Dana Dela Cruz
Mojo Teahouse opened on Trigo Road in late August, promising high-quality, authentic tea and Asian fusion snacks. As someone who grew up around plenty of boba shops and teahouses, I was excited but skeptical — so I visited Mojo several times to determine whether it was my new boba-away-from-home or another disappointment.
The first thing I noticed was how inviting the space, formerly occupied by 805 Kabob, felt. Mojo’s ownership has repainted the storefront to a brighter white and blue, and the wooden deck railing now serves as a dining counter lined with matching blue chairs. The employees were welcoming and friendly, gladly answering any questions and offering their recommendations.
The drink menu is fairly standard, with a variety of black, jasmine, and roasted oolong teas. So far, I’ve tried the honey roasted oolong milk tea, Thai tea, and kumquat lemon tea. I enjoyed all three, but roasted oolong is my regular order for its earthy, malt-like flavor. But in all three drinks that I’ve ordered, the tea flavor truly shines. Mojo’s drinks have an excellent flavor complexity, showcasing the slight bitterness and floral quality of good tea, rather than masking it with overly sweet syrups or powders.
The teas pair well with Mojo’s Asian fusion snacks. I have tried the popcorn chicken, kimchi fries, spicy Korean chicken wings, and beef gyudon rice bowl — and Mojo nailed them all. Both the popcorn chicken and the wings were perfectly fried: juicy and tender with a satisfying crunch. The kimchi fries were addictive and packed with flavor. For the spice-averse, don’t fear: the kimchi fries and the spicy wings gave only a mild, pleasant heat. (Mojo also has plenty of Sriracha and chili powder for the spice-lovers as well.)
My favorite item was the beef gyudon bowl, which featured tender beef, onions, and fluffy white rice. It also came with a side of seaweed salad, adding some needed freshness to the rich dish. The flavors were so comforting and familiar I was convinced for a second that my mom was hiding in the kitchen.
Despite impressive quality all-around, Mojo’s prices are on par with other boba joints, both in I.V. and elsewhere. Most drinks and snacks are around five dollars each; the rice bowls and the ten-piece wings cost ten dollars. Keep in mind that snacks are typically meant for sharing, and the rice bowls are easily large enough for a full meal.
But even more than the delicious food and drinks, friendly employees, and reasonable prices, there is something else about Mojo Teahouse that keeps me coming back: it is a little sliver of home. Having grown up in an Asian ethnoburb studded with boba shops on every block, I can say that for many Asian-American students, boba shops are more than just a place for food and drink.
Almost every day in high school, my friends and I would spend hours at our local boba shop, mouths half-full with popcorn chicken, groaning about calculus or gossiping about prom dates. Sitting at the neighboring tables were other Asian-American kids, doing the same thing. For all of us, stabbing straws through the plastic sealing became like a ritual, the transition into good times to be had with friends.
When I spoke with Boxi Wang, Mojo’s general manager, he shared a similar sentiment. “You go [to boba shops] even though you’re not feeling you want boba,” Wang said. “But you still go with your friends after dinner and just talk about life and stuff.”
In high school, Wang worked at Quickly, a mega-popular boba chain, from which he drew some inspiration for Mojo’s menu. He then went to UCSB, where he said he was “disappointed” by the Asian food options. Wang’s longing for quality Asian food, assisted by the economics degree he acquired in 2015, led to the inception of Mojo Teahouse.
“I do really thank UCSB [for] giving me this opportunity,” Wang said, pointing to the Storke Tower illustration on my boba cup. “I came here, I studied here, and I found there’s a demand for this… Hopefully it’ll represent Gauchos.”
Wang’s love for Asian food and boba is evident in every bite and sip, something boba-lovers and newcomers alike can appreciate. I anticipate that Mojo Teahouse will become for Gauchos what boba shops have always been for me: a gathering place for friends, where life slows down just a little for a good snack and some good laughs.