Shanshan Kong, store owner of La Tea — a new milk tea shop in Iowa City — aims to give Iowans a taste of a popular new drink trend.
The milk tea store opened at 123 E. Washington St. on June 15. La Tea features a large purple lounge space and decorations from South Korea, in addition to unique milk tea recipes and packaging.
“What I want is to bring something different to the locals,” Kong said.
Kong said the new generation of milk tea and fruit tea is very different in formula and variety and has improved in taste from its predecessor “bubble tea.”
There are also personalized options for ingredients and flavors on the menu, Kong said, and bubbles are no longer the only choice for add-ins. Customers can choose half-sugar or sugar-free drinks depending on their preference, as the shop aims to meet different needs of different consumers.
“I would recommend their blackcurrant iced tea, personally,” said Damon Zheng, a customer. “It’s suitable for summer.”
La Tea adopted a capped bottle design on its packaging, which has become the store’s brand.
“Consumer preferences for beverages over the past eight years have shown a year-on-year decline in the number of pop drinks, with the most significant increase occurring in bottled water,” said Yan Chen, an employee of La Tea.
Kong said the store’s bottles were ordered into Iowa City from China and each batch took one to three months to mail.
“The bottles are disposable, but some of our customers have said they will keep and use them,” Chen said.
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The store will add cakes and macarons in a store-wide effort to create a place for customers to relax and have afternoon tea.
The idea for a milk tea shop grew out of the unexpected success of Kong’s other Asian restaurant in Iowa City, La Wine, where some customers would come specifically for the milk tea.
To Kong, innovation means refreshing people’s perceptions, she said. That means locals may need more time to embrace La Tea, even as it grows more popular in Asia.
“My concern now is that people will hesitate to accept new things,” Kong said. “Because people need to accept it before they taste it.”
In an effort to advertise her products, Kong set up Facebook and Instagram pages for La Tea and is offering discounts to followers who come to the shop.
“As long as customers show a screenshot of any of our accounts, they can get $1 or $2 off for a cup of milk tea, depending on the size,” Kong said.
Unlike other local businesses who have seen a loss of business due to community spread of the coronavirus, Kong said she believes the COVID-19 pandemic has given her more time to perfect her new store and prepare for the influx of University of Iowa students returning in the fall.
“Quality is our most basic guarantee,” she said.