Family traditions inspire new Asian tea house in Cary
Posted September 9, 2020 6:00 a.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2020 4:02 a.m. EDT
Cary, N.C. — For sisters Julia and Lulu, family is everything. Their relatives' Taiwanese tea farm and their parents' Taipei noodle shop inspired them to open their own concept in the Triangle.
Cha House co-owners Julia, Lulu and Lulu's husband, Andy, were living in Taiwan before they moved to the United States to open their first cafe on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. A friend had recommended the Triangle area.
"Long story short, we kind of fell in love with the area," said Andy. "We thought this could be good -- it's family friendly and there's potential for small businesses."
Julia's husband, Liam, helped finalize the menu and get the kitchen ready, and Andy used his business and marketing background to get the cafe off the ground. With the sisters' passion and experience, Cha House was born.
When the doors opened in 2018, Julia and Lulu were proud to serve drinks made with tea straight from the farm their relatives own in Taiwan.
"We are very proud to tell people why our tea is different," Lulu said. "It's sourced from a real tea farmer and we know where it's from. We visit our farmer and we know how they pick and bake our tea leaves."
Lulu said their family tea farmer doesn't normally ship products to America -- she had to find a company to help import the tea.
"I thought, 'We need to find way, because the tea is amazing,'" Lulu said.
Lulu, Julia and Andy place a mass order for Cha House every three to six months. Tea leaves and other ingredients are shipped overseas to New York then delivered to North Carolina. The entire process takes about 40 days.
"Sometimes we get a little worried because we have these bulk items out on the ocean," Andy laughed. "We're always surprised and happy when they arrive."
In 2019, family friends opened a franchise-operated Cha House on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, a popular gathering place for N.C. State students. Now a third location is coming to the Shoppes of Kildaire near Trader Joe's in Cary.
Running the newest Cha House, slated to open in late September, is an exciting venture for Andy and Lulu, who live in Apex and have three young children. Julia will stay in Chapel Hill to run the Franklin Street location.
"I became good friends with customers [in Chapel Hill]," Andy said. "We expect the same thing to happen in Cary."
Lulu said operating Cha House and training staff to make classic Taiwanese dishes has been a blessing, and they're excited to do the same thing in Cary.
"They love to learn -- our employees are very adventurous," said Lulu. "It's a very overwhelming feeling how much they appreciate our culture and our food."
Lulu said she and Julia spent much of their youth working in their parents' busy noodle bar, so she was ready for the hard work it takes to open a restaurant.
"I so admire my parents and how they managed their store," she said.
You can find popular Taiwanese street foods at Cha House like scallion pancakes and rice bowls and a full menu of teas and coffees.
The bestseller, Lulu said, is the typical boba milk tea, which features a black tea base and brown sugar-soaked tapioca boba. Customers who are new to bubble tea can ask for a sample to get used to the texture, Lulu suggested.
In the summer, people tend to steer away from milk-based drinks and try lighter items like the Cha House's peach oolong tea or lychee green tea, which features a special fruit syrup imported from Taiwan.
"The taste is so unique," Lulu said. "It's like nothing you can get in the states."
Any beverage at Cha House can be topped with a cheese cap -- a delicious combination of cream and cream cheese that adds a rich, frothy layer to tea drinks.
Andy and Lulu said opening their new Cary location during the COVID-19 pandemic isn't ideal, but they're still excited to welcome customers. To protect the community and their employees, Cha House has decided to close their dining area and keep orders to-go and carry out for now.
When UNC Chapel Hill made the decision to move classes online in August, Cha House offered students free boba to brighten spirits.
"We're in this together," Lulu said.
Look for the Cary location later this month.