An Interview with Boba Baes Yanz Zeng and Iris Xing

With its candy-button walls, doughnut inflatables, light bulb jars and neon signs, The Boba Room became an instant hit when it opened in April 2017. A pop-up that would satisfy every Instagram lover, it featured a playhouse filled with balloons and samples of bubble tea from local stores, including Gong Cha, PaTea, Vivi Tea, and T Baar. The event was hosted by Chaimi Studio, a food centric art company created by two friends, Yanz Zeng and Iris Xing. Her Campus NYU had the opportunity to talk with these uber-talented artists about their studio and the creation of The Boba Room. Read on to learn about how they turned their vision into a reality.

 

 

Name: Yanz Zeng (pictured to the right) 

Age: 25

Education: School of Visual Arts; Design

Hometown: Shenzhen, China

 

Name: Iris Xing (pictured to the left) 

Age: 26

Education: School of Visual Arts; Photography, Video, and Related Media

Hometown: Beijing, China

 

HC NYU: How did you meet and create Chaimi Studio? What is Chaimi Studio and the meaning behind the name?

YZ: I met Iris in one of my group exhibitions at school. She liked the candy colors of my project, so we started to talk. Later, she helped me with one of my freelance jobs with the SVA Library. That’s when we started becoming friends. I'm very grateful to know someone who is also interested in designing and crafting food experience.

Chaimi means firewood and rice in Chinese. It was started as a weekly communal table project that we ran together. It went on for a year and we had a lot of fun with it.

IX: We ran the Chaimi gathering event for a year about once per week. Each time, there were approximately ten or more people. So, there might be hundreds of people who came to our food gathering event. For our first exhibition, “Foodie Ways to Make Friends,” we had an attendance of about five-hundred people in two-and-a-half days. At our second one, “The Boba Room,” about five-thousand people came in two weeks.

Chaimi Studio is a food-based art studio, I would say. We create gathering events and food-related exhibitions and experiences, so I would say we want to use food to bring people together and make it more fun and interactive.

 

 

HC NYU: How did this lead to the creation of The Boba Room, and why did you choose boba in particular?

YZ: After a year of meeting people and exploring in the big topic of “food,” we both wanted to do something special to express the feeling that we have towards food through our project. We focused it on the experience of cuisine. The first thing we quickly agreed on is that we wanted to do something that's close to us, but also has decent popularity here. Then, the idea of Taiwanese boba tea/hongkongese milk tea naturally popped up.

IX: I love bubble tea. It's a youthful drink, so it always connects me to my best memories. Food has a way of doing that, and that's why people really love certain things. I used to hang out with friends in high school and have bubble tea with them. While going through the usual dramas and concerns, we'd enjoy and share bubble tea together. We'd like this to be a memory-inducing food for people here, too, because it suits the age!

 

HC NYU: Recently, there has been a trend of Instagram-driven pop-ups, such as the Museum of Ice Cream and 29Rooms, which all sell out very quickly. Were you inspired by these pop-ups? Did you do anything to differentiate yourselves?

YZ: Those pop-ups were definitely inspirational when we were brainstorming how to bring the boba experience to life. In our first try with The Boba Room, we paid more attention to the drink itself [rather] than the visual, which I think we succeeded with. But, this year we're definitely planning to present it with a stronger visual language that tells a story about our experience with bubble tea and Hong Kong milk tea.

 

 

HC NYU: What challenges did you face while creating The Boba Room?

YZ: For me, it was the installation process and event planning. There were limitations of the space that we realized later and caused us to make changes to our original plans. Also, the limited capacity of the space challenged us on the crowd management and creating the experience.

IX: Oh, there were so many complications! Too many! The rental, the management of the show, event planning...everything you can think of. We've never done a show like this. Every single step is pretty challenging, but we got through them...eventually!

 

HC NYU: Did you have any experiences from college or other projects that helped you succeed in regards to The Boba Room?

YZ: For me, I feel all [of] my experience in school built my design thinking, which helped me through a lot of struggles during The Boba Room. Prototyping, managing the process, and, of course, visual design were all relevant here.

IX: It's hard to say. I think my experience in organizing [an] event through the Gathering really prepared me to deal with all kinds of people and situations.

 

HC NYU: Many millennials prefer their food to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as tasty. Was the food culture similar in China and when you were growing up?

YZ: The food scenes in China were so different, even a few years ago. A food place was [primarily] judged on how good their food was. But, it’s dramatically different in big cities now. My generation is seeing this trend. They definitely bring the visual enjoyment, experiential adventure into the standard.

IX: Food is getting more and more “good-looking” rather than “tasty,” presumably because people care more about Instagramming their food than tasting it.

 

 

HC NYU: Iris, we read that you work with many different mediums, including installation, photography, and video. When did you start incorporating food into your work and why? Additionally, are there any new additions to The Boba Room that people can look forward to, or other events from Chaimi?

IX: I love playful and colorful things, and I want people to experience my work, even eat it and not only look. So, food is a perfect medium for me! I started using food in more work from the first year of my master's program at SVA. We are planning to have The Boba Room 2.0 next summer with more food options, too.

 

HC NYU: Favorite bubble tea drink and place to eat in the city, and why?

YZ: For me, my favorite bubble tea drink is the traditional Hong Kong milk tea. It doesn’t have the tapioca in it, but the smooth flavor of simply blending milk and tea together. It gives me a special feeling because I've had it since I was a kid. One of my favorite places to eat here is the Noodle Village in Chinatown. It’s very similar to the Cantonese diners I loved in Shenzhen.

IX: I tried and worked in so many bubble tea stores, and I learned so much from all of them. So, I think the best bubble tea is my homemade bubble tea! Come visit me, and I’ll show you my take on bubble tea!

 

 

Follow Yanz and Iris’s food projects!

Instagram: @thebobaroom, @chaimistudio

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thebobaroom, www.facebook.com/chaimigathering

Websites: thebobaroom.com, chaimistudio.com

 

Images from Yanz Zeng