New bubble tea shop makes home on Sixth Street

By Jenny Horne

Leo Hu and Nikki Wan look around the room, observing an array of contemporary neutral colors. Between the chatter of customers and the clicking of laptops, they notice that every seat in this room is occupied.

But to Hu and Wan, this space is more than just a room. It’s the site of their first business and the next step to achieving their dreams: Latea.

Hu and Wan aren’t your typical business owners.

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Now in their early 20s, the pair met at a high school in China. They followed each other to Purdue University and came to Champaign-Urbana after graduating with aspirations to get real business experience.

Hu and Wan always dreamed of starting their own business one day. Two weeks ago, it happened with the opening of Latea.

Hu discussed how they were both business majors at Purdue, but they did not feel as though they received any real business practice. He remarked that, although he graduated college, he still did not feel equipped for the real world.

“We just want to gain as much experience in the business world as we can,” he said.

Hu and Wan looked across various university campuses for six months — including Indiana University and Michigan State. Wan’s fiancé then pointed out the University to them, where they luckily found a new building with open space. But not only did it provide them with a brand new building, it also allowed them to enter a campus where bubble tea businesses are already booming. Just this year, bubble tea businesses like Chatime and Caffè Bene opened up on Green Street.

With a little help from their parents, they opened Latea on Sixth Street in Champaign.

Both Hu and Wan have hopes that their bubble tea lounge will attract more American students, as bubble tea originated in Taiwan.

“In Taiwan, there are usually around 10 bubble tea shops on each street,” Wan said.

So far, the pair said business is doing well. They didn’t expect this lounge to be so busy.

“It’s kind of more than what we expected, but in a good way,” Hu said.

Abby Treece, senior in FAA, said bubble tea shops are very popular on the University campus because many people have never had the opportunity to try it.

“There aren’t many near where I live right now, or I would drink more,” Treece said. “I enjoy this drink because it’s different from traditional drinks such as smoothies, milkshakes, that sort of thing.”

Latea is a franchise; the first shop was opened in 2014 at Purdue University by Jack Hsiao. Hu and Wan then joined the business with ambitions of opening their own version of the bubble tea shop.

“(The) difference with other bubble tea shops is that all the tea we use is organic without any artificial flavors,” Hu said. “All of the sugar we make in-house, so we make our own sugar syrup without corn syrup.”

Hu explained that many other bubble tea shops use fake tea flavoring that comes from a powder. Latea, however, uses real tea that they make in the shop every day. They also have dairy substitutes for those with dietary restrictions, and if a customer does not want his or her tea sweet, they can choose the level of sweetness.

“I would say (bubble tea) is a growing trend,” Treece said. “Definitely something I had to convince my friends to try.”

In addition, Latea is not tied down by a fixed menu. Hu and Wan want to add new items to the menu, and they both hope that their bubble tea shop heavily caters to their customers.

“We create our own brand. So we create our own menu and create it to what the customer wants,” Wan said. “We can do research and find out what customers like and don’t like, and then change things on the menu.”

As Wan sat upright in one of the brand new wooden chairs, perching her elbows on the spotless table, she explained another dream. This one is not a dream where she sees herself working in a bubble tea shop; rather, it’s working in the fashion industry.

Latea provides her the experience she needs to get there.

“My dream (is) to be a designer for clothes,” she said. “My first idea was not bubble tea, but I want to gain experience. I need to spend more time learning all parts of the business.”

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