Alcohol-infused bubble tea adds diversity to Hub menu

Printed from:

BOSTON – Allston’s Limoo Tea Bar nestles with other Asian-themed restaurants in its Commonwealth Avenue neighborhood and can be easy to overlook among the riot of fast-food shops and bistros that ring the Boston University campus.

But this hidden gem at the corner of Winslow Road is well worth seeking out for its distinctive alcohol-infused bubble tea. It’s the only venue in the city that serves up such concoctions alongside foods based on recipes from Asia to the Middle East.

“I wanted to bring something unique to the table,” said owner Joe Deng, whose goal in developing the menu was to distinguish his restaurant from the other choices in the area. To him, few of those alternatives stand out.

“Everyone is the same,” he said in an interview.

Bubble tea, a tea-based drink that originated in Taiwan, usually contains fresh fruit or milk, and sometimes includes chewy tapioca balls or fruit jellies. The drinks are made with either fresh brewed jasmine green or Assam black tea and fruit pureed on the spot.

Limoo’s Boozey Bubble Teas lace the traditional drinks with spirits such as vodka, rum or whiskey and fruits, including crowd favorites strawberry with vodka and jasmine green tea, peach with jasmine tea and rum. Limoo also serves drinks made with Soju, a Korean liquor, for groups and are served in a punch bowl. Choices range from blended watermelon to lychee and yogurt.

On the edible side of the menu there are basil chili popcorn chicken, truffle fries, Middle Eastern shawarma-style grilled meat sandwiches and Chinese chili mon taos sandwiches, along with koohbideh dumplings filled with marinated organic beef and teriyaki soy sauce – even Mediterranean nachos. Many dishes can be ordered for one or for groups to create a fun sharing experience for friends and families.

The restaurant, which opened in 2014 and was once known for decor with a futuristic feel, was initially expected to draw in the local college crowd. But Deng said he realized his clientele more often came from local offices rather than classrooms and redesigned the space to provide a more laid back style meant to appeal to young professionals looking for a relaxed social scene.

“We had to class it up a little bit,” Deng joked.

“We thought we’d get a lot more BU students than we do,” he said. Instead, he added, “we attracted young professionals from the different neighborhoods around the city.”

The neutral colors and artwork depicting monuments from the around world add to the diverse feel created by the menu. The new décor was Deng’s way of expressing a view of diversity. At first his clientele was mainly Asian-American, but now he sees more and more non-Asian customers.

Deng, a Chinese-American who grew up in both America and China, said he wanted to share a piece of his culture with patrons and kept it authentic.

“The only way to get rid of that barrier is to integrate and say I have something different,” he said. “I shouldn’t be afraid to show the food that I love.”

Deng also owns two bubble tea cafes in western Massachusetts — both called LimeRed Teahouse. And he is about to make another foray into a new market: New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. But in a way, opening a restaurant there will be a return to familiar ground, as it’s close to where he grew up.

“A bubble tea café can’t compete with the big guys, but alcoholic bubble tea can,” Deng said of his prospects in the Big Apple. “One day we will be next to Legal Sea Foods.”