Last year, I was intrigued by these young Kagayanons carrying a big milky thing and slurping what looks like marbles through a fat straw. Eventually I discovered that they got that drink from this little shop in Marfori Compound which is just a stone throw away from my office. Out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try. Then, the magic began….
The moment I entered the store, I was mesmerized by its interior. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was actually there to order something. I was clueless so I asked their staff their best seller. She gave me this refreshing dessert drink which won my heart and is now an addiction… Wintermelon Milk Tea!
The allure of that creamy tea touching my taste buds plus the fun of playing that fat straw amid the ice until I locate those large balls of black pearls (tapioca) is truly tactile. Since then, I became a regular Kagayanon sipper of that little house popularly known as… Chingkeetea.
Chingkeetea is just phenomenal. It is always packed with customers, mostly students and yuppies. From time to time, I have been seeing my friends posting pictures and positive feedback about it on social networking sites. I myself is a fan. My week isn’t complete without dropping by this store. The intriguing question is… who is the person behind this most famous milk tea shop in town?
Surprisingly, a young bubbly personality greeted me. She is Sharee Mae Uy Te. Guess what? She is only 23 years old. Her friends call her Chingkee and she is the woman behind Chingkeetea.
This high spirited La Sallite is proudly Kagay-anon. Born on October 10, 1990, Chingkee is the youngest child of Ramon Te who is an orthopedic surgeon and Susan Te, a businesswoman. She graduated grade school at Shekinah and went to Oro Christian Grace School for high school. Initially, she wanted to follow her dad’s foot steps as a doctor. But by some anomaly of life, she changed her mind and finished marketing management at De La Salle University Manila. Way back school days, she was not the super achiever type but more of a laid back and carefree student.
An answered prayer
After college, Chingkee was kind of perplexed. She was unemployed and asked God’s guidance of what to do next.
“I didn’t want to be an employee, maybe my personality hindi lang ako bagay because I am very forgetful and ayoko siguro yung pressure. And then I asked the Lord that I want something that I am passionate about. Maybe a business tapos I really like to draw. I like to paint. He gave me an idea to put up a cafe.”
Cafe was a sound idea for Chingkee but she is not fond of coffee. Plus, there arealready plenty of coffee shops in Cagayan de Oro. When she was still contemplating, milk tea shop was already trending in Manila and there was none in CDO. Since she loves milk tea then she asked her mom if she can have that business as her graduation gift. That request made her mom so happy because it wasn’t the typical materialistic gift. Mrs. Susan Te is also passionate about food business. In fact, she is a part owner of XO Restaurant at Robinsons Cagayan de Oro.
Zhen Zhu Nai Cha
Chingkee started researching about milk tea. Eventually, there was a supplier who approached her and offered her a course about milk tea in Taiwan. Milk tea is an exotic street drink in that country and it is popularly known there as zhen zhu nai cha or pearl milk tea.
Since Chingkee was unemployed and didn’t have her own earning, going to Taiwan was not an easy thing to do. Fortunately, her dad was willing to pay the expenses. She was able to fly to Taiwan September of 2011 and took the one week course.
The birth of Chingkeetea
After she completed her milk tea course in Taiwan, Chingkee still went through lots of challenges that she had to hurdle. She had to undergo series of planning and reorganizing before she was able to materialize everything. Initally, she wanted to open in 2011 but because of financial reasons, she had to reset her plan. Plus a competitor opened ahead of her. For someone who did not have the experience in business, it was really challenging on her part. Then Sendong came that caused further delay. Finally, in March 2012 Chingkeetea was born.
It started small with more or less nine tables, equivalent to its current alfresco area. With its location that is quite hidden, Chingkee did not really expect much. Then a week after the opening, she was amazed that her shop was already trending on Facebook. It captured the attention of mostly students because of its shabby chic look. And the demand of their milk tea surged . In October 2012, Chingkeetea expanded to how it is today.
My favorite and everyone’s favorite… Winter Melon Milk Tea. It is more popularly known as “kundol” in Filipino which is a kind of white gourd. Black tapiocas which is also called black pearl is a perfect add on. This milk tea is creamy and the moment that black tapioca is drawn into the vacuum of the straw and shoots into the mouth, it gives a sudden and pleasantly surprising delivery.
I have tried other milk tea shops and they too taste good. But there is something with Chingkeetea that keeps me coming back. I asked Chingkee their secret. Apart from love, she said that she herself is a tea lover and constantly monitors everything. From time to time, she tries their teas and when she finds a flavor that is quite off , she collaborates with her staff to improve it. She is also thankful for having hardworking employees who give her their honest opinion. And although most of their tea recipes and ingredients come from Taiwan but they too experiment flavors in line with the preference of their customers.
I was impressed by Chingkeetea’s detailed, personalized, and unpredictable interiors. Seeing those curtains, chandeliers, cute tables, and collection of personalized decors felt like a fairytale. Chingkee’s love for the arts enables her to conceptualize her shop’s interior really well with the help of an interior designer who is a close friend of her mom. The concept started with shabby chic look that has leveled up into something whimsical. Most of the decorations are her personal collections and some from her mom and titas.
Chingkeetea is poised to branch out not only within CDO but even in other key cities like Cebu and Manila. It might also be open for franchise but not until they have stabilized their system. Chingkee does not like the idea of opening in malls. She prefers stand alone shops because she wants the stores to be as big as the first branch. The taste, quality, interior, services, and the whole experience must be the same. Chingkee is also planning to venture in other forms of food and service business.
Brewing tea, building lifestyle
“We do not have wi-fi. Talk to each other.” This is posted on their wall. Chingkeetea has deviated from typical tea and coffee shops nowadays that offer free wi-fi to attract customers. They don’t need such marketing strategy. The shop is still very in demand without it. This is a bold manifestation that people go there not for wi-fi but for the love of tea and for the experience itself. So, it is really the best place to bond with our families and friends with no disruptions of our tabs and smart phones. Unless, of course, if you have your own connection.
Chingkee briefly answered my question on what makes her shop stand out compared to its competitors. “It’s the whole experience because anyone can just copy the taste. The whole experience that a customer gets from Chingkeetea is our edge,” she said.
Learn from the owner
Here is Chingkee’s advice especially to aspiring young entrepreneurs.
“There are three things to consider. I told this to some students. First, the purpose. The purpose of why I put up Chingkeetea like for me I’d like to provide jobs for my employees and to empower them. I also want to inspire my customers especially the young people. Walang kwenta na magtatayo ka lang na walang purpose. Second, pillars. I surround myself with the right people with the right friends and family who will support me and also mentors me like my tita, my interior designer. Syempre si God because without His grace wala talaga ‘to. And lastly, passion. It is what will keep me going. Kahit masakit ang ulo ko go lang kasi it is my passion, tea and art.
Chingkee’s success story is no longer new. But it has reminded us that the road to success is not easy but with hard work, drive, passion, and prayer, it’s possible to reach our ultimate dream in life. And no matter how challenging life would be, if we know what we want and do what we like, it’s easier to navigate this vast ocean full of complexities we call… “life.” It’s as intricate as coming up with a perfect concoction of a milk tea.
Sharee May Uy Te… Chingkee… Chingkeetea… PROUDLY KAGAY-ANON!