Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tea Station - Irvine


When did boba become a has-been? The tapioca pearl drinks -- the rage among Asian teens and college students during the middle to late nineties -- seems a little long on the tooth nowadays. Hopeful franchises, who sprang up during the Boba Boom and thought they were ready to take on Starbucks, have come and gone. And the lines that stretched out the door at places like Tapioca Express and Lollicup have migrated to the Pinkberries and Yogurtlands.

By the mid naughts, the bubble-tea bubble had burst.

Where it was once a beneficiary, boba drinks has now fallen victim to the fickle tastes and fleeting attention spans of a changing youth culture.

When I get boba now, it's for nostalgia. Boba milk tea is my generation's equivalent of the ice cream soda: We spent our allowance and summer job money on it, but having one now seems quaint.

Still around is one of the few stalwarts of the genre: Tea Station. This is a place where the drinks are still mixed in cocktail shakers.

Since the franchise is controlled by the Ten Ren Tea Company, the tea actually tastes like tea -- a refreshing balance of the bitter to the milky sweet ($2.75). The balls of tapioca which settle at the bottom are a chewy source of carbs that propel themselves like bullets down the barrel of that oversized straw. Paired with a snack of tea eggs ($1.00), they equate to the same amount of calories on a typical Sunday breakfast.

But the main attraction for me now is their food, namely their lunch plates. The best is the pork chop ($5.99), fried in a bubbled tapioca starch batter that crackles like a chicharon.

Served atop rice doused in soy-stewed ground pork, some stir-fried veggies and pickles, this is a meal that makes me forget that I'm in a boba tea shop. There's a fried egg that rides along in the dish, because let's face it, anything good is made better with a fried egg.

With the last morsel of pork eaten and the last sip of the milk tea drunk, I wonder: What will be the next food trend to fall by the wayside?

Tea Station
(949)653-9989
15333 Culver Dr. #430
Irvine, CA 92604

22 Comments:

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Nobody said...

What were the prices?

 
At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love buble tea! i ussually make the iced milk black tea with my own recipe

lapsang souchong = very complex strong tea; source www.teacuppa.com
milk
sugar/honey
iced cubes

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

There you go bringing back the nostalgia again! Guess who I had my first taste of boba tea with? My beloved Dave! They are still in style with me!

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger jeannie said...

I remember going on boba runs nearly everyday after school! The first time I ever had boba nai cha was at the Tea Station in Chinatown over 10 years ago. Because the menus of other boba shops (Tap-Ex, Volcano, etc) became so saturated with dozens of other items, nowadays I like going back to that particular location for old times sake b/c the menu is so sparse and simple.

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger Windo said...

very nicely done. your writing has been on! keep up the good work. btw, for these "cooler" days that we've been having, a hot cup of the lavendar milk tea does the trick nicely.

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Nobody,

Good catch, I forgot to put the prices on there. I've edited the post now. I'm sure of the prices for the tea and the pork chop rice plate, but the tea egg price I guessed. It's about a buck each. I think.

Anon,

That sounds awesome. I don't even think it needs boba.

Juliet,

HAHA! Well, how can I object to that!

Jeannie,

I remember when I had to drive to Monterey Park to this now defunct restaurant called Shau May to get it. Within a few months, it was everywhere!

Windo,

I believe I've tried a lavender milk tea once. It was quite lavender-y! I didn't expect it to be so, but I liked it.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger Krizia said...

You were right on point w/ the feeling of quaintness that I get whenever I have a boba drink nowadays (unless it's something "new" to me like a black sesame milk tea smoothie with boba). Erego, I like how you focused on the good food that usually comes w/ the boba menu at these tea houses (ahem* pepper crispy squid, fish balls, and popcorn chicken).

You know what ultimately got me, though? The words "actually tastes like tea" and "chicharon." Oh. hell. yes. Pure genius. I wonder if there's a place up here that does such similarly delightful things to their pork AND their tea.

I predict that the next "food trend" will be...hmmm, let's research here for a moment.

Trends I've noticed:
coffee (Starbucks)
smoothies (Jamba Juice)
yogurt (Pinkberry or Yogurtland)
gelato (Melt)

It's the first day of fall today, so maybe the new trend will be a "create your own hot bevarage" joint :) like hot chocolate or tea, with "sides" like honey, marshmallows, whipped cream, caramel, cacao nibs, lavender infused cream...in other words, a pimped-out Starbucks!

