If Flour + Tea seems like a hybrid of better Taiwanese tea joints and bakeries around San Gabriel Valley, it has everything to do with co-owners (and cousins) Nancy Ou and Johnson Wang whose collective résumé reads like a tea industry road map. Sitting on the corner of Cordova and Arroyo Parkway, the space has a few downtown trappings de rigueur in L.A. real estate: high ceilings, concrete floors, proximity to the Metro (a block away is the Gold Line). Doors were quietly opened on April 2. In a soft-open phase until mid-May, they're still tinkering with recipes.
The pair's knowledge of tea is extensive, in part thanks to their lineage — steeped (so to speak) in ties to the well-known purveyor Ten Ren. They're not resting on reputable name alone, though. Ou devoted four years to living in China, getting to know where much of her family's teas are grown and harvested; Wang has helped to run the Ten Ren store in Chinatown.
The idea to pool their experiences came before Ou embarked on her journey. Still, the lure of tracing the origin of a family passion was irresistible for Ou, who left a career in advertising. When Ou returned from China, she and Wang set out to introduce tea as more of an everyday element for those accustomed to caffeine brewed from beans. The cousins brainstormed on suitable accompaniments for loose and made-to-order teas until settling on bread.
“Tea is part of everyday lives in China. It is the icebreaker to all difficult conversations. It's the companion for any and all occasions. It is so integral that it's called water. When you go to people's house, they don't give you water. They give you tea,” says Ou.
It took them nearly a year to set up Flour + Tea, as key components like finding the right baker took a while to iron out. They wanted their breads to be free of preservatives and color additives. The two exhaustively searched for a baker who adhered to the same principles.
“We met bakers who were like, 'Oh, you need coloring in your bread. Even your taro. What baker doesn't use purple coloring?' No, that's not something that is meant to be in our bodies,” says Ou. She heard similar advice about profiling green tea in bread and pastries.
They finally ended the search when they met Liu shifu, or Master Liu, who was in retirement until he heard about their concept and reached out to them. “It was a godsend,” says Ou.
Flour + Tea currently offers about 20-plus varieties of savory and sweet bread, including nine-grain pumpkin raisin, red bean and spicy chicken. The teas are similarly pared down, compared to other tea houses in the area. Two diagonally opposite corner displays were reserved for loose-leaf teas and freshly baked bread. It was Wang's idea to keep the menus concise.
“Teas should be everyday, just as Americans embrace coffee. I think it's hands-down better for you than coffee. I've always felt like tea has been the stepsister of coffee in the beverage world,” says Ou.
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