lamps and personalized planners. Meng said the hardest challenge of running Encore Life is “letting people know about all of the things we offer.”

Another challenge, she said, is simply introducing locals to the Taiwanese drink.

“Many Americans do not know what bubble tea is,” she said.

Shanru Meng, a UI graduate, stands in front of a wall with “Love Tea” and flowers at Encore Life on Saturday, July 8. Meng wanted to create a relaxing place for people to enjoy tea, dessert, and bubble tea. She graduated with a degree of business and minor in Art. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)

Meng’s friend Feiyu Jin, 24, who works at Encore Life as a cashier and cook, said his favorite part about the café is the fresh fruit and chill atmosphere.

“[Encore Life is] a great place for friends to hang out, study, or do homework,” he said.

Encore Life is just one of the latest Asian-influenced eateries to open its doors in Iowa City. Other recent businesses include Asia +, an Asian-specialty grocery store in the Old Capitol Town Center and Bashu Chinese Cuisine, 121 N. Linn St.

Champion points to the added bonus of a new cultural experience in the Downtown District and North Side Marketplace.

“I think it is nice to have variety,” she said. “Variety is always a positive thing. Why not? More of everything.”

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