Sophie Bolich

Tsaocaa Brings Boba, Korean Fried Chicken to Farwell Ave

Kawa owner opens first Wisconsin location for bubble tea chain, Tsaocaa.

By - Jun 26th, 2023 04:45 pm
Site of Tsaocaa, 2224 N. Farwell Ave. Photo taken June 17, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

Site of Tsaocaa, 2224 N. Farwell Ave. Photo taken June 17, 2023 by Sophie Bolich.

When Selina Zheng moved to Milwaukee a decade ago, she considered opening a bar, but didn’t like the idea of owning an alcohol-centered establishment. Plus, Milwaukee already had its fair share of taverns.

Instead, she opened Kawa, offering authentic sushi and ramen. The Japanese restaurant quickly rose to prominence in the city’s dining scene, and has since expanded to three locations.

Zheng’s latest venture brings her journey full circle. She’s now the proud owner of Tsaocaa, a boba cafe. And while the tea-focused bar offers an impressive range of beverages, none contain alcohol.

Milwaukee’s Tsaocaa, 2224 N. Farwell Ave., is the first Wisconsin location for the chain, which opened its first shop in China in 2016. The cafe began its soft opening on June 16, just ahead of an influx of foot traffic due to the Summer Soulstice music festival.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Zheng, who discovered Tsaocaa while traveling and was impressed by its unique menu. “I wanted to bring something different to Milwaukee.”

The extensive drink menu at Tsaocaa includes more than five dozen options, ranging from sweet and creamy cocoa bubble milk to refreshing iced green tea loaded with colorful fresh fruit. Classics such as brown sugar milk tea and matcha are available, as well as fruit and yogurt slush, hot or iced tea with cheese milk foam, non-alcoholic fruit mojitos and smoothies made with real, fresh fruit.

Tsaocaa joins a growing lineup of boba cafes in Milwaukee as the Taiwanese drink continues to grow in popularity. What sets Tsaocaa apart, however, is its food menu, Zheng said.

Hong Kong-style egg waffles — crispy and golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside — are served in colorful paper bags, allowing diners to dig into the hot, fresh treat without burning their hands.

Unlike the Belgian variety, the egg waffles — a popular Chinese street food — are convex, with no pockets to hold syrup and other toppings. That’s not a problem at Tsaocaa; the lightly-sweet waffles need no enhancements.

For a savory option, there’s Korean fried chicken. Served plain or tossed in sweet and spicy sauce, the chicken is juicy inside with a shatteringly crispy coating and stays crisp for up to an hour, thanks to a top secret recipe and cooking technique, said Zheng. When pressed for more information, she shakes her head and smiles.

Tsaocaa occupies a storefront next door to Oriental Theatre, inside the former Pita Pit. In just two months, Zheng transformed the former cast-casual Mediterranean restaurant into a bright cafe space, complete with wicker and wood chairs, greenery and bench seating with neutral-toned, circular cushions.

The space isn’t quite finished, said Zheng, noting that wall decor and additional signage will go up in the coming weeks.

The new cafe is in close proximity to the East Side’s Kawa, 2321 N. Murray Ave. The restaurant is being rebuilt following a kitchen fire in early June. In the meantime, Kawa plans to operate a temporary vendor stall at Crossroads Collective — just steps away from Tsaocaa.

Between opening the new cafe and handling repairs to Kawa — all while continuing to operate two additional restaurants — the past several months have been particularly busy for Zheng, who co-owns the cafe with Lin Jin Xiao.

And though she’s been putting in longer hours than usual, Zheng said her team has made the situation more manageable. “They are doing a really good job,” she said.

A grand opening for Tsaocaa is upcoming. For now, the cafe is open Thursday through Sunday from noon until 9 p.m.

For updated hours and more information, visit the cafe’s Facebook page.


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Categories: Food & Drink

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