Downtown Somerville’s thriving restaurant scene got an even bigger boost with last spring’s opening of Grumpy Bobas, the first “healthy” bubble tea cafe in New Jersey. Grumpy Bobas makes these traditional and popular drinks with whole, fresh and organic ingredients.
Somerville residents Yanshu Liu and her husband Michael Benjamino are thrilled to be serving a delicious alternative to typical bubble teas — without artificially flavored powder and syrups full of cheap fillers. Instead, they use housemade fruit purees, real loose leaf tea, organic milk, cream and matcha — and so far, customers are eating (or drinking) it up.
In a March interview with NJ Next just before they opened, Liu explained how her venture got its intriguing name. ‘Bobas’ are the tapioca pearls found in bubble tea.
“After working at a famous international bubble tea chain and looking at the ingredients in all their drinks, we knew we wanted to make our drinks differently,” Liu said. “Traditional bubble tea is made with a lot of inexpensive fillers such as high fructose corn syrup and non-dairy creamer powder. At Grumpy Bobas, our milk tea is made with organic milk and cream or Califia almond milk as a vegan alternative. We make our own fruit puree with whole fruit, pure cane sugar, and water.”
So far, those whole and organic ingredients are part of a winning recipe.
The couple first started with a pop-up shop inside Lucky Foo’s restaurant in Kearny and found a loyal following. “We started our pop-up shop inside a restaurant to see if people would be interested in bubble teas with quality ingredients,” Liu explained. “Because we live in Somerville and love the area, we’ve been looking for a place since early 2016.”
Not only does the cafe’s name attract curious visitors, its specialty drinks are equally fascinating. Liu explained that the cafe’s Milk Cloud tea is based on the wildly popular cheese tea – currently all the rage in Asia.
“People are lining up for three hours in China just to get a taste,” Liu said. “It’s tea topped with milk and cream cheese.”
Though this trendy item has been featured in The Washington Post and Refinery29, Liu and Benajmino recognize that the phrase “cheese tea” could be off-putting to some guests. For that reason, Grumpy Bobas offers its own version and call it Milk Cloud tea.
“It’s jasmine green tea with a fluffy cloud on top made from five simple ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, sea salt, and cream cheese,” she said. “The first sip is savory because of the milk cloud, but the longer you drink it, you taste the sweet, refreshing jasmine green tea. You’re getting the best of both worlds.”
Grumpy Bobas also offers three healthy and delectable probiotic fruit kefir drinks. “It’s our house-made fruit purée with a shot of organic kefir,” Liu explains, calling it “the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and great for digestion.”
“We also offer organic matcha that’s whisked on the spot when you order. We put a fun spin on your regular matcha latte (matcha with milk) by combining it with our house-made fruit purée. This layered drink is not only Instagram-worthy, but also quite delicious,” she continued.
The cafe has seating for 20 guests, with a range of options including barstools overlooking Main Street, sofas, and tabletops for parties of two or four.