Oatly Dairy-Free Oat Milk


Scanning the dairy shelves at Ralphs, I ask myself, “Do I really need to try another dairy-free milk?” I’ve already had soy, almond, coconut, almond-coconut, cashew, macadamia nut, hazelnut… How many more things can you make fake milk out of?

But oat milk is the big new player on the market, supposedly the most environmentally friendly milk there is. And the oat milk latte I had at Balconi Coffee Company was pretty good. So I give in and buy a carton of Oatly.

First of all, you’ve got to give them points for creative packaging. My favorite part of the carton is not the hippie font or the wacky artwork, but the part that says, “You are one of us now.” It sounds so sinister that it cracks me up. This is the kind of carton that will entertain you while you’re eating cereal.



When I drank it straight up, it did actually taste like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cereal. It’s slightly sweet, and the oat flavor is reminiscent of Cheerios.

But in coffee, Oatly loses its cereal-ness and has a smooth, inoffensive flavor. It’s thicker than almond milk, which is my usual go-to in coffee. I added it to iced coffee, and its lack of a distinctive flavor allowed the coffee to really shine.


I also made a latte by foaming Oatly in a manual milk frother. Because of its thickness, this was far more successful than trying to get almond milk to foam. Coconut milk is even thicker, but it tastes like coconuts — not what everyone wants in a latte.


My next mission is to make a dairy-free chocolate pudding using Oatly. Stay tuned!


Jasmine Lime Tea Cooler


My favorite beverage at Peet’s Coffee & Tea used to be the jasmine lime tea cooler, a refreshingly sweet and tart iced tea they offered during the summer. Unfortunately, they took it off the menu years ago, which left me and many other fans of this drink bereft.

A friend of mine used to work as a barista at Peet’s and told me the recipe: iced jasmine green tea mixed with Lime Odwalla. Alas, the Lime Odwalla has also mysteriously disappeared from shelves.

So I decided to make my own jasmine lime tea cooler, using fresh lime juice in place of the Lime Odwalla. I use honey as a sweetener. The key is to sweeten the tea while it’s hot (so that the honey dissolves more easily), rather than trying to sweeten the lime juice.

If you find the drink is still too tart for your taste, you can add more honey or sugar later, but make sure you stir it really well. Better yet, use simple syrup.

A pitcher of this iced tea will get you through the hottest days of late summer. Enjoy!

I use Numi organic tea, but any jasmine tea will do.


3 1/2 cups water
3 jasmine green tea bags
2 tablespoons honey, or more to taste
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 or 3 limes)

Place tea bags in a 1-quart glass pitcher. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour over tea bags and let steep for 4 minutes.

Remove tea bags. Add honey to the tea; stir until it dissolves. Refrigerate the tea for a few hours until chilled.

Add lime juice and 1 1/2 cups cold water; stir well. Serve over ice. Makes 4 cups.


Xing Fu Tang Taiwanese Boba


There’s boba everywhere in Taiwan. For a boba tea lover like me, it was both heavenly and overwhelming. When there’s a boba shop on every block, how do you decide which ones to try? Taiwanese establishments don’t have a big presence on Yelp, so I had to rely mostly on instinct.

Shopping in Ximendeng, a touristy neighborhood in Taipei, I picked the boba shop with the longest line, figuring the locals knew. Xing Fu Tang, I would later find out, is a hugely popular boba chain with at least 60 locations in Taiwan. During my trip, I would see many people carrying those pill-shaped cups.

I waited in line for 20 minutes under the scorching sun, but it was worth it. Xing Fu Tang’s signature drink, the brown sugar milk tea, was unlike any milk tea I’ve had in the United States. It had a strong tea flavor, it was creamy as hell, and the boba balls were as fresh as they come. The only reason I wouldn’t drink this more often if I lived in Taipei is because it would make me seriously fat.

Oh, and because they use real milk and I’m lactose-intolerant. But hey, I was on vacation. (Read my blog post, “When Cheating on Your Diet Is Worth It.”)

The big wok where they keep the boba balls warm.

As outstanding as that milk tea was, the grapefruit green tea I had at the Xing Fu Tang in Jioufen was even better — and dairy-free! Jioufen is another tourist area, a mountain town filled with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with street-food vendors and souvenir shops.

This grapefruit green tea was the best I’ve ever had, surpassing even my favorite from Tea Bar in Azusa. It wasn’t bitter like some grapefruit drinks can be, but it wasn’t too sweet, either. It had bits of pulp (but not an annoying amount) and it tasted super-fresh. Even without boba pearls, this drink was something to remember.

The location — at the end of the long main street in Jioufen, overlooking the lush green landscape — is a huge plus. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage.


If you find yourself in Taiwan, jonesing for boba, Xing Fu Tang is the spot. Just beware of other Xing Fu Tang locations, though. They’re not all equal. I tried a small offshoot in Ximendeng (with a much shorter line) and another in Danshui Harbor, and they were both disappointing.

