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By Jennifer Cuevas
Fusion Ti, a café located off Route 1 South in Edison, N.J., offering Internet services and its signature “bubble tea—a beverage with roots in Taiwan—has proven to be a promising business venture.
Fusion Ti, founded by four enterprising young men with combined knowledge of business, computers and design, opened on Christmas Eve, 2002. Since then its business has been thriving. Most of the time the café is filled with customers. Warren Hwang, one of the founders and owners of Fusion Ti, says that a few necessary components of starting a business such as this one are “lots of capital and patience,” to which he playfully adds, “and the ability to not sleep.”
According to Warren, the concept behind the café was to create a place that would serve as an alternative to the common coffee-house experience providing a place where central New Jerseyans could go to unwind and spend quality time with friends. “Opening Fusion was my brother’s idea. Seeing the abundance of cafés, we wanted to offer something a little different and give people a place to hang out where they could chill, relax and get away from the stress of their day.” As opposed to places such as Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, which he says “promote more of a drink-and-go environment,” Fusion Ti, with its relaxed seating, flat-screen TV, chess table and a lineup of computers, encourages customers to stay a while and enjoy themselves.
Michael Caparas, a customer who frequents the cafe comments: “The atmosphere is very laid back. I love the setup and how it feels like a lounge as well as a café. It’s a very comfortable place and I always feel welcome.”
Fusion Ti’s main attraction is its large menu of bubble teas—drinks offering a twist on the common tea-drinking experience. The teas are available in a wide range of flavors and are made by mixing green or black tea with a variety of fruit juices, milk or coffee. Its distinctive ingredients, the “bubbles,” are tapioca pearls, which require a special wider straw for consumption. The prices of the bubble teas range from $2.95 to $3.95, comparable to the prices of Starbucks’ well-known Frappuccinos. Fusion Ti offers slightly different concoctions. Two Fusion Ti favorites are Vanilla Latte Fudge Fusion and Mocha Marble Madness. Fusion Ti’s owners and staff are constantly inventing new bubble tea recipes, and customers are more than welcome to customize their drink orders.
Warren explained that bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. “At the end of the school day, tea vendors would set up outside of schools and compete for business. One tea vendor began flavoring her teas, and its popularity influenced other vendors to add flavoring to theirs. In order to mix correctly, the drinks needed to be shaken and as a result bubbles formed in the tea, and it became known as bubble tea. In 1983, Liu Han-Chieh introduced Taiwan to tapioca pearls. The new fad was to add tapioca pearls into a favorite drink. These also looked like bubbles, and the drinks were also referred to as bubble tea.
Eventually the concept behind the famous bubble tea followed Asian immigrants into the United States. In Asian cultures, sales records show that tea is almost always the preferred drink over coffee. Located in a state whose population numbers 480,000 Asian residents, it’s no wonder that the popularity of Fusion Ti’s bubble tea grew rapidly.
Tea is not only popular with New Jersey’s Asian residents, however. Presently, with increasing numbers of studies and articles coming out regarding tea’s health benefits along with a broadening selection of flavors, tea is also becoming the more favored drink by non-Asian residents throughout the United States. According to an article entitled “Tea Steeped in Health Research,” by Shari Roan: “In the United States, sales rose from $1.84 billion in 1990 to an estimated $5.03 billion in 2002, according to the Tea Council of the USA, a trade organization. Though consumption per person still lags far behind that of many countries, the numbers reflect a soaring interest in this ancient brewed drink.”
While their bubble teas are usually served cold, Fusion Ti also offers hot teas, including its newest addition—chai teas, which come in flavors such as Vanilla, Spiced Apple and Gingerbread. Tapioca pearls, jelly cubes or a combination of both can be added. For those who choose to opt out of the bubble tea experience, drinks can be made without the tapioca pearls.
There are several other beverage options on Fusion Ti’s menu: smoothies, flavored hot and iced coffees, hot chocolate, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Gatorade and bottled water. For those who work up a little bit of an appetite, instant noodles can be made to order, and, depending on the season, availability and popularity, various desserts are offered such as tiramisu and halo-halo, a traditional Filipino dessert usually made with milk, ice cream, fruit, sweet beans, creamy flan and crushed ice.
In addition to their beloved drinks, many customers are drawn to Fusion Ti for their computers. When asked what draws him to the café, Michael Caparas replies: “The variety of bubble milk and fruit tea flavors. They also have some of the cheapest prices in computer usage.” The café’s owners know that during a time when Internet access is becoming almost as vital as using a telephone, its high-speed Internet connection is a way to attract customers.
Customers who plan to spend several hours on the computer may be interested in Fusion Ti’s membership plan; for an annual fee of $10, it includes four free hours of computer usage and one free hour for a guest. Members pay $2 an hour for computer usage; nonmembers pay $4 an hour. Fusion Ti not only offers customers Internet access but also enhanced computer services. For example, an extremely popular pastime is playing Counter Strike, a war combat video game that can be accessed over the Internet. Fusion Ti also has a personal server system that allows its customers the option of teaming up and playing with other people at the café and/or connecting to games on the Internet. For many, going out and having the ability to play side by side with a friend is much more enjoyable than being in separate homes miles away from each other. Largely due to games like Counter Strike, Internet cafés like Fusion Ti are becoming increasingly successful.
Another popular pastime at Fusion Ti is the Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine located just inside the front window. More commonly referred to as “DDR,” it is a game in which competitors must match sequences of symbols following a music beat using a footpad.
In keeping with their plans to give customers a place to relax and stay awhile, Fusion Ti has a seating area where people can chat with friends, listen to music or even play chess. Throughout the day many college students come to the café to order a bubble tea and sit down to read and do their work. Music is sometimes playing or the TV is showing movies. On many occasions the quaint café transforms into a free movie house for its customers, most of the time playing the newest video releases. Customers can even request to have the channel set to their favorite shows and sports events. Daniel Dumandan, another regular Fusion Ti customer, shares, “It’s a place where I can be out with my friends but still feel at home.”
Warren says that in the near future they hope to expand to another store and location. Their ultimate goal is to make Fusion Ti, whose name “fusion” represents the collaboration of the organic and the inorganic, reflective of the café’s combination of bubble tea and technology, into a franchise. With their current success and popularity, along with the general increase of tea drinking throughout the nation and Internet dependence all over the world, Fusion Ti could become the mother of several more café offspring in the years to follow. You can visit their website at www.fusionti.com.