After our dinner at Kabuki Japanese Restaurant in Pasadena, I wanted some kind of dessert to remove the fishy taste from my mouth. Where to go that wasn't too filling? I had passed 85 Degrees C Tea House many, many times as I drove down Valley Boulevard.
It was on my mental check list of places to try, but nothing urgent pushed me. Until I saw Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos's pictures of his light and fluffy green bean snowflake dessert on Biggest Menu. And when he mentioned the cafe had free wi-fi, I was so there!
The interior was a nice surprise. Very classy for a tea house, no?
Taiwanese music videos played on flat screen tvs. The only pop singer I know is Jay Chou, but these other singers were entertaining too.
Umm. Umm. SEMEN TEA!? What exactly does that look and taste like? Well, you know me, I would have totally ordered it except I was with my brother and no way was he going to drink semen tea. Oh, don't worry. If you know me, we'll get to that in a bit. :P
My cousin ordered the passionfruit green tea with lychee jelly for $3.75. This is the size small. Pretty generous huh? It was real fresh-brewed tea, not the powdered stuff you get at some tea houses.
This mound of deliciousness is the green bean ice snowflake for $3.95. This was piled about six inches tall.
Here's a closer look. The texture is completely different from normal Taiwanese shaved ice. It's very fine, incredibly light, and when combined with the condensed milk takes on a viscous texture almost. Normally by the time I get to the end of a Taiwanese shaved ice, I can't finish because it's just too icy. No brain freeze here.
I was craving green beans because of the hot weather. My ba noi (paternal grandmother) always made sweetened mung beans in the summer because she said it would cool us down. Green beans are good for you. It helps balance all three doshas. :)
We also ordered the mango ice snowflake for $4.50. The mango was very ripe and very sweet, drizzled with mango syrup. Oh man, I was in mango heaven.
My brother said his sister-in-law said the snowflakes are made by freezing condensed milk with water. I can't verify whether that's true or not, but the dense color and texture seems about right. This doesn't appear to be the same as the 85 Degrees C Cafe in Taiwan, however, since the only overseas location on the website is in Sydney. This location looks very different from what's on A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei.
We were all quite full from dinner and really didn't want to order anything else, but the cafe's policy is each person must order at least one item. Hmph! So I ordered a pot of lavender tea. I like how it's served with a little tea light burner to keep it warm. There's even a small pitcher of sugar syrup. The lavender tea was just perfect to offset the sweetness of the snowflakes. They were great going in, but by the end of the plate, the condensed milk was just a bit much.
See, real lavender buds.
Well, after totally digging the ambiance, and wanting to check out the wi-fi, I made a return trip and ordered my horoscope in a drink for $4.25. Evidently, libras taste like pineapple. This was a nice smoothie, but a bit too sweet for me, I'll stick to tea.
I also ordered popcorn chicken for $3.95. So artfully presented, isn't it? I'm really digging their presentation.
Ah, so still wondering about that semen tea? Yeah, so was I. The guy couldn't give me an explanation of what it was, but he said it tasted good and was good for my throat. Uh, huh, I bet that's what all guys say to girls about swallowing *ahem*! Well, I'll try to keep my blog relatively decent by not saying! ;) But this is what the "semen" looked like. And they pronounced it like "say men," not "sea men."
Served with a nice pot and tea light to keep it warm for $4.50. How did it taste? Vaguely honey and plum-ish. I know I've had this tea before.
I was all set to leave because I'd been at the cafe for hours, but then they refilled my pot with hot water. So after a second go-round, this is what the semen looks like. It's less sweet the second time though.
A little Googling and I found this blog's entry, which linked to this Chinese herbal medicine site with the scientific name for these seeds. There's many kinds of semen! It's not a misspelling after all!
Well, apparently I have friends with my odd sense of humor. After a dinner of homemade Shio (Japanese Salt) Ramen with Char Siu / Xa Xiu (Chinese Barbecued Pork), as we were trying to figure out what to do for dessert, knowing how much she loves red beans, I suggested 85 Degrees C for the snowflake. I recounted the story of the semen tea, and my friend wanted to try it too so she could tell her friends.
At night the patio area is nicely lit.
A nice place to relax and catch up with friends. We even remarked about how much we liked these tea houses that dot the SoCal landscape. Hanging out at the 24-hour Starbucks in Portland just doesn't have the same feel. 85 Degrees C is open until 2 a.m. After 11 p.m., it gets packed. That bookcase you see just to the right of the doorway? It's filled with magazines and board games.
Red bean ice snowflake for $3.95. My friend was duly impressed with the size and texture. She said it was like eating ice cream because it was so smooth.
More talking, a couple refills of our semen tea, and I got the munchies so I ordered fried string beans for $2.95. I thought this was a rather wimpy portion. Apparently I'm not as young or as cute as lil' sis because she said when she ordered this, her basket was overflowing and she couldn't finish. Hmph! :(
Excellent decor and ambiance. Free wi-fi. Board games. Magazines. Good snacking food, artfully presented. Pots of tea with refills of water. And the only ice snowflakes I know of in town. What are you waiting for? Surely I don't have to sell this tea house any more?
November 2007 Update: On a recent visit, I wasn't allowed to plug in my laptop anymore. :( Just letting you know in case anyone else was planning to study with their computers.
January 11, 2009 Update: Not sure if it's a change in ownership or simply a name change, but 85 Degrees is now called ID Cha House - San Gabriel.
85 Degrees C Tea House
425 W. Valley Blvd, Ste. 101
San Gabriel, CA 91776
11 a.m. to 2 a.m.