St. Albert’s newest bubble tea joint, TasTea Yours, is a multi-generational, extended family enterprise.
Owners Marilou and Albren Lomibao, along with their two oldest children and their niece and nephew, take turns working behind the counter. The shop has been open for only a month, but the couple’s niece, Micah Odiaz, already works with speed and finesse a series of levers, buttons and knobs that look like the control panel of a spaceship.
Bubble tea shops are sprouting up across St. Albert to satisfy the city’s ever-growing desire for the diverse, sometimes sweet, sometimes creamy, sometimes fruity — and often chewy — drink. Tealicious Blend opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2022, and Toronto chain Freshly Squeezed opened in St. Albert Centre mall the same year. With TasTea Yours, the Lomibao family hope to add some of their unique flavour to St. Albert’s buzzing bubble tea scene while capitalizing on emerging trends.
“We wanted to build a connection with our local community … by giving them traditional bubble tea flavours, and at the same time develop new, unique and cultural flavours along the way,” said Marilou Lomibao.
Marilou and Albren both enjoy bubble tea — especially avocado bubble tea — but the idea to open a shop came from the family’s younger generation.
“They love bubble tea so much,” Marilou said.
“Especially my niece,” Albren said. “She’s crazy about it.”
The kids — between 15 and 26 years old— tested numerous bubble tea flavours before landing on the right ones for the shop.
Tastea Yours is Albren Lomibao’s second business. After coming to Canada from the Philippines in 2008, Albren worked as a janitor at West Edmonton Mall until he was hired as a maintenance worker at an Edmonton-based home builder. His family followed him to Canada shortly after he got the new job.
He was laid off during the COVID-19 shutdowns and took a chance by starting his own cleaning and maintenance company, Yours Handyworks.
Marilou worked as a stenographer back in the Philippines and at a Kentucky Fried Chicken when she came to Canada.
It was Marilou’s idea to open a second business.
“I suggested it to him because he's so busy,” she said. “He works in the morning until the evening — so, there's just so little time for the family. So I said why not start a business where we can work together as a family.”
The family hopes to distinguish their shop by adding a little Filipino flavour to the mix.
For snacks, in addition to flavoured French fries, they serve home-made, Filipino-style pork and shrimp dumplings adorned with a single pea and dipped in a blend of soy sauce and chilli paste. They also serve a Filipino-style fried spring roll. And they are experimenting with a bubble tea inspired by the Filipino dessert Halo-Halo, a rich concoction of ice cream, leche flan, crushed ice and a number of potential fruit combinations.
While they’re busy trying to invent new flavours, they’re also trying to stay on top of bubble tea trends such as “cheese foam tea.”
While the idea of a cheesy tea may sound unappealing, the reality is that it tastes more like a milkshake and cheesecake blend than a slice of cheddar melted into Earl Grey.
But making it palatable does require skill. Micah Odiaz said it took her weeks to perfect the drink’s ratio of salty to sweet.
St. Albert and the rest of Alberta can expect to see more Filipino-run businesses in the future, judging by the province’s skyrocketing Filipino population.
Census data from 2017 for the St. Albert-Edmonton federal electoral riding shows that Filipinos dwarf other immigrant populations in the area. At the time, there were 1,480 recent immigrants — 51 per cent of recent immigrants from Asia and 30 per cent of all recent immigrants to the area.
Marilou Lomibao believes that many hope to launch their businesses in Alberta.
“Every immigrant, it's their dream to have a business,” she said.