Chatime Brings Authentic, Organic Boba Tea to Florida

Having a stressful day? Nothing a little Taiwanese teatime can't fix. Seriously, it's difficult to think about anything else while slurping and chewing some boba.

Boba (or bubble tea) has the ability to bring you back to the present. Concentrating on sucking at just the right intensity so you don't get an overflow of balls while still getting a mouthful of sweet milk or fruit tea is akin to meditating. The only problem: Miami isn't exactly a tea-drinking, let alone boba-drinking, city just yet.

But that's changing, especially with the arrival and expansion of Chatime in Florida. You might have seen the name on a glass kiosk on Brickell Avenue, where a location quietly popped up for a bit but then shuttered. Good news: One will open in Mary Brickell Village before year's end. In the meantime, you can get your fix by hitting up the one in the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami.

Ben Chang is the guy responsible for introducing Americans to the Taiwanese brand his uncle founded in 2004. And though Chatime marked the first mainstream foray into the commercial tea business, the company was the silent guy in the background for about 30 years before that while supplying tea to local shops.

Today, the family's farms produce all the tea for Chatime's 1,000-plus franchises worldwide, with Chang's mom heading the manufacturing facility in New York, which handles distribution in the States. The younger Chang is also very much involved, overseeing the franchising process and building from the ground up. "I like to work at all my stores," he says. Indeed, on a recent weekday, he was single-handedly running the itty-bitty Sunset Place teashop directly across from the theater box office on the second floor. "Every store matches the area it's in." Case in point, this one is the perfect definition of teenybopper. "The store in Broward is inside an Asian market."

But it's not just the look and feel that sets Chatime apart; it's the health-conscious approach to brewing tea and commitment to using quality ingredients. "We use lactose-free milk, caramelize our sugar in house, and our pearls are organic. For the most part, everything we use is organic, even the sugar."

Tea is brewed every three hours and made to order. Everything, down to the tapioca pearls (the integral component of boba tea), is done in house. "It takes about two hours to make, and if I explain the process to you, you'll be here all day," Chang says of a colossal pot of almost-ready boba, of which the shop goes through 20 pounds a day to make beverages ranging from fruit and milk teas to mousses and jellies.

The jelly is a combination of coffee and lychee. "It just adds texture to add to the boba." As far as flavors, Chatime brews everything from mango green tea and lychee black tea to red bean and grass jelly. Slurping your way through the full menu will require close to 100 visits. To keep it simple, go for the pearl milk tea bestseller or Chang's favorite: kumquat green tea. Because it's priced like Starbucks ($3 to $5), Chatime might just become your newest addiction — and maybe even a form of meditation.

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