In the same way there is nothing quite like coming to this place and calling it home for the first time, so too is there nothing else quite like coming back, surveying what’s changed and what hasn’t. It is the act of being shown, without dispute by the universe, that the U District has moved on.
Playing chicken with the meter maid brings it all back.
I’m circling the section of the Ave between 43rd and 47th two, three times, looking for somewhere to park when it comes rushing in, a certain kind of piquant déjà vu, equal parts annoyance and nostalgia. I’m here to visit a new boba tea shop with a funny name: Don’t Yell At Me. It’s the latest in what appears to be a trend continuing against all odds in 2020, in which international food and beverage chains choose Seattle for their first American location. Don’t Yell At Me is the work of Taiwanese singer-actress Yako Chan, with locations in Taipei, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur, among others. A Calgary location opened earlier this year, followed by a Seattle location on University Avenue between 45th and 47th.
At last I park, pay for a half an hour, and walk down the Ave past three other bubble tea shops, none with Don’t Yell At Me’s obvious polish and designer minimalism. There’s big Apple Store vibes here, a mode of interior design that has been adapted in the 21st century to endless application in the world of cafes, convenience restaurants, and boutiques. The room glows a soft normcore grey, offset by blue neon on the exterior glass and natural light streaming in. There is a bank of marble tables running along a single bench on the north length of the space, but otherwise that’s it for seating. The shop feels intentionally half-empty.
Bubble tea is the sole and avowed focus of Don’t Yell At Me, with a menu that features traditional favorites—Taiwanese black tea, rose milk tea, osmanthus oolong—plus stuff like a mango smoothie topped with cheese foam, or homemade kiwi yakult. Each drink is presented with options for sweetness and level of ice fill, which should honestly be a standard set of optionalities for every beverage experience, not just at Don’t Yell At Me.
Ahead of the lockdown, the cafe is busy. Young people fill what feels like every corner of the space, dressed in Adidas track pants, Nike hoodies, North Face jackets, New Balance sneakers, dorm-issued purple UW logo masks, Herschel bags, Dior sweatpants, Supreme hats, and Apple watches. One young man wears a head-to-toe K Swiss running suit. A young woman is dressed entirely in Comme de Garcons, down to her phone case. Each of them nurses their own individual candy-colored plastic drink cup, an incredible array of contrasting pinks and creams and browns, like little works of art.
The space echoes with conversation and smooth jazz. Staff wear lab coat uniforms with a subtle branding hit on the chest, more like a fashion label than a drink shop. You can bring the look home with you via a merchandising rack next to the service counter. My drink comes out immediately, and I take a seat, briefly, with my mask on.
Traffic on the Ave slithers by. It’s pouring rain.
A few moments pass, and I feel subtle pressure to move on, make way, and give up my seat for one of the groups of waiting kids. In the U District, it’s never your turn for long.