In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States and Canada, we’re sharing stories from some of the remarkable makers and business owners behind AAPI-owned brands on Faire. This week, we’re highlighting Twrl Milk Tea—a ready-to-drink plant-based milk tea latte brand from San Francisco, California. We spoke with Co-founders Pauline Ang and Olivia Chen about the origins of their brand, the role their heritage plays in the company, and how they’re celebrating AAPI Heritage Month.
A tea drink steeped in memories
The journey to founding Twrl Milk Tea was 20+ years in the making. Pauline and Olivia met while working at a startup in their twenties and often discussed opening a business together. “Over the years we would catch up and connect over a shared passion for really great food and new finds,” Olivia said. “Our real passion at the end of the day was Asian food and milk tea.” Pauline explained how milk tea is strongly linked to their Asian American heritage and brings back childhood memories of trying a variety of tea flavors with her mother.
The only downside of the beverage was the high sugar and calorie count. “I was consuming so many calories but couldn’t find a better alternative out there,” Pauline said. When the pair was finally ready to start their own business, they decided to create their own alternative—a healthier grab-and-go drink version of the milk tea latte they knew and loved.
“Neither of us comes from a traditional food and beverage background, but as Asian Americans, we have a strong idea of what the flavor should be,” Olivia said. “This has allowed us to think outside of the box and break some norms.” The pair set about perfecting their line of plant-based milk tea drinks and officially introduced their first flavor—a Taiwan style of milk tea that harkens back to their heritage—in 2021. Today, they offer several flavors including the Original Black Milk Tea Latte, Jasmine Milk Tea Latte, and Hojicha Roasted Green Milk Tea Latte. “To be able to share our heritage in a new format has been an amazing journey,” Olivia said.
Sourcing sustainably and honoring tradition
Pauline and Olivia took their time researching and developing Twrl Milk Tea, focusing on their values of sustainability and health. “We knew our kids were going to be drinking this stuff,” Pauline said. “We did our best to make it as healthy as we could while still tasting good.” They eventually decided to use plant-based milk made from peas. “Peas use less water than almond milk, and they use 40% less fertilizer than oats and soy combined,” Pauline explained. They also replaced cane sugar with organic agave, resulting in only 6 or 7 grams of sugar per serving of Twrl Milk Tea versus the typical 20-30 grams of sugar per serving in many similar drinks on the market.
Pauline and Olivia are also purposeful about the tea itself. After experimenting with several different products, they found a great-tasting organic tea from family-owned farms in the ShanDong and Yunnan provinces in China. Working with these multigenerational family farms ensures that their teas are grown organically, using sustainable practices and regenerative farming methods.
Tradition itself is another important ingredient of Twrl Milk Tea. “We’re part of a new generation of founders that are incorporating our own heritage and the values passed down with our values of sustainability and plant-based ingredients,” Olivia said. She added that as daughters of immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, they appreciate the opportunity to share the flavors of their cultures and share their story with others. “We want to honor the sacrifices that our parents made as immigrants to bring us to this country,” Olivia said. “We’re fortunate to be in a position to highlight the sacrifices that many immigrants make.”
Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month
For Pauline and Olivia, AAPI Heritage Month is all about sharing their culture with others and uplifting fellow AAPI-owned businesses. “This month is an important time to reflect and acknowledge the contribution of our fellow Asian American and Pacific Islanders, many of whom have untold stories of sacrifice and have an important role in shaping American history,” Olivia said.
The pair celebrates their community through their AAPI Uplift program, which supports AAPI small business owners by providing them with free Twrl products along with social media support. They’ve also introduced some of these businesses to the Faire platform to help them grow. “We’re proud to partner with AAPI small businesses and grateful to build a community that uplifts our fellow AAPI leaders,” Olivia said. Pauline and Olivia partnered with numerous AAPI businesses this year by—including Cudos For You, Kagaway Udon, Umami Cart, and Happy Tummy Asia.
Pauline and Olvia also support their community year-round by creating curated gift boxes from fellow AAPI founders for the traditional Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and donating the proceeds to charity. Finally, they encourage others to honor this month by supporting AAPI artists and authors, trying new AAPI-owned businesses, and attending events that honor the contributions of AAPI leaders.
Advicing fellow AAPI entrepreneurs
Pauline and Olivia have some simple advice for fellow AAPI entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business; lean in. “Lean into your tribe and your circle, lean into your values and embrace who you are,” Olivia said. “Be an active part in raising your voice.”
“We are such a blended culture,” Pauline added. “It’s okay to be both—both Asian and American—it’s okay to embrace it and talk about it.”
Learn more about Twrl Milk Tea and read recipe ideas using Twrl Milk Tea on their blog.