Bee & Tea:
I've always said that I'll eat anything on a bao bun. There's just something about those tender, doughy pockets that make my heart pulsate and my tongue salivate. Wicker Park newcomer Bee & Tea put that theory to the test with its menu of bao-centric eats and boba-focused drinks. The new concept from the folks behind Forever Yogurt skew Asian for their next venture, the first of many planned offshoots for what will likely become a mini chain on par with the fro yo chainlet. An ardent lover or both bao and boba, I swung by the brand new shop to give it a whirl.
(Bee & Tea bao and boba)
Bee & Tea, The Concept
While Forever Yogurt hinges on DIY frozen yogurt combinations — something I am NOT a fan of, seeing as I apparently can not control myself from mixing pink lemonade yogurt with Sno Caps — Bee & Tea ups the ante on the adorability factor with a focus on bao and boba. Two essential ingredients in the cutesy Asian culinary lexicon, these two items form the crux of the counter service shop, where the DIY component is mostly replaced with an overwhelming array of menu options. Notably, what seems like a million boba tea possibilities and a myriad of bao sandwiches. Diners are faced with a lengthy menu sheet, which they are tasked with filling out and checking off to their hearts desire. It seems pretty convoluted and wordy, and they could maybe stand to hone it in a little more (or a lot, because who really needs three different boba flavors in one cup?). The bao portion of the menu is quite a bit more cohesive, with only a handful of selections to choose from. The impetus here is to send bao and boba, two items on the fringes of mainstream, into the public consciousness a la frozen yogurt. With their refreshing mix of menu fare, I could see it as a viable possibility.
The Bao and Boba
Now on to the main event. A shop specializing in two things had better do those two things justice. And Bee & Tea mostly does. Like I said, the boba section is much too complicated and overwhelming. I'd rather opt for one boba flavor and then select whichever supplements I want from there, be it tapioca pearls, jellies, or red beans. I shouldn't be selecting three different flavors and bouncing around from section to section adding several other items, choosing my own level of sweetness, etc. Flavors collide and combat one another, blurring things together too much. For instance, despite ordering passion fruit, banana, and chocolate boba flavors, I could only taste passion fruit, the red beans got lost in the popping mango tapioca pearls, and I neglected jellies all together. All this being said, the drink was still tasty. It was silken-smooth, the popping tapioca pearls were luscious and bountiful, and the portion size was more than generous, as boba should be. For my bao, I veered away from traditional flavors in favor of a quinoa and mushroom bao and one filled with Indian-inspired butter chicken. Both were solid, especially the succulent butter chicken, with the texture and aromatics of a slightly muted Buffalo wing.
My favorite thing about Bee & Tea is the space, an impeccable design job of adorability. It's colorful, calming, and sleek. resplendent with cute cartoon components and vivid wall art. The ample space makes for a comfortable experience, and the counter staff is quite amiable and eager to assist. Seeing as there is no potential for me to colossally screw up a frozen yogurt order, I have a feeling I'll be patronizing Bee & Tea on the regular.
- Matt Kirouac