First Look: Bee & Tea in Kailua

The first Hawai‘i location of this Chicago-based chain serves the unlikely combination of boba tea and bao.
Bee & Tea, a new café serving boba tea and bao, opened in Kailua on Saturday. It also offers fresh fruit smoothies, ice cream shakes and acai bowls.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


A former volleyball player running a café in Kailua that serves boba tea drinks and bao?


I already love it.


Nohea Tano’s sweet smile and friendly demeanor seems a stark contrast from the fiercely competitive, 5-foot-11 middle blocker from UH and Kamehameha Schools. On Saturday she opened Bee & Tea on Saturday on Hekili Street, across from Pali Lanes. The Chicago-based chain is known for its unlikely pairing of Taiwanese boba tea and spicy, meat-filled bao. This is the first location for Bee & Tea in Hawai‘i.


“The first time I wandered into the store in Chicago I was, like, ‘Omigosh, this place is super cute,’” says Tano, 34 who is from Kailua and the mother of three boys. “And the product is awesome. My kids are obsessed with bubble tea. We drive to town almost daily for it.”


The shop is located on Hekili Street with parking across the street in the first row of the parking lot. Or you can try to score street parking.


Tano’s dad, Kenneth Tano, a retired police major, plays Hawaiian music on opening day. That mural was created by the Chicago-based company to reflect the vibe of Kailua.


Tano, a star volleyball player at both UH and Kamehameha Schools, looked for other locations, including Kapolei and Kaka‘ako before settling on this spot in Kailua, where she’s from. This is her first business venture.


In addition to the chain’s popular caffeinated milk- and fruit-based tea with tapioca, acai bowls and cold-brew coffees, the franchise allowed Tano to offer some less-common items on the menu, including fresh fruit smoothies ($5.50 for small, $6.50 for regular), ice cream shakes ($5.50 for small, $6.50 for regular) and kālua-pig bao ($8.99 for three) with cucumber, cabbage, green onion and hoisin sauce. (The fresh fruit smoothies and ice cream shakes were added mostly because they are her sons’ favorites.)


The keiki acai bowl comes with two toppings, the regular with three. You can choose from granola, blueberries, strawberries, mango, papapa, shredded coconut, honey and more.


The franchise allowed Tano to add Less-common menu items, including these kālua-Pig bao.


The 900-square-foot space is bright and inviting, with a mural of popular landmarks in Kailua, including the Mokulua Islands, Kailua Beach, the Ko‘olau Mountains, the pillboxes over Lanikai, and windsurfers and stand-up paddleboards in the ocean. There’s even a box of board games—Connect Four, Jenga, checkers—for customers to play while they sip their milk teas and nibble on char siu pork bao.


The teas are all from Taiwan, brewed fresh on-site for the drinks, Tano says. The boba is made fresh, too, and any not sold are thrown out after four hours.


The most popular drink is the Purist ($4.50 for regular, $5.25 for large), a classic milk tea—green or black—with tapioca pearls. Served cold, this simple drink is both refreshing and energizing. Other flavors include Mangolychous (jasmine green tea with mango and lychee), Chai Five (black milk tea with almond and chai), Purple Rain (taro milk and white chocolate), Beemocha (black milk tea with chocolate and coffee) and Thailandia (Thai milk tea). The café offers non-milk tea versions, too, made with jasmine tea and fruit.




Cold-brew coffees ($4.95 for small, $5.95 for regular, $6.95 for large) come with or without boba. Bee & Tea also serves lemonade drinks ($3.95 for small, $4.50 for regular, $5.25 for large)—the signature flavor, which costs slightly more, features strawberry and mango bits and chia seeds—and acai bowls ($5 for keiki, $7.50 for regular) with toppings that include granola, banana, blueberries, almonds, shredded coconut, strawberry and honey.


The fresh fruit smoothies come in six flavors including strawberry-banana and mango, all using fresh fruit blended to order. Flavors of ice cream shakes include vanilla, cookies and cream and matcha.


But here’s where it gets interesting. The shop also serves freshly baked bao ($2.49 for one, $6.99 for three, $12.99 for six and $21.99 for 12) filled with shiitake mushrooms and vegetables, miso steak, Japanese curry chicken and char siu pork. (The char siu is not the traditional red color, so it threw me off a bit.)


The closed bao come in four flavors: miso steak, shiitake mushrooms and veggies, Japanese curry chicken and char siu pork.


Here’s what the char siu pork and Japanese curry chicken look like on the inside.


“When I saw that this place served bubble tea and bao, I thought, ‘This has Hawai‘i written all over it,’” Tano says, laughing.


Bee & Tea, 131 Hekili St., Kailua, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (for now),