A coffee shop on Kickapoo has become one of the first businesses to bring the bubble tea trend to Shawnee.
Elevated Grounds has served coffee since 2017, but when a new owner took over last summer, it suddenly became known for its tea as well –– particularly bubble tea. The Taiwanese drink with tapioca balls at the bottom is popular in many parts of East Asia.
“I had it since I was young,” said Chai Leang, a barista and employee trainer at Elevated Grounds. “It’s normal. Every Asian country has bubble tea.”
So Leang, originally from Cambodia, was surprised to learn that most Shawnee residents who came to Elevated Grounds had no idea what bubble tea was.
“When I first started, I had to explain how to order, how does it work, what is bubble tea to every single customer,” Leang said. “Like hundreds, only one or two (knew) bubble tea.”
It was important for Elevated Grounds’ new owner, who is from China, to add Asian snacks to the menu and import the cafe’s tea from China as well, Leang said.
“The owner just wanted to try and let people taste something different from just American food,” Leang said. “A lot of them like it: Japanese food, mochi, rice cake.”
True to its name, the shop also still sells coffee from Coffee Slingers Roasters in Oklahoma City, which some people still prefer over bubble tea.
Jim and Vickie Arnold are coffee drinkers who visit Elevated Grounds multiple times a week. Jim even brought his own books to fill the shelves in the sitting area.
“Never even heard of bubble tea (before this),” Jim said. “But we’re not much of Starbucks people or anything like that. This is really our first time to drink much of this type of coffee.”
Although he and his wife tried bubble tea a few times, they mainly stick to coffee. Jim said that since his wife had surgery recently, he comes in every day to get her a cappuccino.
Now, a year after Elevated Grounds changed ownership, Leang is getting fewer questions from locals about what bubble tea is, he said.
However, he would still like to see more Asian restaurants open in Shawnee. The owner of Elevated Grounds also hopes to open a bubble tea shop in another town in Oklahoma like Shawnee, Leang said.