Over the past decade, specialty tea and boba shops have been on a steady rise. Well known for different flavors and textures, they’ve added a splash of something exotic to the American mainstream. A lot goes into making those drinks no matter where you go, but I have been particularly impressed with Milk Tea People. MTP is located in the heart of downtown Denver, just off 16th Street. The space is modern and open and the welcoming staff is amazingly informative.
What makes Milk Tea People different from so many other casual tea shops is their amazing ingredients. Ingredients are sourced all over the world from their loose tea leaves and ceremonial matcha from Kyoto, Japan to their lavender buds from France. I got a chance to talk to one of the co-founders, Kevin Ung, about his store and experiences.
GayDenver: Tell us about you!
Milk Tea People: My name is Kevin and I was born in Denver, Colorado and was raised in Colorado Springs. Before I opened Milk Tea People, I worked at Starbucks for a while, and most recently I was working at T-Mobile.
GayDenver: How did MTP come into being? Did the pandemic impact any of your decisions?
Milk Tea People: When I was a kid at the age of 11, I remember sitting with my Grandmother in the kitchen nook telling her, what if one day there’s a tea bar that specializes in tea-based beverages like how Starbucks does with coffee? At the time, Starbucks was still on the rise and I never really saw a ton of tea drinkers. Drinking tea was not cool, but coffee was.
The idea just sat for years. Six years ago, I decided to make this childhood dream a reality. Growing up I was always so fascinated with tea and how it came to be, but I was also intrigued by design. Design is truly the way one lives and I wanted to bring those two passions together.
COVID definitely had an impact on the launch of the business. During the planning and designing phase of the business, we had everything lined up and ready for launch late 2019. Then COVID made its appearance and our business finances fell through. The most devastating time of my life as I thought all the work that was put in has now gone to waste. Through perseverance, we were determined to make this work and so we did. As we planned and designed the business, we were ready to launch and open late 2019. Milk Tea People launched in July 2021. It feels crazy and surreal that my childhood dream is now a reality that I live.
GayDenver: Can you talk about how your ingredients are different from what people are typically familiar with?
Milk Tea People: During our research and development phase, we’ve found that a lot of different boba and tea shops across the country would use artificial flavorings to make their beverages. Here at Milk Tea People, we believe that the food that we consume tastes so much better with real ingredients. Hence, we use wholesome fruits, organic loose tea leaves, grass-fed whole milk, and cane sugar to craft our beverages.
We only use the highest quality ingredients that are sourced from all over the world. For instance, taro milk tea from other tea shops uses taro powder and powdered milk to make that beverage. For us, our Ube Jasmine Sweet Cream is made of real Ube and Taro roots which are puréed and infused with organic Jasmine Green tea. It is topped off with homemade vanilla sweet cream. Artificial taro tastes completely different from real taro roots that take hours to prepare.
GayDenver: Why do you think that so many businesses use the powdered form of so many ingredients? Is it the prep time or the cost? Maybe the accessibility?
Milk Tea People: A lot of time business decisions are made based on time and cost. Both of these factors go hand-in-hand. The more time it takes to make something the pricier an item will cost to balance the equilibrium of operating a business. For instance, places that do serve matcha usually use lower-grade matcha as it is easier and cheaper to get. However, we believe in the best tasting beverage, and in providing that quality beverage for our guests, we use ceremonial matcha to craft our matcha beverages.
GayDenver: MTP utilizes DIRECT TRADE, which gives one hundred percent of profits to the farmers. How did you set that up?
Milk Tea People: We work directly with our farmer, who is based out of Kyoto, Japan. I did a ton of research online for a long time before finding the farmer that we went with. We went to Japan to visit the grounds, it wasn’t huge but it was amazing to see him work. His attention to detail is what attracted us to him.
GayDenver: Are any items on your menu seasonal? Is anything new on the horizon?
Milk Tea People: Absolutely! As seasons change we like to introduce new flavors for our guests to enjoy. For example, during the summer our mango items are seasonal and won’t be around much longer as we transition into the fall and winter seasons. We are playing around with some ideas for the fall season.
GayDenver: Integrity seems to be a cornerstone for MTP, how do you hold yourself accountable?
Milk Tea People: It all starts at the store level. I’ve designed the store to showcase the artisanal methods of crafting our beverages, from the matcha beverages being hand whisked in front of the guests to the ingredients showcased in a transparent pitcher. Everything that was designed in the store was very intentional.
When we work with customers we keep everything simple and honest. We are happy to explain where something comes from or how we prepared it. We keep our products simple and keep the customer’s experience at the forefront of our planning. No matter how busy we are, we make sure to make every drink the same each and every time. We are so delighted to have people coming to us for their daily or weekly treats. We want to consistently deliver what we’ve promised.
GayDenver: What is Wafchi?
Milk Tea People: It is a hybrid between a Belgian and mochi waffle. It took about three months to develop and I’m so pleased with the way it turned out. It started out because I love Belgian waffles to death and my cousin loves mochi. We had seen mochi donuts around but wondered what a mochi waffle would be like.
It was definitely a challenge, especially as I have never baked before. I kept trying different recipes and they kept coming up short. I almost gave up actually! Right at the end of the three-month period everything just came together.
GayDenver: So why no boba?
Milk Tea People: We have thought about doing boba, the issue is the artificial flavoring and preservatives. We would like to see it added if we can make it in-house.