Growing up in the Philippines, Mercedes Mapua developed a strong affinity for grab-and-go bubble tea shops like Quickly, a massive chain inspired by Taiwanese boba cafes. But when she moved to the United States, she became enamored by craft cocktails. It occurred to her that the two worlds could be combined in a cafe that would serve artisan, non-alcoholic tea drinks.
"It just kind of hit me that no one's tried to make tea cocktails -- non-alcoholic cocktails, not meant for kids but meant for more mature palettes," she said.
Mapua left her technology job to do just that, opening Teaquation in Redwood City in 2016.
Bubble tea, or "boba," shops are popping up left and right in Silicon Valley, but Teaquation does its own thing. When Mapua first opened, she said customers were constantly asking for boba. She now works to communicate that tea and boba don't always go hand-in-hand, including with wooden #BreakUpWithBoba signs hanging on Teaquation's walls.
Teaquation serves layered tea drinks with complex flavors. The drinks feature ingredients that might be more commonly found at cocktail bars, such as hibiscus and butterfly pea flower. Teaquation's kitchen is filled with equipment typically found at bars. Stainless steel shakers, mixing glasses and jiggers sit neatly on the counter behind a large wooden bar with neon bar stools.
One of Teaquation's best-sellers, "The Joker," is a spin on a basil gimlet. Instead of gin and lime, it's made with butterfly pea tea and pineapple juice. The drink is deep purple on top, bright yellow in the lower half and topped off with foam and basil.
Other drinks include the "Pink Cadillac," a combination of grapefruit, pineapple and hibiscus juices, which fade together into a mesmerizing gradation of pink and yellow. There's also the "Lucky Break," made of organic matcha, mango puree, white chocolate and milk.
All fruits and juices are fresh and pureed or squeezed every day and the tea is brewed daily. Teaquation only uses natural ingredients with no preservatives, according to Mapua.
Baristas at Teaquation put out a special drink every week and are encouraged to incorporate unique flavors from their own cultural backgrounds. The menu changes seasonally depending on what fruits are available. Drinks range in price from $4 to $6.
The cafe itself is modern, with dimmed lights hanging from wires, industrial and tiled walls, and wood tables.
While the Redwood City cafe offers a limited food menu, Teaquation's forthcoming Palo Alto location, set to open this spring at 115 Hamilton Ave., will serve lunch and potentially dinner. Mapua is also partnering with San Francisco macaron company Sweet Burger to serve the French cookies.
In addition to food, the new location will serve beer and wine tonics. To reflect this, Mapua is naming it Teaquation & Tonic.
While she described the presentation of her drinks as American, Mapua said Teaquation maintains a "hint of Filipino flavors."
Her personal favorite, the "Gold Digger," uses calamansi, a Southeast Asian citrus fruit widely used in Filipino cuisine, and housemade coconut whipped cream. The drink reminds her of home, she said.
"I really think that Teaquation is a fusion of all these cultures I've been in," she said.