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MANILA, PHILIPPINES

The small milk tea shop, which started in Palawan in 2012, now has 22 branches across the country, with two in Metro Manila

For many Filipinos, milk tea has become more than just a trendy, sweet beverage – it has become a regular staple in their lives. Since 2010, the creamy sought-out drink that originated from Hong Kong has evolved, with local milk tea shops constantly offering new and interesting flavors, toppings, and sinkers.

Palawan-based shop Frotea knew they wanted to ride on the growing trend, but with their own twist. At the height of the frozen yogurt (froyo), fruit tea, and milk tea hype, Frotea owner and engineer Ana Lustre-Malijan decided to start small with their first branch in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, in 2012.

“At the height of it, it was important for Frotea to stand out from the booming competition and be robust enough to withstand being regarded as just a fad,” Malijan told Rappler. Malijan made sure to create their own Filipino renditions of the Hong Kong-famous beverage, infusing Filipino flavors and familiar tastes but also offering a few of the classics.

Menu philosophy

Most of their drinks are less than P100, as their original target was to serve affordable drinks for students and young professionals with a limited allowance. They wanted to establish a cheerful milk tea brand that is “affordable for people from all walks of life” and could offer variety.

Their newest Filipinized flavors are part of Frotea’s Pinoy Espesyal series, a way to cater to regular milk tea drinkers with adventurous palates.

The series takes after classic merienda drinks and desserts, such as mais con yelohalo-halo, and ube macapuno. Each creamy drink has the taste of milk tea but also features familiar ingredients of the famous sweet treats: sweet corn, young coconut, ube jam, nata, cornflakes, beans, and gulaman. Each drink costs P110 – a solid price to pay for a drink that doesn’t scrimp on ingredients.

“One of our goals with the Pinoy Espesyal series is to reintroduce classic Filipino desserts to the younger generation. How could we get my 5-year-old to enjoy a particular classic Filipino dessert like the mais con yelo? Incorporating it in milk tea would intrigue them,” Malijan said.

Expanding outside Palawan

It was in 2019 when Malijan and her team began importing ingredients directly from Taiwan. This allowed them to make large quantities but still cut costs, keeping their price range low and profit margins high. Shortly after, Malijan had the idea to start franchising her business, starting with Batangas.

“We started in Batangas first since my husband hails from there. When we received franchise inquiries and requests for product tastings from prospective franchisees in Metro Manila, it was easier for them to visit our branch in Batangas than to fly all the way to Palawan,” Malijan said.

Source: Palawan milk tea shop Frotea offers mais con yelo, halo-halo flavors