Momoko Bubble Tea Room and Japanese Gift Store
Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm; Sun, noon-6pm
Momoko is basically a space-age tea room, and 27-year-old, super-hip Welinning Ko is basically my hero.
Welinning (way-leen) moved from Taiwan nine years ago to attend Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, Texas; she knew that without many other students from Taiwan, her English would get that much better that much faster. She earned her degree in mathematics and is currently working on an MBA at St. Ed's. Soon, she'll transfer to UT for a Ph.D. In the meantime, though, she's opened a cozy tea shop specializing in "bubble tea" and gifts. "Bubble" refers to the foam left atop freshly brewed tea once it is shaken with ice; it's a craze in Taiwan and in the Asian neighborhoods of New York and California. But Welinning wanted to introduce a part of her culture to white America, so a few years ago she opened her store in the campus area of Austin.
In Taiwan, there are schools where people learn to brew tea, but in her stubborn manner, Welinning has taught herself. She firmly believes that tea is a curative substance, and she can make over 100 flavors, anything from black teas infused with apricot flowers to lavender tea, good for a headache, to dainty red rose tea, comprised of dried rose buds, good for acne and relaxation (presumably, less acne is always more soothing). She also sells greenbean and gingermilk teas, and, most interestingly, Pearl Milk and Jelly Milk teas.
Order the Pearl Milk and you're given a large white cup with a giant orange or purple straw. The non-dairy tea is sweet and fruity, and the fat straw looks great but it's also utilitarian -- the diameter allows you to you suck soft, light marble-sized "pearls" of tapioca into your mouth. It takes a minute to adjust to drinking a liquid with solids suspended in it, but the tea is comforting and delicious. Even more unusual is the Jelly Milk Tea ($3.50). First, choose a flavor of tea; for the jelly milk, black tea with essence of strawberry is very popular. Welinning brews it, then shakes it with ice, non-dairy milk, sugar, and bits of Japanese gelatin. No description merits the textured, flowery drink which cools and soothes.
To supplement the tea sales, Welinning sells fine Japanese china and some traditional-style Japanese home furnishings like lacquered dinnerware. She has also become a distributor of the popular Japanese line of Sanrio products (Hello Kitty, Badtz-Maru, etc.) For those unfamiliar with these lines, a character or series of characters has a vast array of unusual merchandise designed around them. Badtz-Maru defies all description other than perhaps "owl bat," but he's got his own tiny soap and soap dish, sippy, flashlight that shines a picture of him on the wall, and toothbrushing kit. If you want a tiny backpack made of chewy wetsuit material with the famous owl-bat stitched on the front (I certainly did), Momoko's your store.
Welinning also sells stationery, stuffed creatures, saucers, stickers, and many other items associated with Taiwan's Naughty Family (the members of this odd family are called Steambun Boy, Pill Guy, Strawberry Girl, and Peanut Man) and Korea's G.C. Village. These things are so popular that she is constantly receiving new shipments and restocking her shelves. She's even meeting with an artist to develop her own line of characters and merchandise.
Welinning's knowledge of a facet of another culture combined with an incredible sense of style puts Momoko, which means "peach child," on the cutting edge. With only a few tables, soft lighting, and lovingly chosen appointments, Momoko is already more like a friend's snug home than a store. -- Meredith Phillips