February 7

Bubble Tea and Beyond

A new SLU boba bar serves egg waffles, raindrop cakes, and on-trend drinks topped with salted cheese.

Shoppers and workers orbit in and out of The Moo Bar, a new bubble-tea boutique two blocks northeast of Amazon’s Spheres. But a strange alchemy takes place inside this simple, standing-room-only establishment. Strangers are…chatting.

In many cities, this would be unremarkable. Yet Seattle’s famously polite citizens also tend to be quite self-contained—whatever the cause, this introversion doesn’t encourage much random banter.

The Moo Bar bursts right through that reserve. Customers compare orders. They gossip about secret off-menu specials, revealed only via social media. Some even swap phones to capture the moment when they first swirl a sparkle drink or sample the salted cheese topping.

That’s right. Salted cheese. Asia put the trend on the map — particularly in China, Malaysia and Taiwan—but it’s just washing ashore in the States. Shelve any visions of fondue, cheddar chunks or strong-smelling Stilton, however. The Moo Bar whisks cream cheese into a thick cap, reminiscent of macchiato froth, then sprinkles it with Hawaiian black salt. As customers sip directly from their cup’s edge, tea or coffee flows through the buttery layer, creating a sweet-savory mashup.

“We believe we’re the first to introduce cheese tea to Seattle,” says owner Vivienne Tran. “The response from customers has been very positive. We do recommend they sample the foam before ordering it, though.”

The topping can crown any drink, hot or cold, but most people combine it with the best-selling Moo Bar Special, a Ceylon black tea blended with the shop’s signature milk (a house-made dairy-free, soy-based blend). The second most popular option pairs it with bright lime-colored matcha, a powdered green tea.

Bespoke beverages abound here. Customers can adjust the sweetness level from the default 100 percent to half or even none. Manager Tai Nguyen points out: “Unlike many bubble tea places, we use organic cane sugar. Taste-wise, it’s like drinking a Mexican Coke rather than regular soda from a can.”

The shop also crafts its own tapioca pearls and all its drink toppings on-site. Standouts include honey boba, taro pudding and grass jelly, a smoky-sweet Asian dessert with herbal notes. But things get really lavish when it comes to customizing the gai daan jai (egg waffles). A Hong Kong street snack, these batter cakes have crisp edges and a griddle pattern reminiscent of bubble wrap. Traditionally diners eat them plain, snapping off the soft circlets. America took this simple idea and supersized it, coiling the waffles into cones—nicknamed “puffles”—and making them vehicles for even more sugary extravagance. At The Moo Bar, that means ice creams, including sesame and ube (purple yam) flavors, plus unlimited add-ons, from rose petals to crushed Oreos and Pocky.

Fancy a lighter confection? Try a Japanese raindrop cake (mizu shingen mocha), a palm-sized shimmering half-globe of molded mineral water. Tran explains: “We don’t use agar or gelatin, so it’s flavorless. The taste comes from the sauce and roasted soybean powder garnish.”

Each month, the Moo Bar unveils a new twist on this dessert and the egg waffles, as well as drink specials. February’s specials fight the winter gray with “galaxy” green teas. When shaken or stirred, psychedelic sparkles swirl through the opaque liquid.

This boba boutique may be new to Seattle, but Tran first developed her winning formula in northern California. “My fiancé moved to Seattle to work for Amazon,” she says. “I opened the South Lake Union location to support his colleagues, who had to go to the Chinatown-International District to have good bubble tea and desserts.”

Now the whole community’s benefiting from this chance to drink cheese, eat water and—most importantly—connect. That’s a bubble that won’t be bursting any time soon.

Story and photographs by Amanda Castleman.

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