“Former chemical engineer, I opened a bubble tea shop”

“Former chemical engineer, I opened a bubble tea shop”

Posted November 22, 2022, 7:02 am

“As a student at Montpellier Business School, my sister flew to Xi’an in northwest China in 2017 as part of her master’s degree. When she comes back a year later, she really wants me to taste bubble tea, this Taiwanese drink made from tea and decorated with tapioca pearls. She discovered it on the spot and became a fan, to the point of drinking one every afternoon before going to class.

Together we go together to a shop in Paris that sells it and as my sister likes it. So every time I go to see him, we institute a sort of ritual: try a new bubble tea, because I can’t find any at home, in Niort (Deux-Sèvres).

The same desire for professional change

When we’re both wondering about our professional future in 2021, opening a bubble tea shop seems completely natural to us. At that time I was a chemical engineer in a laboratory. My job, which is designing cosmetics, interests me a lot. I receive briefs from the marketing department, which tell me what I have to create: such cosmetics in such a colour, with such a perfume, such an effect, such a packaging, with such a budget and for this date. But after five years at three companies, I feel like I’m reaching the end of a cycle. Besides, I no longer feel comfortable with being an employee.

My sister is completing a fixed-term contract as marketing product manager for a Montreuil-based group that exports vanilla for professionals all over the world (pastry chefs, cooks, hotels, grocery stores, etc.). Her missions: to create a competitive and sector watch, develop new products and renew existing ranges in collaboration with R & D, analyze the department’s performance and set up the operational communication plan.

A little disillusioned with the business world, she does not see herself confined to this position. She has been thinking about going to East Asia for a while but it seems complicated due to the pandemic and closed borders. She feels like she’s at an impasse, professionally speaking.

As teenagers, we sometimes thought it would be great to throw a box together. It seems to us that now is the time. In Niort, where we come from, there is no bubble tea shop. The drink is so popular that we are convinced it has potential. After some market research, we realize there is real demand.

Training to learn how to make the drink

We are starting to test the recipes at home. The result is satisfactory, but not surprising (laugh). To learn how to prepare a bubble tea according to the rules of the art, in parallel with my work I’m training at the Bubble Tea Academy. This is delivered online and during an in-person day by Rosalie Bun Ung, an entrepreneur who launched Bubble Fever, a company that specializes in distributing the raw materials used to develop bubble tea.

Including accommodation, train travel and the training itself, I pay around 4,000 euros. A sum, but it’s very useful for me to know how to prepare drinks, arrange a room, where to buy our raw materials… New knowledge that I pass on to my sister, who didn’t participate in the training.

A few months later, in January 2022, I left my company with contractual termination. Second step: find a place to set up our shop. We end up finding a space to rent in the city centre, in a pedestrian street. The ideal! The shop is 50 m2 – an area large enough for customers to enjoy their bubble tea on site. To this is added a basement of 30 m2.

Bringing the premises up to standard, setting up the kitchen, buying the machines (including a thermosealer for affixing a waterproof film for take-away drinks)… We are financing the entire project ourselves.

Up to 250 drinks sold per day

Make way for the menu design. The advantage of bubble tea is that you can vary them infinitely! The only limit: the imagination. We design green tea drinks, fruity syrups, fruit pieces and fruit pearls. Others are more faithful to traditional Taiwanese recipes based on black tea and milk, with tapioca pearls. And finally, we create drinks that are more like desserts, with tapioca pearls that are caramelized all day long into a super gourmet homemade caramel, speculoos, chocolate, matcha taste. In order for a maximum of people to find their account, we make sure to offer a varied menu, with cold or hot drinks.

The main raw materials come from Taiwan or China (tapioca, tea, taro…). We pay attention to the quality of the other ingredients used, with cane sugar and organic cocoa powder for example.

Mid-June 2022, place for shop opening! Since then, sales have lived up to expectations. On busy days, up to 250 drinks are sold. Their price: between 4.50 and 6.50 euros. As for our clientele, it is quite heterogeneous but most are between 14 and 35 years old.

Complementarity of skills

I am really enjoying this new activity. Obviously we don’t count our hours, but it’s nice to be able to say that if it works it’s thanks to the decisions we’ve made. And that if we ever fail, we can only blame ourselves…

Working with my sister is like working with a friend, only better. We know each other so well that everything happens completely naturally. We know our limits, we know how to reframe ourselves, we tell each other things without having to reach for tweezers.

Ambre Pignon and sister Cinnamon, right.

Ambre Pignon and sister Cinnamon, right.DR

Our skills are quite complementary. For example, it manages marketing and communication. I, the administrator. The skills I developed during my old job are useful to me, especially in the research process to develop a product: as before, I have to study the feasibility of a product, study raw materials, evaluate costs, show creativity. ..

Open new stores

Imagining this project, we obviously wondered if bubble tea wasn’t just a passing fad. We are convinced not. Bubble teas have been around for decades in Asia and their success hasn’t diminished. We think it will be the same here. A bit like sushi, actually. When they arrived in France, many thought it was temporary. But in reality it has become part of our way of consuming.

Our plans for the future? Start click & collect and delivery. The latter will be provided by a small local company, which makes all deliveries by bicycle and offers stable work contracts to its employees.

If possible, we would like to employ a part-time employee in the shop. How come ? Because it would free up our time to work on developing our brand. We’re also planning to accompany the bubble tea with Asian-inspired pastries. We would like to find a good pastry chef with a workshop in the region, or a supplier who offers quality Asian sweets. Enough to expand our product range and satisfy our customers even more. Finally, if our shop is confirmed after a year of activity, we are thinking of opening more in the west of France! »

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