Sep 15, 2023 - Food and Drink

Bubble tea shops boom in Des Moines

Bubble tea from various metro shops

From left to right: Bubble tea from Shaking Boba, Naughtea, Paris Banh Mi and Zenko Tea. Photos: Linh Ta/Axios

In the last five years, nine brick-and-mortar bubble tea shops have opened in the Des Moines area.

Driving the news: While most Vietnamese shops have long served bubble tea smoothies, boba shops have taken hold of the metro area in recent years, starting with 8 Degrees by Drake University in 2018, Ocha in 2020 and Zenko Tea in 2021.

  • The sweet treat once found mostly in bigger cities has now proliferated around the metro — boba shops are downtown, and in most suburbs and shopping malls.

State of play: When Phuong Thai first opened Zenko Tea by Merle Hay Mall, she wanted to incorporate some Vietnamese tastes and desserts she enjoyed growing up, she tells Axios.

  • Most customers didn't know about boba and weren't used to the tapioca pearl texture of the milky drink when she first started. But that's changed in recent years and demand has gone up, prompting Thai to open a second location next month in West Des Moines, she says.
  • Thai and her husband have both been able to quit their previous jobs and focus on bubble tea full-time.

The big picture: Boba shops give adults, as well as teens, another place to hang out.

  • And it's a drink option outside of alcohol and most places are open later than coffee shops.

What's next: Thai says her new store will sell Vietnamese baked goods, croissants and chè, a coconut dessert.

  • Find the new store next month at 7450 Bridgewood Blvd., #235, West Des Moines.

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