At five o’clock every morning, Jay Tran roused himself out of bed to cook bubble tea in his Annandale condo.
Working out of his tiny home kitchen, Tran brewed 50 cups a day of the popular Asian drink to sell at local nail salons. His customers loved it and they yearned for more.
But cooking out of his own home, Tran simply didn’t have the capacity to make more than the 50 cups. Even simple tasks like boiling water took over an hour.
Enough is enough, Tran thought. It’s time to open a legit bubble tea business.
So after three months slaving away in his small kitchen, Tran opened TeaDM Lounge last September at the Eden Center in Falls Church.
The business, and its name, come from the combination of two of Tran’s loves in life: tea and electronic dance music (EDM).
“On the weekend, you don’t want to go to the club all the time,” he says. “So you can come here, instead. It’s the same thing but it’s healthy. I’m trying to make a lounge where people can come with friends and have a place to chat and drink tea.”
TeaDM stands out from its competitors, Tran explained, by relying on natural tea as its base, as opposed to syrups and powders.
“Nowadays, not a lot of places use real tea,” he said. “It’s all syrups or powder. Here, we use 90 percent tea, and only a small amount of syrup is used to enhance the flavor.”
And unlike other bubble teas in the area, Tran makes his with two or three flavors in one cup. So while your first sip may be strawberry, your second taste could be lychee.
Born in Vietnam, Tran, 29, came to the United States in 2006 to go to school at Northern Virginia Community College. He made the trek alone, without a single friend or family member.
“It was hard leaving Vietnam,” Tran says. “I didn’t go home for eight years. Not once.”
While earning his associate’s degree in business, Tran spent whatever free time he had working for a friend’s family restaurant at the Eden Center. He caught the restaurant bug, immersing himself in the industry.
On a trip to California three years ago, Tran noticed that the bubble tea trend was really catching on. He became a tea connoisseur, infatuated by the blend of sweet tapioca balls and the variety of exotic flavors that could be melded together. This passion drove Tran to research online how to brew tea at home. Free cups for friends turned into 50 cups a day in his tiny kitchen.
Now the young entrepreneur has a burgeoning business in the heart of the region’s Vietnamese epicenter.
TeaDM currently shares a location with another restaurant, Pho Va, a maneuver that allowed Tran to subsidize his initial startup costs. But with customers lining up for bubble tea from lunch-breaks to late-night rendezvous, Tran hopes to have a stand-alone store by the summer.
On several days, like Christmas or Tet (the Vietnamese New Year), Tran says, he’s sold so much tea that he’s had to close the store for a few hours to brew a new batch.
From 50 hand-delivered cups a day to hundreds of customers walking into his own store, Jay Tran has brewed up a new Eden Center staple.