Tea-lightful

Asia has contributed much to its neighbors to the west, including anime, manga and the shape-shifting character on "Heroes."

Also exploding with force out of the continent has come boba tea, Asia’s alternative to trendy coffee drinks.

Chang Wu, owner and operator of Easy Life Boba Tea, 8560 W. Desert Inn Road, knows just how popular the unusual drink is on his native continent.

"Boba is a huge success back in Asia and has been for quite some time," Wu said. "Seeing that popularity made me want to bring the craze to an area like Las Vegas."

Asia’s tea culture dates back nearly 5,000 years — to the time when, the legend is, an emperor named Shen Nung required all his drinking water be boiled. One summer, after a day of traveling, the emperor ordered his court to boil water while he rested, but as they were doing it, the wind blew leaves into the liquid and the water changed color. Thirsty from his travels, the emperor tried the drink and took a liking to the new concoction.

Soon spreading to countries such as India and Great Britain, tea’s place as a staple in society has kept changing as variations such as boba tea have become more popular.

Known in various Asian countries as bubble tea, "boba" refers to the tapioca balls in the bottom of each drink. Chewy and sweet, the boba add an extra treat to an already out-of-the-ordinary drink.

Tiffany Pham, a senior at Community College High School, has grown up around tea her entire life. Of Vietnamese background, Pham and her family regularly enjoy it during dinner or just as a drink around their house. Though untraditional in nature, the boba craze has become an added staple to the tea she already consumes daily.

"Boba tea is so different than the tea my mom makes," Pham said. "That extra flavor that comes through the straw as the boba is sucked in makes it so good."

The tapioca balls are not the only option to be considered at the local bubble tea store. The drink is unlike others in its various flavorings and serving styles. Whether someone wants it cold and over ice, blended into a smoothie, with honeydew or mocha flavoring, boba tea offers many variations.

Shell Stacey, a senior at Las Vegas Academy, grew up, like Pham, in a very Asian-influenced household. Deeply connected to her Filipino roots, Stacey was drinking her first cup of tea while many of her peers took their first sips of Coca-Cola.

"I love tea, because it is a nice change from soda, and much more healthy," she said.

Ahead of many of her friends on the boba tea craze, Stacey had her first sip of the drink while visiting her native Philippines one summer.

"I fell in love with the drink because there were so many flavors I could get," she said. "Anything with vanilla is right up my alley, but the tapioca-flavored one is great, too, because I get twice the flavor of it when I order it with the boba."

More than happy when she learned that last year Zee Boo Barista was to open just minutes away from her house in the southwest part of the valley, Stacey now realized drinking her favorite drink and sharing it with her friends could be easier than ever.

Hidden away from the strip mall that encompasses the large Wal-Mart and Home Depot across the street, Zee Boo is a quiet alternative to the Starbucks that dot many valley strip malls. Specializing in bubble tea drinks, but offering coffees and desserts, the shop hopes to attract many who flock to various other boba tea places Las Vegas already offers.

Other bubble tea hangouts around the valley have been popping up just as fast as the builders can construct them, including one in the Meadows mall. Formerly a store that contained delicacies from France, Boba City now serves up various assortments of boba tea and tiny cream-filled cakes.

Asian-themed establishments such as the China Star Chinese Restaurant and Buffet as well as the Buffet at Asia restaurants across the valley also have begun to capitalize on the growing popularity of the drink. Now, each has begun to serve and make the specialty drinks.

Though the drink made its way to the United States from Asia and primarily is consumed by Asians, many who are unfamiliar with the culture have begun to take a liking to the drinks.

Carla Farcello, a senior at Sierra Vista High School, admits she got hooked on bubble tea by her friend, Frances, but now can’t imagine "ever not drinking it."

"Boba used to be so much my friend’s drink because she is Filipino, but now I drink it all the time," she said. "There is nothing better than going out with my friends and sitting around and talking with some boba on the table."

Wu loves to hear comments like Farcello’s as he has long realized the potential the drink holds in America and especially in cities such as Las Vegas.

"Boba’s popularity I think is here to stay, how can it not with so many options? Plus, at the end of the day it tastes better than coffee," Wu said.

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