XING FU TANG (Ximendeng)No. 29, Chengdu Road
萬華區, 台北市 108

XING FU TANG (Jioufen)No. 175, Jishan Street
瑞芳區, 新北市 224

PG Tips Perfect with Dairy-Free Tea


If you’re a tea lover, you probably know that PG Tips is the gold standard when it comes to English breakfast tea. I once had a British co-worker who always made sure the office kitchen was stocked with it. I usually like to drink organic teas, but every so often I make an exception for a box of PG Tips because it’s so delicious.

Most supermarkets in Los Angeles carry regular PG Tips, but if you want more of a selection, visit a store that sells British imports, like Ye Olde King’s Head Shoppe near the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I found a box of Decaf PG Tips there, and for weeks I enjoyed a guilt-free “cuppa” in the afternoons. Decaffeinated black tea is notoriously weak in flavor, but PG Tips’ decaf actually tastes just like the regular kind.

That’s when I discovered that PG Tips also makes a “Perfect with Dairy-Free” tea, specially blended for dairy alternatives. I love a splash of milk in my breakfast tea, but almond milk — my current go-to dairy alternative — is often too light to stand up to a strong black tea. So I wanted to see if PG Tips had cracked the code.


I looked online for PG Tips Perfect with Dairy-Free and couldn’t find it available anywhere but Amazon. I ordered a box of 70 tea bags for about $7, not realizing that it was being shipped all the way from England and would take weeks to arrive. When it finally got here, I eagerly brewed a cup, letting it steep for a full five minutes, and added a splash of Almond Breeze Almondmilk Creamer, which is just slightly thicker than regular almond milk.


I wasn’t blown away at first. I couldn’t really tell the difference between this PG Tips blend and the regular one. But I have to admit, it works. I’ve been having a cup of PG Tips Perfect with Dairy Free with this creamer every morning for the past few weeks, and I’d have to say I’m hooked.

That’s how PG Tips gets you. It sneaks into your life without making a fuss, and before you know it, you can’t live without it.


Milkadamia Non-Dairy Creamer


After enjoying a pretty good dairy-free latte made with macadamia nut milk at G&B Coffee, I had high hopes for Milkadamia, a creamer that has a great name and an even better slogan (“Moo Is Moot”), made from a blend of macadamia nuts and coconut cream.

It has a slightly nutty flavor, not too heavy on the coconuts. The problem was with the consistency. I thought coconut cream, as opposed to coconut milk, would make this stuff nice and thick. Unfortunately, no. It was disappointingly thin.

The real deal breaker, though, was the little white flecks that made it look like it had curdled. These little bits are natural in coconut milk/cream. But they’re just not appetizing. Who wants to drink this?


I tried Milkadamia in coffee, tea, iced tea — hoping in vain that it would fare better in a different beverage. But in all of them, it was thin and filled with bits.



So, despite the funny name and hip packaging, Milkadamia is not the magic non-dairy creamer I’ve been dreaming of. Perhaps their macadamia products that don’t contain coconut are better, but after my experience with this creamer, I doubt I’ll try them.

Labobatory’s “50 Shades of Earl Grey” Boba Milk Tea


If you’re the kind of person who enjoys clever drink names, then you’ll love Labobatory, my favorite boba tea shop in the San Gabriel Valley. The drink in the picture above is called “50 Shades of Earl Grey.” The name alone is cool. The fact that it’s actually grey makes it that much cooler.

What makes it grey? Charcoal. I asked the boba-ista what the charcoal does, thinking that it had some health benefits, and she said, “Nothing really. We just put it in there for the color.” But then she added that some people do take charcoal supplements for detoxification purposes. I could use some detoxifying, for sure.

My go-to drink from Labobatory is the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea, which remains the best rose milk tea I’ve ever had. Like rose milk tea, Earl Grey milk teas are fairly common at boba shops. But Labobatory takes common drinks and does them to perfection. The 50 Shades of Earl Grey, though not wildly different from other boba shops’ Earl Grey teas, was the best one I’ve ever had in terms of quality.

The flavor of the tea is strong but not bitter or too heavy on the bergamot. The dairy-free milk is smooth and creamy. (They use non-dairy creamer unless you specify otherwise; they also offer regular milk, soy milk, and almond milk.) The drink comes out the perfect temperature and has just the right amount of ice.

But here’s what I like best: You can adjust the sweetness level, even to 0%. At many boba shops, if you ask them to make an Earl Grey milk tea with no sugar, they can’t do it. Why? Because they use a pre-sweetened Earl Grey powder or syrup, rather than making the drink from freshly brewed Earl Grey tea. Since I don’t like my tea sweetened, I will go out of my way to find boba shops like Labobatory.

And did I mention that my drink was grey??? This is the type of beverage that will get you a lot of views on Instagram, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.


I declined getting the boba pearls in my 50 Shades of Earl Grey because I’m trying to cut down on carbs. But even without those chewy little bombs, this drink was top-notch. I just hope that the owner of Labobatory opens a shop in L.A. again — the now-defunct Boba 7, which offered alcoholic boba drinks, was a true gem.

