Located near the San Gabriel Mission, Factory Tea Bar is a relatively new joint in the SGV mix. After a day of literally heavy noodling — I decided to hit up the place per the Fung Bros’ recommendations. The owner is Thai (that’s all I’ve been able to figure out so far) and the decor is definitely a trend-setter and represents a new-wave of Chinese restaurants. Goodbye dirty, small boba shops with a counter and a couple of tables and perhaps a bean bag chair in the corner.
From what I’ve been able to gather from my research so far is that these new-wave shops (Half&Half, AU79, Honey Boba, Le Arbre, Ten Ren, Boba Truck) and restaurants are the product of a younger, late 20s – mid 30s, generation. Perhaps they’ve inherited the business from their families, or they’re simply entrepreneurs who have taken the food of their childhood and kicked it up a notch.
But unlike the previous generation of restaurants with tacky teal and coral furniture and perhaps a good luck cat on the front counter, they’re more in tune with the Los Angeles food scene. They have Facebook pages, they run promotions, they pay attention to customer feedback.
Back in the early 2000s was when these shops started to materialize. But although the decor was upgraded, the waitstaff remained primarily Chinese. They could barely speak English.
As the boba scene began to grow, these restaurants began hiring English speakers and slowly but surely, even the management began to become more and more Americanized.
Tea Bar is the epitome of this new-wave rise of boba shops. Everything about it screams modern. Their chalkboard wall, dim lighting, bean bags and communal-style seating encourages interaction. These new-wave restaurants have been doing for the SGV what bars and coffee shops do for the youth in more metropolitan neighborhoods. When I’m over in New York City and craving some human interaction, I’ll hit up a local bar or coffee shop. That’s where I meet the characters that have made New York so interesting. The boba shops are becoming the bars and the coffee shops for the SGV.
The geography of non-central/West LA prevents this type of interaction. Truth be told, the SGV is pretty dead. Yeah there are the ethnic treasures unearthed and immortalized by the likes of Jonathan Gold — but seriously, who really goes to those restaurants?
Those restaurants aren’t famous within the Chinese community at all. I’ve talked to the management of places like Sea Harbour and Beijing Pie House — who have no idea they’re famous. The Chinese immigrants follow the restaurant trends as broadcasted by their local media (世界日报) and community — but mostly, like most traditional Chinese, their value is in home-cooked meals. The foodie, restaurant-lovin’ culture isn’t prevalent among the older (I’m thinking early 40s onward) immigrant generation. Each family has their personal favorites, but they won’t flock to media-touted places.
Heck, everyone I know within that generation hates Din Tai Fung. It’s overcrowded, over-hyped and “what’s so good about their dumplings?”
The real money in the SGV lies in these new-wave shops, frequented by a new generation of Chinese, but Americanized crowd. Ask anyone who grew up in the SGV what their favorite place is and you sure as heck won’t hear about 101 Noodle Express or JTYH or Sea Harbour or even Beijing Pie House.
They’ll talk about Boiling Point, Cafe 85, Guppy, Class 302, Half&Half. These are the new-wave shops. These are the money-makers. These are the future.
I dare you to hit up Cafe 85 on a weekend. You’ll be in line for at least an hour. I promise you that.
Andrew phrased it nicely:
“The 626 has a bunch of food, boba and shaved ice spots. But there’s practically no bars. There’s no place you can really get drunk. On a Thursday, Friday and even a Saturday night you go to Factory Tea Bar and it’s packed full of people. There are even people who are old enough to drink. It’s going to look like a bar and they’ll even play club music but there will be nobody drunk. I think if you’re really into food, sometimes drinking gets in the way of the taste of food. There’s a lot of food nerds in the 626, and food nerds aren’t usually the ones to go to the clubs and get smashed.”
As for the food at Factory Tea Bar — amazing. I’m sure my opinion will evolve as I go there and sample more and more selections, but I was blown away at my first visit. I ordered a iced green tea with boba ($3.15) and the boba was still warm underneath the iced tea.
Then came the brick toast. I’ll let the photo speak for itself. It tasted just as delicious as it looks.
323 S Mission Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776