Cedar Rapids Hi Tea cafe offers bubble tea and rolled ice cream

Strawberry vanilla rolled ice cream is served with fresh fruit at Hi Tea in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. The s
Strawberry vanilla rolled ice cream is served with fresh fruit at Hi Tea in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. The shop offers creative milk, fruit and brewed bubble tea and coffee drinks, as well as rolled ice cream. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — At Hi Tea in Cedar Rapids, owner Jennifer Dougherty and her daughter Lola Liu want to share two things — delicious tea and desserts and a bit of Chinese culture.

“We wanted to bring the diversity from our culture to Cedar Rapids,” Liu said. “The bubble tea business in China is very popular.”

Hi Tea serves fruit teas and milk teas. Served with tapioca pearls at the bottom, the drinks are also called bubble tea or boba tea.

“I think it’s good tea for the people,” Dougherty said, extolling the health benefits of drinking tea. “If you drink tea you will live long years.”

The shop also serves cheese mousse tea, which is cold tea topped with a foamy cream cheese and milk layer, a popular drink in China and nearby countries. Hi Tea also serves hot tea and coffee.

“It’s so delicious, and it’s an enjoyable environment to have friends and conversation and have tea time,” Liu said. “It’s something we can give back to the community.”

The cafe also offers rolled ice cream — prepared on a freezing slab, the ice cream is rolled into cylinders that are nestled in a dish and served topped with fruit, chocolate or other toppings. The style of ice cream started in Thailand and has gained popularity in the United States.


The newest addition to the menu is a freshly made waffle, served rolled in a dish with ice cream and toppings in the middle.

Liu, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., helped Dougherty open the shop in May 2019. Dougherty worked in a friend’s bubble tea shop for six months to learn the ins and outs of the business before they opened Hi Tea.

Less than a year after opening, they had to close during the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The doors were shut for three months, which Liu said was a blow.

“Because we’re serving cold drinks, it’s very popular during the summer, so it was a pretty big hit to lose that time. Our main sales are March to August,” she said.

Thankfully, the cafe didn’t have any derecho damage beyond some water coming in under the front door, she said.

Hanging Edison bulbs light the space, with a board plastered with colorful Post-it Notes on one wall. On it, customers and friends have written notes, signed their names or left drawings of anime characters or their favorite boba tea.

“The first year was slow, but this year we have a lot of people coming in,” Dougherty said. “When we reopened, people thanked us.”

That’s her favorite part of the business, she said — seeing people enjoy the tea.

“When customers come here, I’m happy,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8339;

If You Go

• What: Hi Tea

• Where: 5472 Blairs Forest Way NE, Cedar Rapids

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

• Details: (319) 651-1221,

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