When bubble tea arrived in London from Taiwan, Britain’s capital was instantly hooked. Never one to miss an opportunity, last autumn, May Gem Tan and her brother Liam brought the refreshment north of the border to Glasgow. Laura Redpath caught up with May Gem, 25, to find out how she got her city centre-based business running, and what it is that makes the exotic drink so special.
What gave you the idea to open a bubble tea bar?
Although I was born and raised in the UK, my parents are from Malaysia so we often travel there to visit family – that’s where I discovered bubble tea. I always remember it as “that fun drink with the little balls”. On a trip to London I noticed that it was popular outside the Asian community and thought, why not bring it to Glasgow?
How was Tempo Tea Bar born?
Liam and I started planning in summer 2012 – so it took a while! I also had an advisor from Business Gateway who was a fantastic help. What did you do after leaving school? Because I had the aspiration of getting a job in investment banking, I studied finance and economics at Strathclyde, but when I landed a graduate position at a major bank, I realised working a 9 to 5 routine wasn’t for me.
What exactly is bubble tea?
Bubble tea is a new approach to regular tea. People can choose from a milky or fruity base, with lots of different flavours and it can be served hot or cold. Its boba ball toppings, or juice filled ‘popping boba’, are what makes it unique. We give extra fat straws out with our drinks so everything can be sucked up easily.
What’s the story behind the name?
Since moving here from Montrose in 2006, I’ve loved Glasgow’s music scene. With the city being home to many talented musicians, I couldn’t help but bring a music vibe to the shop.
The interior is really quirky; did you design it yourself?
A lot of ideas floated around in the beginning. The aim was to be fun, upbeat and interactive. Thankfully we found a designer who captured our objectives and we couldn’t be happier with the result.
Are there any plans to expand the business?
It’d be amazing to have some more shops around the country. We’ve also been looking into selling DIY kits so people can make bubble tea at home.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to start their own business?
Start planning now as things take longer than expected. Carrying out research and testing the products you hope to sell on friends will help determine what’s good, and what’s not. But most importantly, work hard and believe. You can’t rely on others to make you happy, but you can rely on you.
Visit May Gem and the Tempo Tea Bar team at 83 Queen Street, Glasgow and don’t miss your 10% student discount on Mondays. Find out more at www.tempoteabar.com
Photos: Laura Redpath/Jack Stott
Source magazine, Spring 2014