With a location on the corner of Arroyo Parkway and Cordova and parking in a garage at the bottom of an apartment/condo complex, it would seem as though this tea house/bakery/cafè would be at a disadvantage.
But, it is not.
While we were chatting with Nancy Ou, co-owner with her cousin Johnson Wang of Flour + Tea, and tasting a slew of their goodies, the place bustled with customers.
We knew from previous experience that their tiramisu was not overly sweet, had a strong taste of espresso, and was divinely weightless. Today, we started with the Strawberry Chiffon cake and immediately thought that “light and weightless” might be their trademark—which we welcome; it makes us feel less guilty.
The nutella cake is beyond incredible with two slathers of nutella cream in between layers of chocolate cake. Nancy told us that initially each layer also had an uncut layer of the hazelnut spread (right out of the jar), but she and her crew deemed the result too sweet, and as she says, Flour + Tea offers slices of cake that “are not meant to be shared.” And share, we didn’t.
We also checked out Four + Tea’s “Clouds,” that come in a whole range of flavors. We tried the lemon cloud that has lemon zest baked into sponge cake and is filled to the brim with lemon cream. They are baked in a top-open, cardboard box-type container that can be peeled. These servings are smaller than the cake slices and do taste quite light and flavorful; we were thrilled to find a treat that provided even less guilt. (Nancy says large orders of clouds are often requested for barbecues, Bowl concerts, and baby showers. Easter plans, anyone?)
When you walk into the cafe, on the right, are rows of metal shelves holding a wide variety of packaged homemade goods. This design and layout evokes memories of European cafès and cafeterias. In other words, completely attractive to us. Of the many items offered were mini mochi with such flavors as red bean (gooey mochi; pleasant red bean flavor; moist, slightly sweet breading), green tea, taro, nutella, sea salt caramel, chocolate, and (as American as baseball and apple pie) a mochi with PB&J.
An almond cream cheese roll was dense and flavorful, but again not too sweet, thus not too overwhelming. The mushroom pie had a flaky, delicious crust with a small but perfect amount of filling, which had a robust mushroom flavor and a nice black pepper kick. Their cheese and sausage roll is flavor-filled with cheddar cheese and has plenty of not too spicy sausage. Other choices include rosemary ham, garlic butter, jalapeño cheese, and curry chicken. The milk cream pastry is interesting: a bit like comfort food; soothing, mild, and you need enough for a second helping. They even have their own version of the American hotdog.
All the “to go” foods here were created to be eaten at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about finding a microwave or toaster oven. We found this worked quite well with the items we sampled; the flavors were strong, not diminished by heat from an oven or overwhelmed by the cold of a refrigerator. Even more to our liking is that the pastry holds up impressively. It has a density and flavor that rings more outside American borders than within, but that suited our taste buds perfectly.
When planning Flour + Tea with Johnson, Nancy wanted products that were healthy and didn’t need any fuss or an extra step before they were consumed. Parents can snag a meal for a child’s lunch, a snack at soccer practice, or even a long road trip. Nancy believes that it’s “better to give kids a healthy option than money for the vending machine.”
As someone whose family moved from Taiwan to Southern California when she was barely a year old, this venture was something Nancy sensed that she felt able and eager to pull off. With the interior design, she wanted to create an environment that reflected the outside busy, industrial world as well as the harmony and calm of the nature. “We live in an overstimulated world,” Nancy says, so she wanted “an environment that’s calm, light, very visual, and transparent.” She’s delighted when she hear from mothers, who are grabbing a moment to themselves in between basketball practice pick-up and piano lessons drop-off, that Flour + Tea is their “escape.”
Now, we’ve indulged in detailing the “flour” part of the store, but we must not forget that the other half of this equation is “tea.” Nancy and Johnson come from a family immersed in the tea business. Back in 1961, their grandparents opened their first retail store, Ten Ren’s Tea. In 1993, the family business expanded into Ten Fu’s Tea and they now have over 800 stores around the world, “the Starbucks of tea” her uncle Lee Rie-Ho asserts. All of Nancy’s 9 aunts and uncles worked in Nancy’s grandparents store; now each one owns and runs a part of their tea empire. The company was hit hard by the economic crash but Lee Rie-Ho, the eldest, took the helm and has led them patiently and progressively back to a position in which they are thriving once again.
Loose teas are available in packets, boxes, tins, and from large glass containers, but tea drinks are also offered. “Shaken teas” and “shaken milk teas” that is. Nancy explains that shaking helps mix the different ingredients and creates a natural effervescence, lending to a more flavorful effect. And besides, “We shake martinis, don’t we?” she says more than asks. Good point.
Flour + Tea also have osmanthus oolong, honey chrysanthemum, or kumquat ice tea. Hot teas come in flavors such as peppermint lavender, honey pu erh, or awakening rooibos (acquired upon a customer requested; Nancy heartily welcomes customer suggestions). Or how about an icy, slushy mango green tea, black sugar coffee, red bean, or taro “Frosteas” blended tea? There are a lot of intriguing options here; worthy of many return trips.
Nancy’s mother was the person who urged her to “spread the tea culture.” Not as an English tea house, of course, or as a traditional Chinese tea outlet, but to bring the culture of tea from China into the modern world, and for the current generation.
For as her mother told her all while she was growing up, and much to Nancy’s exasperation, “You offer tea to guests because tea is water, but with love.”
Flour + Tea
238 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena 91105
Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.
*Made to order cakes are available as well: tiramisu, mango cream, strawberry mousse cake with mini green tea mousse hearts, air-light cheesecake, chocolate chip dream, green tea mousse, and dulce daisy. Find pictures and order former HERE.