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Cha Community table display with pan-fried dumplings and other veggie side dishes alongside blood orange drinks.

How Boba Tea & Food Have Helped Us Re-Imagine What it Means to be Asian American

When we started our Cha Community pop-up boba/bubble tea tent summer 2018 (at that time called Waco Cha) in Waco,Texas at the Waco Downtown Farmer's Market, we sought to bridge cultures and create community through premium boba tea. We only had a few boba tea options available at the time and we were so excited to have more space to increase our menu when we opened our first boba tea cafe in downtown Waco in 2020!

It’s funny that we chose boba tea as our small business because as a child, I [Jaja] was essentially forced by my mom to stir the boba tea (an hours long process) on weekends when we would host international students for dinners at our home in Norman, Oklahoma. My parents were international students from Taiwan and sought to welcome fellow international students to our home growing up in Norman. These early examples of hospitality from my family - regarding care for people of cultures different from your own and the power of food bringing people together - carried on in my mind throughout my experience moving back to the U.S. to Waco, Texas to attend university. 

Throughout our time in Central Texas as young adults, we experienced limited access to authentic boba tea cafes and Taiwanese and Chinese food options. We also saw very limited cultural integrity in the U.S. tea industry and a disconnect between where tea is from and the stories told about tea. Despite the fact that boba tea is from Taiwan and the fact that the majority of tea leaves are sourced from China, Taiwan, India, Nepal, Japan and various other locations throughout Asia, we rarely hear about these cultures and roots when enjoying a cup of matcha, chai, or other teas in the U.S.

All of these experiences led us to start our business. To bring a more authentic representation of the food and drinks we grew up enjoying and to create more access to these delicious options throughout Central Texas. Being an Asian American and immigrant-owned small business has meant that our cultural stories and memories are held within our menus. Each drink and dish holds a story behind them. 

Sahaj Kaur Kohli of Brown Girl Therapy recently shared in a post that as immigrants 

“Instead of detaching from our grief, we should find ways to strengthen and continue our bonds with our grandparents, and our cultures, as we move forward. A lot of this work is about rediscovering meaning. This can look like relearning family language(s), diving into the historical context of your grandparents’ and ancestors’ experiences, reacquainting with food and recipes that have been passed down, and intentionally choosing religious and cultural traditions, and values, to uphold.” 

As children of immigrants and immigrants ourselves, we resonate deeply with the experience of navigating different cultures and finding challenges in belonging and seeing accurate representation and portrayal of our ethnic roots and Asian identity in the U.S. For us, bridging cultures and creating community through boba tea and food has helped us to reimagine the strength in our unique Asian American culture and Chinese and Taiwanese ethnic roots and the gifts in recipes from previous generations. 

As we have continued growing our small business these past 4 years, we have met many other fellow Asian Americans seeking to do the same for the tea, boba tea, and the food & beverage industries! We are not alone in our experiences and walking alongside fellow Asian leaders in our communities brings us so much gratitude and joy! More and more Asian American founders are eager to share their own narratives and to walk in cultural integrity through their small businesses and to seek to challenge stereotypes and false narratives of what it means to be Asian American. 

Just as much as we have grown in our knowledge of boba tea and food preparation itself and the processes to bring delicious food and drinks to Central Texas, boba tea and food have helped us to re-imagine what it means to be Asian American and have inspired us to carry forth the continued legacies of the generations that went ahead of us to help us be who were are today.

Through boba tea, we have discovered the importance of storytelling and the joy in continually learning about cultures different than our own. Through Taiwanese and Chinese food, we have learned the importance in maintaining authenticity in recipes - while also making them our own - and the ways that food open dialogues and connection about culture and identity that we would not otherwise have known. 

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