85°C America – Imagine a Starbucks Where People Waited in Line for an Hour for Pastries

13 Feb

85°C is the Starbucks of Taiwan, with a branch on every corner and people from all walks of life stopping in a couple times a week for drinks — boba milk tea or sea salt lattes. 85°C has since opened 4 branches in America, all here in Southern California, but the draw is a huge assortment of breads, pastries, and fancy cakes — as well as a drink bar with many of the drinks that made them famous in Taiwan.

[* apologies for the lead photo. 98% of the clients are Asian, so this photo of the white girl in the inappropriate shirt is not representative.]

I went to both the Irvine and West Covina branches. Lucky for me, the crowds seem to have finally died down a bit. It used to be common to have to wait an hour in line, with hordes of like-minded people snatching buns off the trays as they were brought out. It’s a bit more civil now, but you’ll still have to go through a rope line to check out.

Here’s the drink bar in Irvine, which has a boba milk tea that has very little to the version I’ve had a dozen times in Taipei. I would give this one a 5 on a 10 point scale – it’s OK, not great, pretty average really, and at $3 not a great bargain. You can also get the sea salt latte, which they are famous for. You should probably prepare for disappointment as it is just OK.

Here’s the bread line in West Covina. I don’t know why they told me to stop taking photos. What great secrets did they think they had?

Anyways, the real show here are the buns. Most are sponge-soft as is common in Asian bakeries, but these are full of interesting flavors. The star on the show is the squid ink bun, which comes out black and is intensely garlicky. Other versions have cheese or cream cheese and are inventive takes on Asian pastries, like mochi-filled buns and milk pudding buns.

A couple observations:

For some reason the items differ from the Irvine to the West Covina store. In irvine, many of the buns are between $0.70 – $1.50 and tend towards the sweet and creamy. In WC, there is more of an emphasis on breads and cheesiness, and most things are $1.50 and up. Not sure why, could have just been what was in the bins the days I was there.

The strangest thing is that the emphasis on baked goods in the American branches is different than it is in Taiwan. I went to at least four different branches in Taipei, and they are all a place people to for drinks, and the pretty little cakes are an afterthought. In Taiwan, 85°C has little cakes, fonglisu (pineapple cakes), and some roll cakes. But I did not see any of these inventive cheese breads and squid ink buns.

Oh well, I think we got the better of the deal here in America.

85C Irvine
2700 Alton Parkway, No. 123 (Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center),
(949) 553-8585

85C West Covina
2626 E Garvey Ave S,
West Covina, CA 91791


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