Walking through the CBD’s (once-) crowded streets, you could usually smell a bubble tea store before you saw it – that sweet scent of tapioca pearls bobbing in brown-sugar syrup and freshly brewed tea.
As a bubble tea diehard, it’s definitely crossed my mind to bottle up the sugary aroma in perfume form. And Malaysian milk-tea chain Instea – which opened on Swanston Street last weekend – has done just that. Well, sort of.
“We were inspired by Coco Chanel perfume and thought, ‘How cool would it be if we could fill a perfume bottle with our signature drinks?’,” co-owner Thomas Chan tells Broadsheet. “The perfume-bottle series was a big hit when we launched in Malaysia last year.”
The new Melbourne store is Instea’s Australian flagship, and the brand’s first foray outside of Malaysia. For Saturday’s launch, there were free drinks for the first 100 customers – and more than 200 people formed a (socially distanced) queue down the block.
There are six drinks served in the pretty glass perfume bottles. They include a simple chocolate milk cleverly called “Cocoa Chanel”; a mesmerising purple tea made with butterfly flower, honey, lemon and edible glitter (it resembles a galaxy); one with distinct layers of blue and white thanks to butterfly flowers, fresh milk and a probiotic drink; and a matcha latte with the star ingredient imported from Japan.
And while they’re bottled, they’re still made to order. “We brew our tea fresh every morning,” Chan says. “And all the ingredients we have – the pearls, the teas, the toppings – nothing’s older than three hours.”
There are also around 70 non-bottled concoctions, such as a drinkable creme brulee with milk tea, tapioca pearls, a thick layer of foam and a generous sprinkling of torched sugar; drinks with light cheese foam; fruity teas; and a yoghurt series.
The emerald green fit-out is by the Melbourne-based Fretard Design (also behind Little Green). There’s a marble-backed display downstairs showcasing rows upon rows of the bottles, and upstairs there’s a relaxed space that fits 30.
An original stained-glass window is at the centre of the narrow space, with seats offering a bird’s-eye view of Swanston Street. There’s plush velvet seating and dark green banquettes under rose gold pendant lights.
“To us, the experience of the customer is very important. We’re not like the other tea stores where people can only grab takeaway after lining up on the street. Eventually [when restrictions lift] people can sit upstairs and enjoy our drinks inside the store,” Chan says. Instea also has plans to offer small cakes, and coffee from local roasters.
Instea is takeaway-only during Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown. Delivery will be available to nearby suburbs in the coming weeks.