Review: Tea House Formosa, where millennials go for tea and snacks


The first time I stopped by Tea House Formosa on Buford Highway, my friend and I found a quiet nook and ordered a pot of Rose of the Orient: green tea delicately scented with rose, marigold and cornflower. She poured from a lantern-shaped porcelain pot. We sipped from dainty white matching cups and filled our table with an assortment of snacks: tea eggs, tempura-fried green beans, hand-cut taro fries, springy little bao sandwiches.

We had a second pot and ended our tete-a-tete with a lemon tart baked in a shortbread crust flecked with ground black tea. So civilized, so elegant.

The next couple of visits, things got a little crazy.

Along with the nibbles, my guests and I drank tall glasses of cold, brown-sugar milk tea; iced oolong topped with clouds of fluffy whipped cream; black tea with peaches and (at my request) gelatinous ovals of “custard pudding” that had to be broken up before the drink could be slurped through a straw. I was on the verge of adding red-bean topping to the latter until I babbled to the cashier that I thought it might be “too much.” She gently concurred.

Such are the pleasures of camellia sinensis leaves, as brewed, steeped and poured at this trendy Doraville tea room. Owned by Taiwanese sister-and-brother partners Winnie Peng and Tao Huang, the bright, minimalist space is a favorite gathering spot for young Asian-Americans who come to sip teas swirled with milk or flavored with fruit; teas topped with cream, salted cream butter or vanilla ice cream; teas reimagined as floats, slushies and lattes; or just old-fashioned pots of hot tea.

Tea House Formosa is a classic example of a next-generation Asian-American business. Peng and Huang’s late mother ran a Chamblee tea shop, Jinhuchun Tea Co., from 1998-2005. In an email, Peng told me her mother served Atlanta its first bubble tea, in 2000. When the siblings decided to open their Doraville spot, they sought to bring tea into the 21st century.

Most customers, it seems, don’t visit Tea House Formosa for a big meal. (For that, there are innumerable options nearby.) More often, they gather for quiet conversations, to study or use the free Wi-Fi. They linger over their drinks and peck at little fried bites from the kitchen, or perhaps something sweet.

However, if you are feeling ravenous, or just curious, you can build a more ambitious meal by mixing and matching from among the bao, rice burgers or bento boxes.

If it’s your first visit, or you aren’t sure what you want, the cashier might suggest you find a seat, spend a few minutes with the menu, then return to the counter to place your order.

The steamed buns (aka bao or baozi) come filled with pork belly, fried or teriyaki chicken, ginger pork or sliced grilled beef, and dressed with tomato, romaine, onion, pickle and bell pepper. These are not the most dazzling bao fillings in town, but they will do.

Fried chicken is good just about any way. A large bone-in breast is pounded flat, breaded, fried, sliced into strips that look like chicken fingers, sprinkled with spicy seasonings, and plopped in a basket for skewering. (It’s delicious; just beware those bones.)

A crunchy chicken cutlet, stuffed in a bao or a so-called “rice burger,” is wonderful. In bao form, the cutlet recalls a Japanese katsu or Chick-fil-A sandwich; the rice-burger version is a messy, Big Mac-like concoction down to the special, Thousand Island-like sauce.

If you are looking to fill up, the “rice burger,” so named because the protein is sandwiched between rice “buns” that have the texture of griddled hash browns, is a better value. (You can get the burger stuffed with any of the bao fillings.)

Just be sure to pair it with an order of the green beans or oyster mushrooms. Similar to tempura but without all the batter, they are terrific, as are the fried squid balls, which are garnished okonomiyaki style with a sweet soy concoction, Kewpie mayo and wispy bonito flakes.

Don’t expect the bento box to be the sort of gemlike, pickle and fish affairs of the Japanese. It’s more along the lines of a classic Taiwan Railway meal box, traditionally served with a pork chop, which is the way I had it here, though you may opt for pork belly or that all-purpose chicken cutlet. The large, bone-in pork chop was carved into strips and splayed over lightly gravied rice with cabbage, marinated green beans, half a boiled egg and other tidbits. On the side: A bowl of barely seasoned seaweed soup is like a tea from the sea.

On a winter day, should you find yourself on Buford Highway or at its nearby Buckhead malls, feeling a bit of holiday fatigue or melancholy, pull into Tea House Formosa for a quick perk-me-up. A pot of lavender green tea will wake you. To comfort you: a $4 bowl of Lu Rou Fan, a Taiwanese staple of minced pork sauce over rice.

In sum, this sibling venture is a thoughtfully conceived East-meets-West gathering spot for millennials that makes everyone, even curious old Westerners like me, feel at home. I believe that Peng and Huang’s mother would be very proud.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

A touch of sour cream goes into Farmview Market mac and cheese
A touch of sour cream goes into Farmview Market mac and cheese

From the menu … Farmview Market, 2610 Eatonton Highway, Madison; 844-210-7030. farmviewmarket.com I absolutely loved the macaroni and cheese served at the Farmview Market Café in Madison. It is probably some of the best mac and cheese I’ve had here in Georgia! I would love to have the recipe if it is available. I’d like to...
Add dash of global flavor
Add dash of global flavor

I’m the pastry chef at an Italian restaurant, Novo Cucina, in Dunwoody, where I make all the gelato. My favorite day to work is Saturday. That’s when Pilar Ramirez, one of the restaurant’s pasta cooks, brings a bag of Mexican goodies to make lunch for the kitchen staff. My favorite? Her chicken mole, which she seasons with arbol and...
A new spot for Mexican food now open in Buford
A new spot for Mexican food now open in Buford

Food from the menu of Pueblo Maya / Photo courtesy of Pueblo Maya Gwinnett County has a new place for tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican staples. Pueblo Maya opened at 33 Buford Village Way in the Buford Village mixed-use development last week. The restaurant serves “fresh-made Mexican food with a modern flair” according to general manager...
Lamb burgers get energized at this Ponce City Market restaurant
Lamb burgers get energized at this Ponce City Market restaurant

Botiwalla lamb burgers at Ponce City Market feature pronounced Indian flavors. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS Dish of the Week: Botiwalla Lamb Burgers By Henri Hollis Let’s face it: lamb burgers are in a bit of a rut. They show up often on menus, yet they all seem to pull from the same pool of Mediterranean flavors. Feta, olives, cucumber...
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival founder discusses move to all-female advisory council
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival founder discusses move to all-female advisory council

The 2018 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will take place May 31-June 3. This year, its advisory council is comprised entirely of women.  Photo credit: AFWW/Raftermen The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival announced last week that it was changing the makeup of its advisory council, moving to an all-female advisory body...
More Stories