By TILEAH DOBSON
With Australia being a multicultural country, it was only a matter of time for Taiwan’s boba tea to make its way Down Under. With the rise of franchise chains like Chatime, Gong Cha and Sharetea, bubble tea has become a popular beverage.
Prompting some health benefits through their various black and green teas, the customization and overall taste are why this beverage is immensely popular with residents, particularly university students.
Despite its immense popularity, the constant cost of buying one individual serving can add up over time. Thankfully, a rise of small businesses that can cater to the bubble tea need has emerged. One such local small business is Cup49.
Based in Melbourne, this small business is run by Serene Lim and was established in 2019 by Lim and her friend. Loving bubble tea but hating the plastic waste from the cups, Lim and her friend began their business by selling reusable cups.
“It all started when I saw the photo attached on Facebook of a large construction bin overfilled with plastic cups from various bubble tea brands. I love bubble tea and treat myself weekly but have never thought much about the consequences of my bubble tea addiction, until this photo,” Lim said.
“From our research, on average, a bubble tea store in Melbourne sells about 48 cups of bubble tea per hour. That’s 48 plastic cups, 48 plastic straws, 48 plastic lids and 48 plastic bags that will end up in our oceans or landfill. We decided on the name Cup 49 in hopes that our cup will be the 49th and forever reusable bubble teacup.”
“We then expanded our range to DIY bubble tea kits because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were in lockdown and couldn’t get our bubble tea fix without breaking the bank. I remember uber-ing a single bubble tea and paying $15.49 for it! So I thought there must be a way for all of us to make bubble tea in the comfort of home, customised to our preference without going broke.”
What started as a small business had quickly grown into a bubble tea enterprise, largely thanks to loyal customers. A small team of nine, Cup49 aims to ensure people can get their delicious tea whilst keeping the planet cleaner.
Lim sympathised with university students who often spent money on bubble tea and encourages Western Sydney University (WSU) students to check out her website.
“I remember not having much money back in university and would have really loved a cost-effective DIY bubble tea solution. All those late nights studying for exams in the law library with massive uncurbed bubble tea cravings because there were no bubble tea shops near me,” Lim said.
Ideas for new products is a combined effort from Lin’s team and her community of loyal customers, affectionately nicknamed Boba Baes. While still working on getting halal certification for customers, Cup49 products are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. There are plenty of fruit teas available for those who cannot handle dairy as well.
Lim is continuously grateful for the support from not only her customers, but her team, family, and friends.
“We get heaps of support from family and customers. My dad folds our blue tissue paper, my mum helps with accounts, my in-laws and siblings help pack orders when we need the extra hand. My husband pretty much supports me in every aspect, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Lim said.
“We have the best customers ever; they’re always telling their friends and family about us and raving about our products on social media. You can see heaps of customer stories that we re-share on our Instagram cup.49. That’s not it, we’ve got customers who choose not to use a discount code just to support our small business. Like who does that!”
“It can get lonely and stressful running a small business yourself so I am so grateful to have the best support system.”
Lim’s large following on social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok has helped her business immensely. On her TikTok, she shows complete transparency with her followers on how orders are packed, what the warehouse looks like and even shows how to make various kinds of teas.
With bestsellers such as are Brown Sugar Milk Tea Kit, Ultimate Fruit Tea Combo Kit, Trio Popping Pearls and the one that started it all, Reusable Bubble Tea Cup Set, Lim and her team have a bright future ahead.
“I just find it interesting that we’ve been making tea, coffee, smoothies at home but making bubble tea at home only became a thing in the last 1-2 years. Now we have access to premium bubble tea ingredients with easy, quick recipes to make our perfect cup of bubble tea, wherever, whenever,” Lim said.
For more information about Cup49 or to place an order and support a small business, go to cup49.com.
Tileah Dobson is an editor for W’SUP and the news editor for the Sydney Sentinel.
P.S. If Cup49 wants to sponsor me, I won’t say no 😉