Teapresso Bar changes the milk tea game in Hawaii


Chantelle Aguilar

Teapresso Bar II staff and founder Steve Nguyen

By Chantelle Aguilar, Staff Writer

Bubble tea shops, also known as boba, have popped up throughout Hawaii rapidly over the past few years. Drive through Honolulu and you will easily spot 10 shops and counting. However, a new joint that emphasizes quality drinks and service has raised the bar for milk tea in Hawaii, which has been lacking in the past.

Teapresso Bar, founded by Steve Nguyen, is a small, family-run business that offers the freshest bubble teas, 100% organic coffee and specialty drinks on the island. The first location opened in January at 1088 Bishop Street in downtown next to Hawaii Pacific University. After expecting to fail within six months, Nguyen was surprised to find out that he had to open a second shop seven months later due to extreme popularity. The second location opened in August at 510 Piikoi Street across the street from Ala Moana Center.

“I see myself as a customer the way I see my business. You need to look at the whole perspective,” said Nguyen.

This mindset transcends into all aspects of the business from menu items to customer service. Born in Vietnam, Nguyen moved to California at 5 years old and eventually made his way to Hawaii while on his four-year deployment with the United States Army. He took notice of the “lack of good quality tea” on the island and saw an opportunity to expand. Nguyen took his experience as a previous bubble tea shop owner in San Diego, Calif., as well as his knowledge of tea from traveling around the world to form his own business.

What makes Teapresso Bar different from the rest is how the drinks are crafted. There is no such thing as “big batch brew” here. Every drink is made fresh to order using the Teapresso machine, which is where Nguyen drew inspiration for the name of the business. The machine is able to freshly brew three different drinks at a time, and he said he is the only one with the rights to use the machine in Hawaii.

“I like how you are able to gather with friends and enjoy yourselves. The drinks tastes unique … and makes me feel really happy,” said John Lei, a frequent customer.

Teapresso Bar offers 18 different tealeaves that are collected straight from their origins: Earl Grey from England, Hibiscus from Jamaica, Assam from India and others are from Taiwan — the birthplace of bubble tea. A drink averages about $5 and are made using fresh fruits, real fruit jams or non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegan syrups. Organic options are also available.

Customers can choose from a variety of house specials or customize their drink by choosing a type of drink (tea, coffee, smoothie), flavorings, milk options, sweetness level and toppings. A wide array of toppings are also offered such as tapioca balls, fruit jellies, matcha pudding, and sea foam which is Nguyen’s own creation of a sea salt-infused whipped cream. The number one drink is the Teapresso Milk Tea, which is Nguyen’s spin on the traditional milk tea using both Assam and Hojica tealeaves.

While the business is off to a good start, Nguyen is still trying to adjust to the unique Hawaii lifestyle.

“Everything is so slow. [People] are in such a relaxed environment,” said Nguyen, who moved to the state last year.

This presents the issue of finding the right employee who will believe and carry out Teapresso Bar’s mission. Customer service is vital to Nguyen. Workers will personally deliver drinks to each customer, which is not even something Starbucks does. And because drinks take a minute or two longer to make, customers are able to take advantage of the numerous board games and a self-help popcorn machine. Poloroid photos of customers can be seen throughout the walls that instills a sense of community.

In the future, Nguyen would like to open two more shops, one in Ewa Beach and another in Kapolei at the new shopping center, which will soon be built. He would also like to expand the menu and offer food items such as traditional Vietnamese sandwiches. With four years left with the Army, Nguyen will continue to grow his business, which he hopes will set him up for the future.

For more information on Teapresso Bar and monthly promotions, follow them on Instagram @TeapressoBar2. Don’t forget to get a stamp card and fulfill nine drink requirements in order to receive a free drink and be entered in a contest to win free drinks for a month. Or visit on your birthday where your photo will be posted on the wall and you will leave with a free drink and mochi ice cream.