When most of us think of tea, we imagine hot, milky brews with biscuits set aside for dunking.
But at Tchit in Aberdeen, tea is a much more exciting affair.
Owned by Han Wu, Tchit has been educating the city’s locals and visitors in the world of bubble tea.
Often referred to as boba, bubble tea is immensely popular throughout the Far East.
Black tea and chewy tapioca pearls are the core components of the drink which originated from Taiwan in the 1980s.
Nowadays, flavour combinations are plentiful and Tchit has 50 tried and tested bubble tea options to choose from.
The drink has been a part of Han’s life since childhood and she says it has been “an honour” to bring her take on bubble tea to the north-east.
“From my childhood, I remember that bubble tea was really simple to make,” says Han.
“But right now, skills and techniques in making bubble tea have improved.
“This inspired me to offer something new with my drinks.”
When Han left China as a teenager to study human resources here in the UK, she found it difficult to find a job after graduating.
“It wasn’t very easy to find a proper job after finishing my university studies, especially with my English not being very fluent,” says Han.
Instead, she used her entrepreneurial skills to open up a beauty shop in Aberdeen’s The Green more than a decade ago, which welcomed the likes of Little Mix for some A-list beauty treatment.
“Beauty, alongside bubble tea, are all things that I really liked when I was in school,” says Han.
“It was my ambition to do either of these things as a full-time career.”
Running her own beauty business filled Han with self-confidence and allowed her to “find out more about [herself] as a person.”
But after facing a number of ups and downs during her 10-year stint with the beauty shop, she decided to chase her other ambition: bubble tea.
“I started Tchit in 2019,” says Han.
“There were no other bubble tea shops in Aberdeen at the time and I just wanted to do something different.
I noticed there was a big gap in the market [but] I didn’t expect how popular it was going to become!
The business’s name (Tchit, which is pronounced ‘ch-ee’) comes from a Chinese mandarin saying which means to brew every day.
Han says that building Tchit’s name in Aberdeen was an initial obstacle that she had to overcome.
“A lot of people here hadn’t heard of bubble tea before,” she says, “so we had to let people know what bubble tea is.
“We offered some free drinks to let people experiment with the products.
“Younger generations like to try new things and the first groups of people to come to the shop were mainly students, who would then recommend our shop to their friends.”
Word of mouth
Businesses rely ever more on the internet and social media for gaining a following nowadays.
However, Han says that word of mouth has been the main way that her business has built its reputation.
And when it comes to her variety of products, she lets her flavours do the talking.
“I think my strengths are that I can do things in my own way and make products that people can’t buy in other places,” she explains.
Some of the tea making processes are really difficult – it’s not simple to do.
“At the moment, I’ve created almost 50 different bubble teas and each one has its own range of flavours.
“When customers turn up, we work with different types of bubbles and teas to create tastes that they’ll like.”
As well as sourcing her teas from both global and local suppliers, Han handmakes brown sugar pearls at the shop every day which offer an alternative to the traditional tapioca pearls.
These provide the sweet, chewy textures at the base of her bubble tea drinks, which are then combined with milk and shaken with ice to create distinctive concoctions.
“Some people really like the original taste and others like a big mixture of things like fruits or chocolate toppings,” says Han.
“There are different steps to it and people can customise their flavours of bubble tea.
“I think this is how we stand out from other sectors like the coffee or beer industry.
“They have a fixed process for their products, but we can make so many different choices.”
Tchit’s Oreo brûlée tea is one of its signature drinks, made with a layer of Oreo crumbs at its base, milk and a sweet, golden layer of crème brûlée.
Others including the ‘Insta famous’ dirty milk can be bought alongside reusable cup carriers, which are a trendy staple across the Far East.
For Han, being able to follow her ambition by build her own bubble tea business is something she revels in.
But for it to have happened in the north-east of Scotland as opposed to back home in China is also something that she treasures.
“I’ve lived in Aberdeen the whole time I’ve been in Scotland,” says Han.
I think it’s a really, really nice place to settle in and I’m very happy with the way things have gone.
“Local people are really enjoying it and it’s an honour to have customers come to my shop every week, even from villages around Aberdeenshire.”
With bubble tea bubbling up in the city, Han is optimistic of what lies ahead for the business.
But given the last 18 months everyone has faced, she’s also very humble with everything that Tchit has achieved so far.
“Looking ahead, I firstly want to be able to keep the shop,” she says.
“But I would also like to hopefully open another bubble tea shop too.
“From my heart, I really just want to make customers happy and for them to smile after tasting my tea.”
A round of questions with Han Wu of Tchit…
Most underrated drink?
Taro mud pop tea. If you imagine peeling potatoes or even roasting potatoes, we peel the taro root and cook it into a nice, drinkable version of it. People who like mash potatoes would probably like this drink.
If you were a drink, what would you be?
Peanut butter milkshake.
Most unusual drink you’ve ever tried?
Sparkling water. I thinking drinking water with bubbles in it is quite unusual! We never really had things like that when I was a teenager but now it’s a lot more common.
Any secret tips of the drinks trade?
With bubbles teas, you have to use tea of a high standard. You have to use fresh, authentic ingredients to guarantee a good tea.
Best food and drink pairing?
Since I moved to Aberdeen, I’d have to say TGI Fridays’ Jack Daniel’s ribs with a peanut butter milkshake.
You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve them?
When I had my beauty shop, I was lucky enough to have Little Mix come and visit and we did their nails and things for them. So, if they came back to Aberdeen again, I would offer them the Oreo brûlée tea.