Tea shops, and specifically bubble tea shops, are opening up in many corners of the city. Palgong Tea, which originated in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (the origins of bubble tea), has entered into the Toronto market now with their first location in the popular Distillery District, and a second in Thornhill.
I had stumbled across Palgong Tea one night after attending a Luminato performance at the Distillery. I was craving a cup of tea for my subway ride home. I had walked past this bubble tea shop on my way in and remembered letting out a little “yay” for another spot to hit up in the area.
That evening I had visited it was busy. People with their laptops working away even on a Saturday night. There was a short line for ordering tea. I wandered the shop and admired the artwork and smelled the tea offerings. I then noticed the customers in the shop that night all knew how to sign.
As I took my place in line for my Roasted Milk tea, I wondered how I would order. I don’t know how to sign but printed menus are nearby. Dennis Son, the owner of Palgong Tea, must have noticed my curiosity as I approached the counter and he came over to warmly greet me. A few minutes later I had my tea ready to go.
Son tells us that this tea shop in the Distillery is the flagship location in Toronto and the first official franchise in Canada. Palgong Tea, while originated in Taiwan, actually found success in South Korea where it now has over 140 shops. “All of our teas are actually brewed using real tea leaves instead of using tea powder and we keep our menu small and true to the classic bubble teas,” said Son. “We like to do the few things we do very well.”
I asked him more about his staff. “We are partnered with the Deaf Culture Centre, an international non-profit that caters to the Deaf community. A part of our revenue goes back to the Centre as donations and we also provide job opportunities to members of the Deaf community. Half of our staff are actually deaf so we are the first bubble tea shop in Canada to be able to provide service in ASL,” said Son.
Why did they decide to partner with the Deaf Culture Centre? Son tells us it allows the company to gain valuable insight into the difficulty that Deaf people encounter when seeking employment. “It’s not always an even playing field for them,” said Son. “Providing equal employment opportunities to members of the Deaf community will hopefully pave the way for other businesses to see the value of removing social barriers between the hearing and Deaf and provide a human experience to all of the customers that visit us.”
When you visit also take a look around at the artwork. Deaf artists are featured and their works, including paintings and sculptures, are curated by the Deaf Culture Centre. Son tells us the art will refresh every three months and portion of the sales from art sold will also be donated to the Centre.
I asked Son what he would want everyone to know — Deaf staff is just as effective as hearing staff and that the product speaks for itself.
While they do craft a delicious classic bubble tea, they also offer up hot tea as well as coffee and baked goods. Summer also offers up Bingsu — a refreshing Korean dessert. You can also purchase the company’s special tins of tea leaves with proceeds also going to the Deaf Culture Centre.