Charuma Tea Bar Brings Flavors of Taiwan to Providence

The downtown Providence tea shop offers iced and hot bubble teas and savory bites.
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Charuma Tea Bar in downtown Providence offers a menu of original, milk and fruit teas as well as savory snacks. Photography by Edelinda Baptista.

Authentic Taiwanese cuisine and bubble tea can be found on Weybosset Street in Providence at Charuma Tea Bar. It all started with one Johnson and Wales University graduate and two RISD alums, who were determined to give locals and visitors an experience that temporarily transports them to the East Asian country through their taste buds.

Owners/couple Tom Chang and Jenny Lu along with business partner and good friend Tony Chen combined their different skill sets to launch the tea shop, by first discussing potential menu items, brainstorming branding and planning interior design. Lu, who majored in interior architecture and graduated in 2019, is the mastermind behind the tea bar’s decor. Industrial design major Chen helped design everything from branding to cups and to-go bags, and Chang graduated in 2014 as well as Chen with a restaurant, food and beverage management degree and handles food, management and operations of the shop.

The trio bonded in college after Chen introduced Johnson and Wales student Chang and fellow RISD student Lu to each other, who later formed a relationship. Years later in 2019, Chang and Chen decided to up the tea game for others to enjoy after trying other bubble teas in the streets of Providence. They vowed to open up their own shop with the help of Lu and, in July 2021, Charuma Tea Bar held a soft opening offering a menu of original, milk and fruit teas as well as savory snacks.

“When we were trying the boba tea, we just wanted really authentic flavors,” says Chang, who taps into connections in Taiwan for the shop’s supplies. “My family back in Taiwan has had a family business in the food industry for more than thirty years.”

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The tea bar’s to-go bags display Bodhidharma toting a shaker as a bindle.

How the tea bar crew came up with the name is simple: tea in Mandarin is “cha,” and “ruma” stems from the name of the shop’s logo and Zen Buddhism founder, Indian monk Bodhidharma (“Daruma” in Japanese), who stands in for the shop’s logo. With that in mind, much of the tea shop’s branding contains slight nods to the bubble tea-making process as well. In the middle of the logo is a cocktail shaker to symbolize their tea-infused libations, and on the to-go bag, you can spot Bodhidharma toting a shaker as a bindle.

Charuma calls its detailed drinks “teatails,” a play-on word combining tea and cocktails. Chang has a friend who owns a bar in Taiwan, and is inspired by his interest in the cocktail culture. Once the tea bar crew began talking about their own products, the tasty alcoholic mixed drink came to mind. “The process of making bubble tea and cocktails is very similar, we add the ingredients into the shaker and mix it, then pour it out and show it to the customers,” Chang says. “We’re just using tea instead of alcohol.”

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The Jasmine Milk Tea is a favorite for several customers.

The chewy bubbles at the bottom of the cups are made in-house, using tapioca powder from their supplier in Taiwan. The powder and water combination create the white color on the bubbles, then once they’re cooked the bubbles become transparent. They are soaked in sugar water for added sweetness.

“When you’re drinking bubble tea, you can taste the tea and when you chew on the bubbles, the sweetness comes back,” says Chang, who personally doesn’t like his tea too sugary so he prefers the bubbles to accentuate the tea’s taste. “I always tell my first-time customers, just think about gummy bears inside your drink,” he says.

The food menu consists of snacks and street food you’d typically eat in Taiwan, including popcorn chicken, French fries, sweet potato fries and chicken cutlets, which marinate overnight. Choose seasoning flavors such as original, plum, chili, seaweed salt and pepper and regular salt and pepper with a spicy kick.

Test out Charuma Tea Bar’s selection of bubble teas like Jasmine Milk Tea, Black Tea, Smoky Oolong Tea and Formosa Beauty Tea, or make it hot for $.50 more. The shop is open Monday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. 45 Weybosset St,. Providence, 401-642-5198, charuma.com

 

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