Bubble tea, boba tea, “that drink with little gummies at the bottom,” whatever you call it, there’s no denying that Bubble Tea has (finally) been rising in popularity throughout America. And NOW Knoxville has our own little shop! Hey Bear Café on Middlebrook Pike is an aesthetically pleasing, family friendly, community-oriented shop specializing in serving this Asian treat.
The creators of Hey Bear are Vicky, Jerry, Joyce and Lei – all family members or friends who’ve become family. They started by selling boba tea in the corner of Sunrise Supermarket on Kingston Pike. Boba tea reminded them of their childhood in Taiwan, and they enjoyed it so much that they dreamed of an even bigger space to serve their customers and feature this taste of home. When another family member offered to help them actualize their vision by leasing them the lot she’d purchased, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
First things first: the term “bubble tea” refers to the white foam from shaking the tea in a shaker whereas “boba” refers to the tapioca balls – so both names are correct!
Hey Bear’s menu is organized into categories: Classic Tea, Specialties, Coffee, Sea Salt Milk Foam Tea, Create Your Own, and Galaxy Tea — the latter of which they encourage you to take a picture of before and after swirling it around. (This is, as you may have guessed, the most fun.) With each drink, you get to choose both sugar and ice levels to make it perfectly tailored to you. The toppings (which actually sink to the bottom – but calling them “bottomings” just doesn’t have the same ring to it…) are yet another way to tailor your drink to you. You get to choose from options like Egg Pudding, Grass Jelly, Aloe Vera, Rainbow Jelly, and of course the classic Tapioca balls. Hey Bear orders their various toppings from local distributors and sources their tea leaves straight from Taiwan. While tea names like Deer Vally, High Mountain, and Mt. Ali might sound vague enough to avoid, these actually refer to the different regions in Taiwan where the tea leaves originate. These teas are more robust in flavor and tend to be smoother than regular teas.
Beyond the tea, Hey Bear says they want to provide a place where people can “enjoy a unique drink in the most comfortable way for them – whether it’s by the sandbox or playground with the little ones, studying inside by the big windows, on the platform swing with a friend, as a group of students doing homework together on the outdoor porch, grabbing something to eat from the food truck with a beer, or a community/organization coming together for a workshop or social event.” They want Knoxvillians of all kinds to feel like they belong in the café. Because of this welcoming, comfortable, and fun atmosphere, Hey Bear has already (understandably) received a lot of positive feedback. Looking forward, Hey Bear is excited to host more community events, create more fun tea combinations, and continue to partner with local businesses and food trucks to eventually create an outdoor community marketplace.
As far as we’re concerned, this may well be the best bubble tea east of the Mississippi. We could go for weeks and weeks and still find fun new combinations of delicious drinks. (In fact, we dare you to do just that!) Not to mention, the shop is always coming up with new, fun, delicious ideas. So do yourself a favor and go say “hey” to Hey Bear Café!
Written by: Bailey Hults