Bubble tea, part of Taiwanese culture, has been popping up all over Long Island in recent years — a drink that, at one point, locals would have had to drive to Flushing to get. Added to the growing list of places offering it, is a new mom-and-pop shop that’s combining the drink’s original Taiwanese roots with South Asian flavors: PYO Chai has opened in Stewart Manor, replacing Spoons Ice Cream & Cereal Bar.
"This twist on bubble tea has never done before, not even in South Asia," claims co-owner Shaheer Khan.He, along with 17-year-old brother Saqib, a junior at Sewanhaka High School, man the show here, with backing from parents Ahmad Zeb and Sarmistha Pokharel, both of whom have full time jobs as well.
During opening weekend mid-March, PYO (pronounced P-Yo) drew crowds from near and far, with many people waiting in line for up to three hours to get their hands on a drink (this I can somewhat attest to — I found out about PYO not by spotting its illuminated bright pink sign hung up out front, but by the line outside). Due to the steady stream of customers, the place had to shut down the following Monday to restock.
So what’s all the hype about? The main event here is served with brown sugar boba (the "bubbles" made of tapioca starch that settle at the bottom of the drink) and features South Asian ice cream known as kulfi (made with clarified milk, sugar and natural flavors). There are five signatures to choose from, the top two being the malai kulfi milk tea, which is flavored with cardamom and nuts and is served with a scoop of malai kulfi and the mango kulfi milk tea, heralded on the menu as "sinfully rich, delicious and fruity."
Bubble tea is best served cold, although it can be served hot, too. Drinks start at $5 and go up to $6.75. Although bubble tea is the way to go (Shaheer said they go through near 300 servings of boba a day), PYO serves traditional black and green teas, as well as desi masala chai ($2-$3).
Equally as pleasing as its beverages is the spot’s aesthetics, which lends itself to Instagram. An entire back wall is covered in faux green shrubbery with the focal point being a hot pink sign that says "take life one sip at a time." Another wall is dominated by a mural painted by Bengali artist and former New Hyde Park Memorial student, Mohuya Khan, who goes by the name Labyrinth Ave. It depicts a South Asian king and queen wearing traditional jewelry. Other artwork throughout, created by Pakistani artist Haf and Haf, reflects South Asian culture. One canvas in particular recreats a famous Bollywood love scene.
"It all comes back to our heritage. When you think of South Asia, it’s very contentious. There’s conflict between the Hindu and Muslim communities, the Indian and Pakistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh," Shaheer said. "There’s a lot of in-fighting. It's nice that people can come here from all walks of life … different cultures, different communities. We can put that all aside and share a cup of bubble tea and feel like we are all one," he said.
Shaheer is a senior at Stony Brook University studying political science and international relations in South Asian studies.
His father is from Pakistan and his mother from Nepal. Before moving to Elmont about 15 years ago, the family lived together in Kansas, where they owned and operated an Indian-Pakistan restaurant.
PYO Chai is at 100 Covert Ave. in Stewart Manor. It’s open Tuesdays to Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. 516-460-8600. pyochai.com