Lollicup Fresh

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I recently stopped by Lollicup Fresh on Sawtelle Boulevard in West LA for some boba and was thrilled to find out they’re having a special through the month of March: $2 for a 16-ounce boba milk tea. That’s half price! I love a bargain!

Even though I rarely get a plain boba milk tea and usually opt for more fanciful flavors, it’s nice to go back to basics sometimes. The boba milk tea is made with non-dairy creamer, so it’s safe for lactose-intolerant and dairy allergic folks. You can customize the sweetness level, even going for no sugar at all, like I do. To read more of my musings on boba, click here.

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I’ve always thought of Lollicup as just a place to get boba, but they have a much bigger food menu than most boba shops. It’s Taiwanese comfort food, like beef noodle soup, sweet Taiwanese sausages, and popcorn chicken (little pieces of fried chicken with a spicy kick). It’s not the greatest food, but when you’re grabbing a boba tea anyway, it’s super convenient.

Here’s one of their newest offerings, the braised pork belly plate. It comes with pickled vegetables, rice, and my favorite thing of all, a seasoned boiled egg. The pork belly is very fatty, so this isn’t the kind of lunch you want to eat before heading into a business meeting or doing a Zumba class. But it’s tasty and cheap — the whole meal, including my $2 boba milk tea, cost less than $10.

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Think of Lollicup as Taiwanese fast food. Not something you want to eat every day, but satisfying as a sometimes treat. And if you want to try their boba milk tea at a discount, get thee to a Lollicup before the end of this month.

LOLLICUP FRESH, 2206 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

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Trader Joe’s Vegan Matcha Green Tea Mochi Ice Cream

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The first time I tried mochi ice cream was in Honolulu back in the mid-nineties. It was at a revolving sushi bar, one of the things I love most in the world. That little ice cream bomb wrapped in a light, chewy dough was the perfect ending to the meal — compact, cute, and a little strange.

Ever since I gave up dairy, I’ve been looking for a dairy-free version of my favorite flavor of mochi, green tea. Imuraya makes a good dairy-free strawberry mochi, but I tried their green tea flavor and didn’t like it. Too coconutty.

Then I strolled past the frozen dessert section at Trader Joe’s, always a dangerous thing to do. Trader Joe’s constantly rolls out new snacks that are irresistible. Then, as soon as you get hooked, they mysteriously disappear, leaving you bereft and bitter. Just take a look at this non-dairy mochi display and tell me how you could pass this by!

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Yes, I know the coffee mochi with the “saucy mocha center” sounds pretty insane, like, have-to-try-it insane. But the green tea was the one calling out to me. Given the Imuraya green tea mochi, I knew the odds weren’t good; Trader Joe’s mochi (actually made by Buono) also uses coconut milk, and I was worried that it, too, would taste too coconutty. But I gave it a shot.

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As you can see, there are two differences between the mochi and the picture on its package. One, the mochi have a lot more powdered sugar on the outside. Two, the dough is thinner than pictured.

But I have to say, this mochi rocks. The strong green tea (matcha) flavor gives this dessert a bold, almost savory quality. Given this, the generous amount of powdered sugar on the outside actually helped balance it out. As for the dough, it was the perfect thickness. Any thicker and it would’ve been too doughy.

And although it’s made with coconut milk, I didn’t detect the coconut flavor at all. Just green tea. Excellent.

So a big thumbs-up for Trader Joe’s non-dairy green tea mochi. As a footnote, though, I’d like to add that not all of Trader Joe’s non-dairy items are this good. For instance, I also bought some of their coconut milk yogurt on a whim, and it was horrendous.

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I didn’t want to devote a whole blog post to it because I’ve written a lot about bad dairy-free yogurts. But I just felt the need to warn you all about this one. If you’re jonesing for a dairy-free yogurt, try Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative; it’s the only one I’ve had that isn’t awful.

Nutpods Non-Dairy Half-and-Half

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Ever since I gave up dairy, I’ve been on a perpetual hunt for a dairy-free creamer that mimics the creamy white properties of half-and-half. Well, when I read about Nutpods dairy-free creamer in the Los Angeles Times, it seemed like I might have found my white whale, no pun intended. Nutpods is intended for “plant-based consumers who like their coffee creamy.” That would be me.

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The mouthfeel of Nutpods is pretty creamy. I’ll give it that. It’s also not quite as beige as most non-dairy creamers that contain almond milk. It does a good job of lightening my coffee to the tan shade that I find appealing.

The cons? The little particles that float at the top of my coffee. This tends to happen with products that contain coconut milk. There’s no harm in it, but it’s unsightly. I tried straining the Nutpods through a tea strainer; however, those little particles are small and some of them slip right through the mesh.

The other con is that Nutpods has a little bit of an aftertaste that I find in a lot of products that contain almond milk. It’s not overpowering, but it’s there.

Overall, I would say Nutpods is the equivalent of Califia Farms Better Half, another dairy-free creamer made from a mixture of almond milk and coconut cream. Nutpods is available at Ralphs, which Better Half isn’t. Are either of them perfect? Sadly, no.

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Straight-up full-fat coconut milk, like the kind from a can or box, is richer, creamier, and more natural. But the problem is it tastes like coconuts. So I really haven’t found anything that truly gives you the experience of half-and-half.

But I’ll keep searching for that white whale.

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Miyoko’s Vegan Cheese Wheel

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The Los Angeles Times recently published an article in its “Health Happenings” section introducing some new dairy-free alternatives. One of those was Miyoko’s Kitchen vegan cheese, created by a “lifelong vegetarian” to “satisfy her love for dairy while honoring her compassion for animals.”

As I have yet to find a good dairy-free alternative to cream cheese, I thought I’d give Miyoko’s a try.

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Here’s what Miyoko’s Vegan Cheese Wheel in Classic Double Cream Chive looks like out of the package. Like other nut-based cheeses I’ve tried, this one has a beige color that got darker as time wore on. Not exactly appetizing. I’ve said it before: Appearance is important when it comes to food. We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths and stomachs.

Even though Miyoko’s cream cheese alternative would presumably be better for spreading on a bagel, that one wasn’t available at the Ralphs I went to. So I tried the Classic Double Cream Chive on a bagel. You can see the beigeness more clearly here. Also, its texture was immediately dubious. Not smooth.

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When I tasted the cheese, I was even more bummed out. It was tart, which I usually like, but this was way too tart. I would even say it was sour. The chives were okay but couldn’t save this cheese, which was woefully grainy and pasty. Yuck.

Here’s my half-eaten bagel thirty minutes after I abandoned it. Reminds me of the playa at Burning Man.

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It’s possible this cheese would’ve fared better on a cracker, as an accompaniment to some charcuterie. But I still think the sourness of it is a deal-breaker. Now that I’ve had theĀ vegan goat cheese from Vromage in West Hollywood, I know that nut cheese can be better than this. Vromage’s goat cheese is tart without being sour, it’s white (not beige), and its smoothness is exactly what you want in a cheese.

Let me save you from wasting your money on Miyoko’s Kitchen. If you live in L.A. and you want a nut-based vegan cheese, try Vromage instead.