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Sunjays, a bubble tea shop in Orange, will open its doors Sunday with Mother’s Day specials

  • Jonathan Sonjai holds up a Thai milk tea in his tea shop, Sunjays, at 7 East Main St. in Orange. Sunjays will open on Mother’s Day. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Thursday, May 11, 2017

ORANGE — Tapioca is making its way back to Orange.

Fifty years after the Minute Tapioca factory closed its doors on West Main Street, the starch extracted from cassava root will soon find itself in much of the tea served at Sunjays, a bubble tea shop slated to open downtown on Sunday. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink containing a tea base, sugar, and milk, often with chewy tapioca balls added.

Owner Jonathan Sonjai said he fell is love with tea in 2011 when he had a green tea smoothie in Boston’s Chinatown with his high school sweetheart. Two years later, he wrote a note in his iPhone. It read, “I have a great idea.” That idea has manifested itself in the form of a small business at 7 East Main St., where that same high school sweetheart, Jennifer Nguyen, will help out. Sonjai said he visited many bubble tea shops and learned most sacrifice quality by using powder, not tea leaves, to maximize profits. This opened Sonjai’s eyes and educated his palate.

“They taste good, but they taste like candy. They don’t taste like tea. My tea tastes good, and like tea,” he said, adding that bubble tea is a demand many coffee-drinking Americans don’t yet know they have. “What I really wanted to do is to deliver a product — a good product — and I wanted to kind of change people’s standards.”

Sunjays serves five teas — three black and two green — that are held in canisters on a shelf. He said it takes at least an hour to steep the teas and cool them. Sonjai has a machine that seals each cup individually and customers will use a thick, pointed straw to puncture the seal. He also carries non-dairy creamer as an option for those with lactose intolerance so they can enjoy a bubble tea with the same taste.

Sonjai said there is a common misconception that the bubbles referred to in “bubble tea” are the tapioca pearls. Actually, he said, the word refers to the bubble foam at the top of the drink once it is sealed and shaken. His aim at the shop is to sport a calm and mellow ambiance, with a chess board for customers to use and a television that will feature a menu.

Sonjai, who used to “flip houses” for money, said he has been warned about the potential struggles of a bubble tea shop in an area with relatively low foot traffic and average household income.

“I tell them, ‘I’m not trying to get rich overnight,” he said. “I’m just going to stick to what I know and love, which is tea. So, we’ll see what happens. … I’m going to work really hard, going to put my back into it, going to give it my all and, hopefully, the community will reciprocate.”

Sonjai, who will turn 26 next month, said he was eating at the Subway restaurant across the street last year when he spotted the vacant space. Sonjai hails from Boston and now lives in Orange.

Sunjays will also offer fruit juice and smoothies and will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Saturday. The menu can be found on the Sunjays Facebook page.

According to Sonjai, all mothers will get a free small beverage and children will get free toppings on Mother’s Day.

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258. On Twitter: @DomenicPoli