The surge of new boba places has been a recent positive trend in Isla Vista. Wake Cup, the newest boba shop, recently opened in early January to its eager customers.
Owner Jiaan “Vincent” Gu revealed his journey to opening the shop while only in his mid-twenties. “I’m in my mid twenties right now, and I dropped out of college like two years ago,” Gu said. “At some point I was getting really really lazy. I didn’t want to go to school anymore. So I dropped out. Two years later, I figured I need to get my life together and do something.”
This led Gu to open his own boba place with the support of his family. The restaurant itself gives off a modern vibe with its minimalist decor and open layout. The main spotlight is the ceiling light fixtures, which produce white light during the day but change colors at night. Gu proudly pointed out that the colors change to the beat of the music. He also mentioned that they are going to add more games and interactive elements to the restaurant over time.
The menu is displayed on three screens above the cash register. It offers a variety of milk teas, flavored teas, slushes and smoothies. There is also a list of specialty drinks with combination flavors such as matcha milk tea smoothie and brown sugar milk with pudding and boba. Additionally, customers can choose from 14 different toppings to add to their drinks, including classic boba, for a few extra cents. There are also two drink sizes to choose from.
I visited Wake Cup with The Bottom Line’s Executive Content Editor, Bailee, and staff photographer Frances.
Bailee ordered the Jasmine green milk tea and was more than satisfied with her drink. She described her drink as perfectly sweetened, leaving behind no traces of a bitter tea flavor. It was creamy, yet had a captivating tea flavor. To her, it was the perfect, intricate blend of tea, sugar and floral notes.
Similarly, Frances was content with her almond milk tea. She was able to identify the complex almond flavor rather than a generic sweetness. Although it was perfectly sweetened, Frances noted it was a more watery than creamy. Nonetheless, she enjoyed how refreshing it was, which is always a plus at the end of the week on a Friday evening.
Going in a different direction, I decided to order a peach slush. As Gu was about to hand me my drink, he paused, gave it a shake, and asked me to wait a moment. He turned back to one of his workers and told them to remake the drink as it was too watery to be considered a slush. He apologetically asked me to wait a few more minutes for my drink to be remade.
This perfectly coincides with Gu’s business model. He tries to give his customers the best experience possible. “We can provide a better quality of drinks and better forms of customer service,” he said. “That’s why I said customer wait time is a big thing to deal with.”
My drink had a good slush consistency. The ice was blended finely enough that it melted into my tongue within a few seconds of taking a sip. At the same time, the drink didn’t melt so quickly that it became half slushie, half juice within minutes. My drink was reminiscent of a drinkable snow cone, but I definitely prefer this version instead.
The boba is chewy and perfectly firm in the center. They aren’t sweet due to being freshly made, but there are toppings other than plain boba. I highly suggest you eat all the boba before lovingly putting it in the fridge because it’ll turn into lumpy, hard balls overnight.
However, the main star of the show is the popcorn chicken, which is the only snack food available as of the opening. Fear not, the menu assures you to “keep calm” as more food will be added soon. After ordering the chicken, I saw a person in the back put the chicken in the deep frier. Nothing is better than freshly deep fried food.
The popcorn chicken is absolutely phenomenal. It’s as authentic as anything will get in Isla Vista. The chicken itself is is moist and nicely cooked, while the outside is perfectly crispy without being bready. This can be attributed to the use of sweet potato flour, which is traditionally used to make Taiwanese popcorn chicken. It’s best with a little bit (or a lot) of chili powder sprinkled on top to bring a new element of flavor. Surprisingly, the chicken remains delightfully crispy for a while, which is great news because nobody likes sad, soggy chicken.
Having amazing popcorn chicken may be a great success, but Gu revealed his biggest challenge so far: “The biggest challenge would be family and budgets. I’ve never lived this far and this this amount of time. In the Bay area, even though I moved out of my family’s place, I can still go back home for dinner … I never left home for this long period of time, so this is the biggest challenge for me personally.”
Gu and his family moved to the Bay area from China when he was only 17. He recently moved out to Isla Vista in February to pursue his business.
“When you’re in society, you have to learn something everyday,” Gu said. “You can either learn it from school or learn from somewhere else. Life is a learning experience. That’s why I decided to open a place like this because I could learn something here too.”
As for his favorite boba flavor? “Because I’m a simple person, I always like milk tea. It’s a simple thing and it’s just classic. You can get it everywhere.”