Royal Tea bubbles over with new take on an old beverage
Pour your basic black, green or oolong tea. Add some flavoring. Drop in some tapioca. And voila, bubble tea!
Haven't tried it yet?
Royal Tea Boba and Sweets, the new tea shop on the Square in Hagerstown, has plenty of flavors to tempt your palate.
But be warned: This isn't your grandma's traditional cup o' tea.
What is 'bubble' tea, exactly?
Bubble tea, or "boba" tea, "is a Taiwanese drink. It's based on the tapioca, or the black chewy pearls (boba) made from the tapioca plant," said Royal Tea owner Moez Haj-Mabrouk.
And when you stir the tapioca pearls around to mix the flavors, "it does make a bubble," he said.
"Lately boba has become more popular, especially in the U.S. and around the globe.
But before Royal Tea opened in the spring, it was hard to find in Hagerstown.
"That's why we are trying to take advantage of this new culture and bring it to Hagerstown," he said.
Haj-Mabrouk, who is originally from Tunisia, said he heard about bubble tea from his kids.
"My kids introduced me to it … I had to drive them to Germantown (Md.) to get them boba tea," he said. "They said, well, I mean, we don't have it in Hagerstown.
"This is a trend over the internet, and if you go to the big city, boba tea is everywhere — however, not in the small cities like Hagerstown."
His kids asked a Baltimore County relative for boba tea "each time she comes to the house," he said. "So one day I said, 'OK, well, let's see what it is.'"
He drove his kids to Germantown to try the offerings at the Kung Fu Tea franchise there. "That's how they introduced me to it," Haj-Mabrouk said.
A business plan … and a COVID delay
Bubble tea made enough of an impression on Haj-Mabrouk to convince him to consider opening his own shop.
"I've been living in Hagerstown for 25 years," he said. "I was working for Fiserv (formerly First Data) for 23 years. And when I decided to be a business owner or, you know, small entrepreneur, I decided to quit my job and be a full-time business owner.
"We started working on it; I had my business plan. However, COVID hit and we just stopped everything," he said.
But it was a delay rather than an end to the vision. Still a risk, though.
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"Well, life is, is a risk," Haj-Mabrouk said. "So we took the risk … you know, I mean, any part of life is risky. And if you don't take the risk, you won't succeed."
As the family planned for the new business, they developed an extensive menu of boba tea variations — trying them out at home and on friends.
"Oh, we have too many flavors," he quipped. "It's very hard to count. We try to limit the flavors so we don't confuse the customers. But we have a lot."
It was a family affair, with his wife developing the recipes and his daughter designing the menus.
"This is all shared effort," Haj-Mabrouk said, "with me, my wife and my three kids."
One of the more popular boba flavors, he said, is the brown sugar tea.
But if your taste runs to something more fruity, there's mango. And passion fruit. And honeydew. And peach. You can also do a little flavor mixing when you order.
Die-hard coffee fan? You can get iced coffee, too.
As for the "and Sweets" part of the the shop, you can choose from various homemade pastries and cheesecakes prepared by Haj-Mabrouk and his wife — cookies, muffins, baklava, even banana pudding.
"I'm the cheesecake guy," he said. "She's the tiramisu and all the other items."
And as summer comes to a close and you get that yearning for pumpkin spice, you'll have that option, too.
Haj-Mabrouk said customers from all over have already become regulars — not only from Hagerstown, but from parts of Pennsylvania including St. Thomas, Chambersburg and Greencastle.
The city government and other downtown business owners have given Royal Tea the royal treatment, he said. And on Saturday, Royal Tea hosted a grand opening with city officials.
"I love the business owners around me," Haj-Mabrouk said. "I was very welcomed when I opened my door. I'm very thankful."