Tea DM: This is What Happens When A Burst of Flavors and Love for EDM Collide
When boba tea and the eclectic beats of EDM unite, you get one heck of a combo. That’s what happened when The Boba Social visited Tea DM. Located inside of Eden Center, a Vietnamese-driven community of retail and food, you’ll find Tea DM. Be sure to go inside Pho 89 as it cohabits spaces quite nicely, a perfect sweet to the savory brothy soups. We sat down with 30 year old owner Jay Tran, who gave us some backstory on how the almost two year old business has come to life, and how he made some sacrifices to get to where he’s at today.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in boba?
JT: I was an international student with a big love bubble tea, as you know. I actually went to Northern Virginia Community College (NoVA), but knowing myself, I was not fit for school and tobe in a classroom. I knew I wanted to be a business owner.
So I traveled a lot around the world and got to taste great tea. Of course, when I got back here, I thought about opening one, mainly because there wasn’t one around. You can only find it in Asian restaurants and they don’t really focus on bubble tea, but more on actual dishes. I’ve been to Gong Cha tea for example and many others in Southern California. But I still couldn’t find any here.
After much thought and traveling back and forth, I decided to sell boba tea at home first. I started buying boba equipment and ingredients online, from everywhere. And I remember my first shipment was around $5,000! At that moment I took a leap of faith and just started experimenting boba drinks. I gave a lot of them for my friends to try. I also threw a lot of them away and yes, wasted lots of money because of it.
That’s when one of my friends who owned a nail salon said “Why don’t we give it a try and give boba tea at the salon?” As funny as it sounds, I started with 10 drinks and gave it to them for free. Next thing you know, I started making all of these new drinks for them and then I started getting requests to order. It didn’t hit until one day, I remember... I received a huge batch order of 50 drinks! I just couldn’t think to continue doing that anymore and by myself.
That sounds intense, how did you handle that all by yourself?
JT: I had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every morning just to prep and boil the boba. With boba, it really takes a very long time. Add that time to the actual tea brewing process afterwards. The challenge was that I only had one refrigerator and if you think about it, 50 teas is a lot to fit in just one. My friends would then come to my house and pick up all 50 boba drinks and take it to different nail salons.As I mentioned, it came to the point where everyone was ordering like crazy and that’s when I had to ultimately stop taking orders for the time being.
Is that when you started looking at places to sell?
JT: Yes, I began looking at places to sell. But it was just so hard for me to find a location. I didn’t have experience in real estate and I am new in this. So in 2016, I ended up reaching out to a former boss of mine, who is happens to be where we are at currently (at Pho 89) here in Virginia. We make a perfect combo quite nicely and I pay half the rent.
What was the inspiration behind all of your flavors at Tea DM?
JT: You know, I only had 10 drink flavors and it grew from there! But what you see here right now on our menu–that is just 20 percent of my menu. There’s a ton more, my secret menu! So you’ll never get bored here at Tea DM. It’s so hard to find one true inspiration, but I can say that a lot comes from the shops when I visited California.
At Tea DM, I am really fond of mixing 2-3 flavors, not just 1 flavor for your drink. When I was figuring my menu out, I bought a book about how to make smoothies and a Ninja smoothie blender. I made it in a way where you can taste one flavor when you sip it and another at the second sip, making it a totally different flavor when you drink it!
What about customizations to sweetness?
JT: So when I create my tea, you can taste a lot. I tried to make my tea with the right amount of sweetness. Boba shops have the option to upgrade their level of sweetness, but I keep mine around 20 percent so that customers can still taste the tea flavors. It took time to craft that.
Can you tell us your ingredients?
JT: Most of my tea are from imports all around the world. My matcha is straight from Japan. I initially bought it from Amazon, but then I found an importer from Japan. The quality is much better. The taste, grounds and texture really makes a difference. And my Thai tea is straight from Thailand. Everyday, I brew fresh tea. You want to know something silly? A lot of people who drink my tea can’t sleep at night because it’s strongly brewed. And lastly, my coffee is straight from Vietnam!
What makes Tea DM different?
JT: I absolutely love Tea DM. I got my name inspiration from the flavors and also EDM, because that’s all I listen to. The biggest difference from my boba shop, I think, is the spectrum of flavors you taste when you drink my teas. I can guarantee that my tea is fresh. I do not use powder and as this being my first owned business, I really take pride on that. You can even make your own boba tea flavors and if it’s good, I’ll put your name on the menu!
As a business owner and entrepreneur, what is your proudest moment so far?
JT: I think it’s the fact that Tea DM is getting busier. Recently Kung Fu Tea and many other tea shops have opened up in the area and I thought it would bring less traffic to my business. Turns out, I am winning. I have a lot of foot traffic and customers here coming here from Philadelphia, New York City and even California. It truly means alot and so far, everything is good.
What plans do you have for Tea DM’s future?
JT: The Tea DM concept is a very cozy place, where people can come and hang out and get together and have fun. I want my customers to drink tea and make a friend here. My goal is to expand the concept of Tea DM Lounge and aim to serve boba with alcohol...hopefully in 2019. I want to continue in making new experiences for my customers. This is about them! Eventually, I also plan to open up my own place and have a DJ night. What’s Tea DM if you can open late until 2:00 a.m.?!