Photos: Alvin Teo, Lee Wei Lin, Vivian Lai
Bubble tea is hardly the first thing you think of when the term ‘healthy lifestyle’ is mentioned, but that’s a perception that Taiwan-born, Singapore-based host Vivian Lai wants to change.
She officially launched Teabrary, a tea studio that she’s been working on for the past one-and-a-half years, in Singapore, on September 23. The first branch, located at Esplanade Xchange, has enjoyed brisk business since its soft opening.
This Singapore store may be the first one here but it’s already the fourth one she’s launched. The others are in Taiwan, Cambodia and Anhui. There are also plans to open more stores in Kyoto and Myanmar within the next six months.
Next week, the 42-year-old will be opening the second outlet at Fook Hai Building - although the outlet there will only offer half of the 40 items featured at the first branch.
Speaking to Toggle at her Esplanade Xchange outlet on September 26, she shared that she also has plans to open a flagship outlet in town early next year, which will offer an even wider variety of drinks, along with desserts such as waffles, soufflés and chiffon cakes. She is in talks with a local bakery to make a specially curated line of pastries specially for this flagship store, infusing her tea leaves in each item.
In fact, the tea leaves that Vivian uses in all her stores are sourced from specific plantations in Nantou, Taiwan.
“I’m working with some plantations in the long term. I’ve ‘bought’ specific plots in their plantations for five years, and everything that is produced within those areas belongs to me, she explained.
Oh, and did we mention that she also has a research and development (R&D) department based in Taiwan, which concocts customised flavours for her?
One of their creations is the Sicily Iced Lemon Coffee, which was first suggested by one of the research team members after trying it in Italy. Although this was first met with disgust by everyone else, they managed to find the perfect blend for this odd-sounding drink, which is available on the menu.
“Every single drink that goes onto the menu needs the nod of approval from me before it’s available for sale. Not only does it need to taste good, it also needs to be healthy,” Vivian shared.
She mused that her daughters’ love for bubble tea and drinks from popular coffee chains planted the idea of producing healthier, yet delicious, alternatives to their “unhealthy” offerings.
She shared, “I enjoy drinking tea, but it’s too boring and healthy for them, so what I wanted to find was a middle ground where you could have the best of both worlds. My tea studio shows that you can have healthy, delicious and affordable drinks.”
For example, she uses cane sugar instead of regular sugar, and she also has toppings such as handmade fruit jelly for those who want to stay away from pearls.
With stores in Taiwan, Cambodia and Anhui, there are also plans to open more stores in Japan and Myanmar within the next six months.
In the meantime, however, Vivian will be working hard to come up with more items for the menu.
She smiled, “The response we’ve gotten so far has been overwhelming and it’s been a very big boost to our morale. I’ve also been coming down almost every single day to help them clean up before closing. It’s not easy, but I have to do what has to be done.”
Teabrary is located at #B1-12 Esplanade Xchange and is open daily from 10am to 9pm.