BobaMania, Tuscaloosa's only standalone bubble tea shop, is hitting the road with an all new expansion with a food truck. The co-founders told The Thread they hope this will reach students on campus more directly.

The brick and mortar shop opened in Downtown Tuscaloosa earlier this summer. Since then, the store has seen most of its success due to the younger crowd, a large percentage of which is comprised of University of Alabama students.

For those unfamiliar, boba tea or "bubble tea" is naturally comprised of boba, little balls made from tapioca starch, which are then boiled in a 2-hour process and cooked with brown sugar. They're designed to be very chewy and soft, while adding texture to traditional tea drinks of all flavors and concoctions.

"The idea for the food truck was inspired by employees and customers alike," said Shannon Grady, the store's manager. "This way, we can bring drinks to students directly instead of having them come over. Even though we're not as far downtown as other stores, people don't always have the time to come all the way from campus."

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Boba is a trend that has already taken Asia by storm, according to one of the store's co-founders Lingyan Kong. Kong and his co-founder Peter Xu are longtime friends that first met while attending college in China.

Since then, Xu has opened 40 boba tea shops in the Beijing area, and his wife is earning her doctorate at The University of Alabama. Kong similarly, serves as an assistant professor on campus in the Department of Human Nutrition and Hospitality management.

BobaMania is Xu's first venture in the West and, since he exports product from his stores in China, is able to provide some of the highest quality boba cups on this side of the world. However, Kong said that all of the ingredients used in the drinks are and will remain fresh and in-house.

The idea of a boba truck is also very unique in the United States. Grady said that what sets BobaMania's expansion different is that taco trucks and smoothie bowl trucks can be found across the country, but a boba truck is an untapped market, especially in Tuscaloosa.

"It's been fully built for about three months," Kong said. "It's very innovative, we're not based on a box truck. It's a renovated Mercedes Sprinter Van. The reason for that is because we don't cook on the truck, we only make drinks, so we don't need as much space."

Kong and Xu collaborated with an engineer friend to design and build the interior of the truck themselves.

This new food truck will be an extension of the store in concept and execution, just on a smaller scale. While BobaMania features 25 drink options in-store, the truck will have a reduced menu of about 12 to 15 of the most popular flavors.

Options will range from the more fruit-based drinks like the strawberry peach tea, which features strawberry puree, to creamier milk-based dessert drinks like the brown sugar boba milk tea and Oreo mousse milk tea. There are boba and non-boba options to try for anyone interested in visiting the truck.

The only drink style that won't be featured on the truck is the smoothie blends. The reason for this is because the size of the truck and the generator would make it difficult to operate the large high power blender required to make the drinks. Kong said future design improvements will ideally include adding solar panels to get off generator power.

The truck will differ from the store in one very important way: the mobile BobaMania will accept both dining dollars and Bama cash as payment.

 

Kong plans to have the truck be on campus five days a week. It has already passed all of its required inspections with the health department and fire department, now it's all about finalizing a contract with Bama Dining and playing the waiting game.

"I think this is going to be received very well. UA has such a high percentage of out of state students, so many people who have already been exposed to boba before and miss it," Grady said. "Students come into the store and say they feel at home for the first time in three years because they're having their first taste of boba here."

The truck will also need a full-time manager to operate the truck. Anyone interested in applying can come in to BobaMania to learn more.

BobaMania hopes to start serving on campus in the spring 2022 semester.

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