When I first moved to Chattanooga, somebody mentioned that bubble tea was fairly new to the area, only making an appearance a few years ago. When I was living in Pittsburgh, friends and I would make weekly half-hour trips to get our fix. So with Taichi Bubble Tea opening a location downtown (the first was on Gunbarrel Road), I was itching to make my way over.
Walking into Taichi felt like entering a hidden cove bustling with its own energy. The large windows pulled in light from a glistening Thursday afternoon, creating a bright and clean breath of fresh air when coming off the summer heat on South Broad Street. Customer chatter and low pop music rounded it out, making me hide a smile of delight while I looked around.
What could have been a cramped and claustrophobic area during a weekday lunch rush, the elongated space is divided into two aisles, one facing the service counter and another built behind. Sturdy wooden booths built for either large groups or two people provide private enclaves in which customers were enjoying conversation over ramen or getting work done while eating a sushi burrito wrapped in seaweed.
If you go
› Where: Taichi Bubble Tea, 411 Broad St.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
› Price range: $3.50-$4.25 milk tea, $8.99-$11.99 entrees
› Alcohol: No
› Phone: 423-541-5100
With a wide-ranging list of Hawaiian-style poke bowls, Taiwanese bubble tea and Japanese ramen, a gargantuan menu spans the front end of the service counter listing a variety of teas, add-ons, signature dishes, the works.
Milk teas ($3.50 for a small, $4.25 for a large) include flavors like Taichi Green Milk Tea, Thai Coffee, Taro and Mango. Fruit teas run the same prices and some flavors include Green Apple, Lychee, Passionfruit and Peach.
Taichi Burritos and rice bowls run $8.99 for one protein up through three proteins for $11.99, with your choice of raw tuna or salmon, shrimp, chicken, crab meat, a sushi egg or tofu.
Even in the summer, most customers were slurping ramen, which starts at $11.99. Customers have their choice of different miso, shoyu, tonkotsu and tomato bases with beef, shrimp, pork, tofu or added vegetables.
I went for a signature poke bowl, aptly named the "To Fusion" ($9.49), with organic firm tofu, red cabbage, cucumber, avocado, red onion, carrot, eel sauce and fried garlic atop my choice of sushi rice. The cuts on each individual ingredient were perfect for mixing and forming the perfect bite.
To drink, I went with a small Matcha Red Bean Milk Tea ($3.75). Rather than tapioca bubbles, sweet red beans, or adzuki beans, floated up my straw with each sip.
At the front, you'll find beige order cards to guide you through the process of ordering a poke bowl. Going in for the first time was a bit overwhelming, but luckily the server manning the cash register was quick to answer questions, provide insights on what's good and fill out your card for you. Customers have the option to eat in or take out. Once you make your order, you'll receive a buzzer to alert you when your order's up. When you've wrapped up your meal, you can drop off your tray and trash in the front or back of the restaurant.
As I sat down before I got to eating, a family visiting Chattanooga from Knoxville asked if I'd ever been before. No, I replied, this was my first time. They shared that they came into town a little earlier and stumbled upon this spot, and couldn't have been happier. They raved about their ramen and bubble teas, taking final bites and sips before they slipped away, mentioning that maybe they'd stop by again before the weekend was up. Like them, I think I'll also make another trip before the end of the week.
Contact Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sabrina_bodon.