Working for ‘Cha for Tea’

Vinson Gotingco/New University

By Heather Hoang

“Hi! Welcome!”

You know how it is to enter Cha for Tea, the boba shop over at UTC — constant shrill greetings followed by overly eager workers bombarding you with attention to try all the delicious drink and food samples.
Everyone at UCI has been there at least once. Let me guess. Your favorite drink is either the iced Mango Green Tea or the hot Almond Black Milk Tea. You love the crispy chicken — snack-sized, with the sweet and sour sauce on the side. Delicious!

The Cha for Tea atmosphere is always vibrant, upbeat and fun. The workers are all so nice and happy! Plus, look at all those samples they’re giving out! Score! Free food! And, best of all, (insert name here) they always remember you. He/She is such a sweetheart.

Admit it, you love this place (Just not the prices though, am I right?). Who doesn’t have warm and fuzzy memories there?

However, having worked at Cha for Tea for over a year, I can assure you that it’s a completely different story for an employee.
Yes, I know. It looks like a fun job. Shaking tea drinks martini-style, laughing and dancing with other co-workers, loud music, sneaking in mouthfuls of crispy chicken samples — it all seems like walking on sunshine. But behind the bar counter, there’s a darker side to it all. It is full of stress, annoying customers and constantly being yelled at by supervisors and managers.

One of the things I hated the most about working at Cha was the strong enforcement of customer service. It took me a long time to master my rainbows-and-unicorns-are-bursting-from-my-butt smile. After being pulled aside by my manager multiple times for seeming rude to customers, I finally began swallowing my pride and faking my sincerity. I would treat everyone as the Queen of England, even when I had terrible customers who would insult me for slow service or complain just for the sake of complaining. It was irritating to listen to my own fake fructose-drenched voice that I used exclusively at work. Everything was artificial. Anything said from an employee to a customer is most likely scripted and memorized. It was like being brainwashed.

My least favorite task was sampling to customers outside. You’ve noticed, right? There’s always an employee standing outside, bored to death, sampling crispy chicken or almond black milk tea. It’s the most demeaning part of working at Cha. During hot summer afternoons and cold winter nights, Cha workers have to stand outside and attack anyone passing by. It’s like being a beggar, except you’re giving away free food, not asking for it.

The entertaining part about working at Cha for Tea were the creepy guys hitting on me, especially when I was sampling food outside alone. Turning down dates and refusing to give out my phone number was a bit fun because I began getting creative with my rejections. “Oh, I’m actually 16,” or “I have a girlfriend.”

One of the things that surprised me was the rough work environment. Like many, I was under the impression that it was all fun and games when I began working. Cha workers are expected to be quick, efficient, smart and have the knowledge to think and plan ahead. There was constant pressure to finish drinks as soon as possible, to process quickly and to uphold the high standards implemented by the managers.

Somehow, the stress and close quarters, combined with these high expectations, created a tough working space for the weak-hearted. It was common for associates to cry or irrationally take criticism personally. I had this warped perception of Cha for Tea’s significance in my life when, in actuality, it was simply a part-time job to get by during college.

Not everything is bad about the job. The best things about working at Cha were the people. The bonds with my co-workers were worthwhile and I adored everyone I worked with. At the end of the day, despite feeling personally attacked or yelling at newbies, I cared for each and every one of my co-workers. I was there for quite a while and had seen many people come and go. Due to the countless work hours, many of my co-workers were almost like siblings to me. There were innumerable times when we would sit together after closing at 1 a.m., just talk until 5 a.m. or go to 24-hour pho restaurants at 2 a.m. while ignoring the drunken clubbers pestering us. Everyone seemed to be a night owl.

Yes, there were too many times where I felt frustrated and trapped by Cha for Tea. There were many moments where I felt completely useless because I couldn’t do something right, moments where I felt so tiny when my superiors yelled at me, moments when I hated standing outside handing out samples like an idiot, moments where I wished I wasn’t so worked up over something so minor.

Yet, despite all these troubles, I wouldn’t change my roller-coaster experience at Cha for Tea for anything more or less.