The International District’s small restaurants are one of the most striking expressions of our city’s diversity and creativity. These community gathering places offer an easy and rewarding opportunity for cultural exchange that ends with full stomachs and an increased respect for our neighbors and their cultural backgrounds.
Annie Hu of Tea Cup Café is one of those business owners who presents the culinary traditions she grew up with to a Houston audience. “We want to share our Taiwanese food culture with customers, and let them explore it without having to travel to Taiwan” says Hu. “At the same time, we want this to be a place where the Taiwanese community is reminded of home.”
Tea Cup Café strives to serve “the most authentic Taiwanese boba tea and food” in Houston. The shop had been in business for ten years within the Viet Hoa strip center, before Annie took ownership in 2018. Transitioning out of her corporate career and into small business ownership, Annie finally made her childhood dream of owning a restaurant a reality.
The shop is based on the Taiwanese bubble tea concept, a trend which has exploded in popularity around the globe in recent years. The variety of flavor in these tall cups of sweet, cold teas are only limited by the imagination of the “bobarista,” the one who creates the colorful drinks and adds scoops of boiled tapioca balls, called “boba.”
You’ll be enticed with drinks in every color of the rainbow displayed on Tea Cup’s mural-like menu. The fruit teas and smoothie selection give the menu its beautiful range of hues, making it difficult to narrow down your options to just one drink.
If you decide to try one of their most-ordered drinks, you’ll either ask for a Fresh Fruit or Mango Dragon Fruit Tea, Jasmine Milk Tea, a Mango Smoothie, a Strawberry Smoothie, or a Fresh Milk Brown Sugar Boba. No matter the drink, you may add boba, or “popping boba” (thin tapioca filled with juice), jelly cubes, whipped cream or other toppings to give your drink the burst of flavor that you’re craving.
Once Annie made the shop her own, she transformed the Tea Cup menu from simply boba tea and popcorn chicken to a much larger selection of both drinks and Taiwanese dishes. Her most popular Taiwanese food items are the Popcorn Chicken, Spicy Chicken Gizzard, and Beef Noodle Soup, which is the national dish of Taiwan. These large bowls owe their rich broth to the cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds, star anise and cloves infused into the tender beef and thick wheat noodles.
And yes, Popcorn Chicken, also known as Night Market Chicken, is a quintessentially Taiwanese snack. The five-spice powder used in the Beef Noodle Soup also makes an appearance among other ingredients in the batter of these craveable bites. The salty, crispiness of the Popcorn Chicken is an understandably popular compliment to the sweet teas.
In fact, at Tea Cup, these tasty treats were made to be eaten together; a small plastic tray brimming with Popcorn Chicken fits perfectly on top of the tall tea cup, while leaving a gap big enough for a straw to go into the tea. With food and drink conveniently stacked, customers can one-handedly take their tea-chicken combo to-go.
Popcorn Chicken shows up on the menu as both an appetizer and as an entrée, where it is served with rice, a fried egg, and fresh veggies. These dishes alternatively come with fried pork chop, fried chicken steak, or fried fish along with the healthy sides. For those in the mood for noodles, rice or wheat noodles with pork or beef are served either as soup, or stir-fried.
“I give everything my best. I work hard on my recipes and make sure my ingredients are fresh,” says Annie. “It has been a very hard road, but I didn’t give up.” As a single mother, Annie’s motivation for the long hours of dedication to her restaurant is supporting her son, as well as helping both her parents and sister. “This hard road has made me a stronger woman,” she says.
Next time you’re in the neighborhood, or driving down the West Sam Houston Tollway, make a point to stop by Tea Cup Café for a quick refreshment. You’re likely to be greeted by Annie behind the counter, or enjoy a made-to order, freshly prepared meal that she creates in the Tea Cup kitchen.
Buying a meal and a pick-me-up drink at Tea Cup Café means supporting a small business and a family working hard to share a piece of their culinary culture with the International District.
Tea Cup Café
8300 W Sam Houston Pkwy S, Houston, TX 77072
10:30 AM – 9:00 PM