Sorry for the Bible-length comment :D

 
At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I order the bubble tea once and I got a FREE long hair with the pearls! I never want to go back there again! Boohoo give me phobia!

 
At 11:16 AM, Anonymous c f said...

This place is my dessert shop after we have a filling meal at Sam Woo BBQ! You are so right, so many boba places have drinks that come straight from a jug/concentrate that people take for granted what real tea really should taste like! Now that I'm an OC transplant from the SGV, where real boba places are a dime a dozen, I crave the short drive for the nearest tea place (ever try Old Country Cafe in Alhambra?). Irvine is almost 25 minutes away, but it'll have to do! Thanks for the reliably enlightening commentary!

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger mistyrain said...

Yea! We are going on vacation next month to visit friends in Irvine. Now I know where to go for bubble tea, since I have never tried it. We do not have tea shops in my area. I do order my green tea online.

 
At 9:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Krizia,

How could I forget about the fried crispy squid, fish ball, and popcron chicken, dusted with that spicy salt.

And oooh...I love that idea. A hot beverage shop, maybe even warm apple cider, perhaps even hot Vietnamese che...that's a million dollar idea!

Anon,

Well, yeah! That'd put me off too! Knock on wood.

C F,

Back in the day, I would travel dozens of miles just to get a boba milk tea, and then after that phase, the pudding milk tea. I'm not sure if it's just me getting old though. But it's nice when you can get a real quality tea! Even if it costs a little more.

Mistyrain,

Hope you have a fun time here! There's two locations of Tea Station in Irvine, by the way. The other one is at the Irvine Spectrum, which I'm sure your friend will take you to. It's where the action is around here.

 
At 5:12 AM, Blogger shinae said...

Hiya elmo,

No worries if the cause is not your thing, but I thought I'd hit you up as a fellow blogger to sponsor me:

http://fabfrugal.blogspot.com/2007/09/ot-off-topic-nami-walks-sat-oct-6-2007.html

btw, would you mind sending me your e-mail to shigoblogs@gmail.com? I'd like to try to get some OC foodbloggers together for a night at Silk Thai, which is my newest, favoritest Thai restaurant in OC.

Cheers,

s

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger h said...

Hey Elmo,

Your pictures make everything look good.

Hey I started facebook group named "OC Restaurants & Bars" few months ago. I was hoping you and other food bloggers to join and participate and even promote your blog sites.

One more thing to add.. and this regards to your previous post. I tried Beurre Blanc flavored mochi ice cream at Mochilato, and it was heavenly. You must try!

 
At 9:27 PM, Blogger Cindy. Lo. said...

Ha I heart Tea Station~
(by the way, I think I go there at least twice a week~!)

 
At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Marvin said...

That pork chop looks damn good. And anything that crackles like a chicharon must be delicious.

 
At 1:05 PM, Blogger H. C. said...

Of the chain boba places... TeaStation ties with Cha for Tea as my faves ~ I prefer the custardy pudding over the boba though :)

But Tea Eggs, Beef Scallion Wrap & Pork Stew Rice here are awesome!

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Shinae,

That's a great cause. Here's my e-mail elmomonster75 @ yahoo.com

h,

I'd like to join your Facebook. But I'm a newbie. I have an account already: here's the e-mail address I registered there elmomonster75 @ yahoo.com

Beurre Blanc flavored mochi sounds crazy! Wine and butter sauce?!

Cindy,

I don't go as often as you obviously. But the less I do, the better the nostalgia!

Marvin,

Restauranteurs should realize that they should just cut the middle man and offer chicharons!

h.c.,

I'm with you. I prefer pudding milk tea over boba milk tea. Less chewing involved.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Lol. Beat me to another one. Good times.

 
At 8:33 PM, Anonymous alv said...

great stuff! don't suppose anyone knows of a recipe for the "soy-stewed ground pork." that stuff is a meal in itself imho.

keep up the great reviews elmo!

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Alv,

I'd also like that recipe. All it needs is rice, and bam, that's a meal.

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger joanh said...

hahah. boba is totally a has-been... but i still get it in taipei sometimes- i like the mini-boba and when the tea tastes like tea.

 
At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really like the boba milk tea at this place. The boba are hard and the tea doesn't taste like anything. I have to say that I like Lollicup better.

 

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