The sidewalks are quiet save for the sounds of cars whooshing by, filling the hot and humid air. Those like me who dare bear the Texas heat frown with exhaustion. Sweat trickles down my spine as I cling to the edge of the sidewalk, hoping the whoosh of the cars can provide a cool breeze.
Finally, I make it to my destination, and there’s a sudden shift in both temperature and general mood. Inside Kung Fu Tea I immediately get a sense of joy and camaraderie between customers and employees.
There’s a young lady sitting in the corner, notebook wide, highlighters open, with a pencil behind her ear. To my left I witness a group of friends showing each other videos on TikTok. Their cups are filled with a variety of drinks, boba filled to the brim. A young couple enters, making their way to the counter. They wait their turn as the cashier guides an older gentleman through the menu to help him find his special drink. Honestly, the whole thing feels like a John Hughes movie.
This is the vibe and synergy the original entrepreneurs – Michael, Allen and Ray – had in mind when they first began developing the Kung Fu Tea concept, and this is the atmosphere Ayla Hernandez, owner of the Arlington location, hopes to continue. The restaurant opened in May 2021 and has already started to gain traction.
As a recent University of Texas at Arlington graduate, Ayla understands the importance of offering a student study space that provides a unique experience compared to the traditional coffee shop or library.
“You have your Starbucks over on campus but there’s only so much space you can get,” said Ayla. “I thought [Kung Fu Tea] would be a great way to add another space that wasn’t so mainstream. There’s more color, more creativity. It’s something to ignite the mind to work better.”
In fact, many of the customers I spoke with call it “the Starbucks of bubble tea.”
As an interior design major, Ayla is no stranger to the design elements best suited to spark productivity. Kung Fu Tea Arlington boasts an open two-story layout, large windows for natural lighting, a colorful design palette, a reading corner, and plenty of table top space to accommodate an influx of guests.
Although she grew up in Grand Prairie, TX, Ayla thinks of Arlington as her second home.
“I spend a lot of time here,” she said, “…I love how fast it’s growing and how everything is being renovated to be more people-friendly. All the sidewalks are much wider for people to walk on.”
In addition to the growth and improved walkability in Downtown, Arlington’s diversity was another key feature for locating her business in the heart of the city.
“The people here are always the most interesting people that I meet,” Ayla said. “There’s always something different about each person and their background.”
UTA remains one of the most diverse schools in the nation, so as a student, it’s no surprise to me that the surrounding businesses reflect that cultural prowess. Each business adds its own respective flavor to the district; personally, I love storefront-hopping and trying new things. No matter how hard I’ve tried, though, I’m just not a coffee person, so Kung Fu Tea was just what I needed.
Because I’m not much of a boba aficionado; I usually go with the tried-and-true strawberry milk slush with mango popping. However, Ayla suggested I try something new: peach oolong tea with nata jelly. Now, I’d never heard of oolong tea before, but that first sip was such a strong burst of flavor. The nata had a nice pineapple taste, and the tea itself was very refreshing. Needless to say, a loyal customer was born that day.
When the fall semester comes into full swing and students flood in droves to Downtown Arlington, I expect Kung Fu Tea’s business will skyrocket. At a safe, walkable distance from campus and a diverse menu to match its diverse audience, this place is bound to succeed.
Tea, punch, slush, yogurt, coffee -- you name it, they’ve got it. I suggest you beat the fall rush and find your favorite flavor combinations now! Visit Kung Fu Tea at 101 E. Abram St., Suite 170 and visit them online here. Stay in the know about upcoming events and promotions by following them on Facebook at @KFTarlingtontx.
Written by Jalen Robinzine, Downtown Arlington-UTA Summer Intern 2021