An Interview with the Man Behind London’s Bubble Tea Boom

The bubble tea revolution is underway in London. For the uninitiated, bubble tea takes many different forms and can really be tailor made. In its most popular manifestation it is standard Earl Grey tea served either icey or hot with balls of tapoica floating around in it. Originating in Taiwan, the streets of Asia are filled with people slurping the stuff. Said sightings are quite rare outside of Asia. That is all about to change though.

Incoming Bubbleology, London’s fab and funky very own bubble tea chain.

It has been less than two years since Bubbleology launched its first cafe in Soho and it has already opened three more in the city, in Harvey Nichols, Notting Hill and Westfield Stratford. In fact, Bubbleology is doing so well that it now has presence abroad and plans to launch in a host of other London and non-London locations over the next couple of years.

This AGI reporter  loves the beverage, nay cannot get enough of it and is thrilled about the Bubbleology success story. I was equally thrilled when Assad Khan, the man behind Bubbleology, agreed to talk to our magazine. Viva la Revolution is all I have to say. Now over to Assad.

What inspired you to become involved with bubble tea?
I was a former investment banker, having worked at JP Morgan for many years. It was while at JP Morgan in New York in 2005 that I first tried bubble tea and I fell in love with the drink. It was a really funky tasting drink and I knew immediately that it would do well in the UK, so I was then just waiting for the right time to become more involved.

Do you think bubble tea could be described as Marmite, with people either loving it or hating it?
I totally agree and often describe it as like Marmite myself. That is what makes it a blockbuster product. Any product which can really connect with people in one way or another is a blockbuster product. In the 90s it was coffee, then for the past six years or so it has been frozen yoghurt and now bubble tea is the latest craze. It is unique. This can be seen in the consumption behaviour too.

In what respect?
Well it is typically something that people have between 2 pm and midnight. People enjoy it either after lunch or after dinner.

On that note, who is your typical customer?
When we launched, we never aimed to target a particular demographic. We simply pride ourselves on creating authentic Taiwanese bubble tea. If you come on a Saturday to the Soho branch, you will see your Asian clientele who are familiar with the concept of bubble tea. Then you have your mainstream trendsetters in the area in the store. But you can also see young kids walking past with their parents and being drawn to the colourful display and then dragging their parents in. We get all kinds of customers and this is reflected in our growth. Our clientele in our Harvey Nichols’ branch are completely different to our Soho branch and the same is the case for our Notting Hill store. Demand has just been phenomenal.

Do you think bubble tea could one day rival Starbucks?
From our perspective we measure our success from a premium quality position. Bubbleology does not necessarily want to be the biggest, but the highest quality, which is why our staff undergo two weeks of training. Can bubble tea be as popular as coffee? Absolutely. But in terms of being a brand all round, we would not say no, but it will always be quality all round first and foremost.

Finally, do you prefer your bubble tea hot or cold?
Cold! Eight out of 10 bubble teas bought at our shops are cold, even in the coldest months of the year. But part of Bubbleology’s ethos is that you are your own mixologist, so there is something for everyone.

By Jemimah Steinfeld

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