Behind the Boba Counter

by Raksha Pokharel

People bustle in and out, a sweet breeze of sugar travels around the bright pink shop: Vivi Bubble Tea is as alive as the conversations inside it. This is a popular place for boba, despite the fact that there are two other boba places less than a mile away, one almost directly across from it.

It’s a Sunday afternoon. The streets aren’t busy, maybe because Vivi is hoarding all the foot traffic. “Let’s get boba.” Those words have been said so many times it floats in the air at any given moment. Boba is loved, even revered, by some, but what is it like on the other side of the counter? For starters, the Boba Barista is constantly floating around, as well.

Stefan, one of the baristas that works at Vivi, admits that one of the most fun parts of the job is when the shop hits a lull, and he can concoct some experimental drinks, and obviously the free tea is a plus. 

As a barista, his favorite beverage is the rose flora tea; it’s made from a specific tea bag, giving it a unique strawberry flavor. His least favorite boba, both to make and to drink, is a taro brulée. The baristas have to check the can of powder and taste it to make sure that it hasn’t gone bad because it tends to go bad quickly. They also have to make sure that there’s no water in the powder can and that the can is dry. Once that’s been checked, the powder is then mixed into a paste and placed into the cup with black tea and ice. He says that personally he’s not a big fan of it and it takes too much time to make, about five to seven minutes when they have to check the cans and make the paste.

Boba has been growing in popularity. Boba, a nickname for bubble tea, was invented in 1980 in Taiwan, and made its way to the US in the 1990s when Taiwanese immigrants opened up the first boba shop in Cupertino, California. Ever since then it’s been on a constant rise: the industry was valued at $2.02 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach a value of $3.39 billion by 2027.

So what makes boba so special, and so popular?

yummy bubble drinks

Stefan says that it’s the aesthetic of it all, “There’s really nothing else like it. It’s really unique. There’s so many different flavors of it.”  He’s right, the menu listing all the options and variations seem endless. Boba is an experience, you don’t really forget the first time ever trying it. The taste, combined with the texture along with the novelty of drinking bobabecomes an experience, not just a drink. Boba shops are lively with people just as bright and colorful as the drinks. Hardly do people come alone, and hardly do they leave without having a better day.  

Stefan’s first time trying boba was when he was in middle school. His older brother had brought instant boba home one day. He didn’t immediately fall in love with it, but still remembers it as a sweet memory, “I just remember it being sweet, and craving more.”

Stefan  is currently a college student. Unlike most college students, he doesn’t really go out for boba with his friends. “There’s no point, I mean I get free boba here, and, it’s like my job, and I would rather spend my money elsewhere.”

Although as fun as boba is to partake in, being behind the counter isn’t always so fun. It seems like a cute job looking in, but it is still a job that has its own problems.

Describing a consistent one with understaffing, Stefan says that “Sometimes, when it gets really busy, we’re here making drinks until 11o’clock when we close at ten.” It gets hectic quickly and that it’s a job he wouldn’t recommend to people, because the management doesn’t seem to care much about the employees. If he could change anything at his store, he says that he would hire more people during busy hours and give himself a pay raise.

Essentials: The store is located on 48 N. Pleasant St in Amherst. The drinks can cost anywhere from $5-10 depending on the toppings and size, and the type of drinks as well. Milk teas are usually more expensive than fruit drinks, and toppings such as the boba are usually $0.50. The store is open seven days a week, from 12-9 Sundays through Thursdays and 12-10 on Fridays and Saturdays. Getting to Vivi Bubble Tea feels like a little bit of an adventure, you have to descend a tiny flight of stairs, passing by a small bookstore and then you’ll find the iconic hot pink walls.

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