LABOBATORY, 819 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776 

G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market

I have a fear of Grand Central Market, a popular food emporium in Downtown Los Angeles, because I always assume it’ll be jam-packed with tourists and I’ll have to stand in line for hours. But if you’re in the neighborhood and you’re hungry, it’s kind of irresistible. There are tons of choices, both old-school and new.

One of the older vendors is G&B Coffee, which has been there since 2013. It’s hard to miss because it’s a large stand-alone coffee bar right at the Hill Street entrance. Because their vibe is so annoyingly hipster, I’ve never been interested in trying their coffee — until I saw that they had Almond Macadamia Lattes. I’ve had almond milk lattes, but almond mac nut? Sign me up!


As you can see, the prices at G&B are high, even for L.A. It’s hard to justify putting a “market price” on a cup of tea; it’s not like a live lobster flown in from Maine. But you have to hand it to them, names like “Business & Pleasure” and “Fizzy Hoppy Tea” are bound to make people curious.

Mostly I was curious about the house-made almond macadamia nut milk. When I tried a sample straight up, I was pleased to find that it has a mild, natural taste. And it isn’t sweet, even though it contains dates. When frothed, it doesn’t create huge pillows of foam, but it was thick enough to give me a dairy-free milk mustache.


The coffee itself is smooth, not at all bitter. I like my coffee more robust, but G&B’s expresso blend is sure to please a wide range of palates. The almond mac nut milk gives the latte a slightly nutty flavor that you’ll enjoy if you like hazelnut coffee.

My husband tried the Fizzy Hoppy Tea, which is a carbonated iced tea with a hint of hops. It tastes kind of like if you added a shot of beer and tea to a Dry Sparking Soda. Weird. If you’re craving an iced tea, this beverage won’t hit the spot.


Overall, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to hit G&B Coffee. You can certainly get better coffee for less elsewhere. Plus, their ordering system is chaotic. There’s no line; you can order anywhere at the bar, which causes all sorts of confusion, and then they don’t call out your name, so you have to just hover anxiously as you wait.

But if that doesn’t deter you, by all means give it a shot. The almond mac nut milk is an unusual find for us dairy-free folks.

G&B COFFEE, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway C19, Los Angeles, CA 90013

The Best Boba Tea Shops in West L.A.

For months I was eagerly awaiting the opening of a bakery chain called 85°C Bakery Cafe at the Century City mall, and this weekend they were finally open for business. The main reason I was excited about it is that they serve boba tea. Since it’s a Taiwanese chain and Taiwan is where boba originated, I was hoping their boba drinks would rock my world.


Unfortunately, they didn’t. This might be because the place just opened and they still need to work out the kinks. I’d be willing to give them another try in a few weeks.

Here were the two drinks my husband and I ordered, the king grapefruit green tea (“king” because it contains fresh fruit) and the rose milk tea. Both were dairy-free. 85°C uses non-dairy creamer in their milk teas.


Both drinks were underwhelming. The grapefruit green tea was less flavorful than the one from Tea Bar in Azusa, which is still the gold standard in my book. The rose milk tea wasn’t horrible, but the rose flavor comes from syrup. So even though I ordered my drink unsweetened, it still came out too sweet for my liking. Labobatory in San Gabriel makes a far superior rose milk tea, flavored with rose water rather than syrup; their tea is also much stronger than the one from 85°C. I want to taste tea in my boba tea!

As a boba connoisseur, it’s clear to me that it’s much easier to find great boba tea in the San Gabriel Valley. I’ve only tried a handful of places out there, but most of them have been good to excellent. Some of my faves: Tea Bar (Azusa), Labobatory (San Gabriel), passion fruit green tea at Blackball Taiwanese Dessert (San Gabriel), and milk tea at Lady Bug Tea House (Alhambra).

But what about West L.A.? Well, believe it or not, my favorite boba milk tea comes from a place that’s in the Century City mall, just around the corner from the new 85°C. And it’s not even a boba shop, per se. It’s the dim sum restaurant Din Tai Fung.

Yes, the same Din Tai Fung that started in Taiwan and branched out to the U.S. with a couple locations in San Gabriel Valley. The one in Arcadia has been a longtime favorite of ours — and now we have one right in our own neighborhood!

The famous juicy pork dumplings from Din Tai Fung.
Din Tai Fung’s boba milk tea.

There are three things that make Din Tai Fung’s boba milk tea so good: (1) a strong tea flavor that tastes like it was brewed fresh, (2) crushed ice instead of chunks or cubes, (3) soft, chewy boba pearls.

My husband and I agreed that 85°C’s boba pearls were a little too hard. Even Volcano Tea House, which used to be my go-to boba shop on the Westside, has disappointed me enough times with hard boba that I’ve crossed them off my list.

So where can you get great boba tea on the Westside? Here’s my list, ranked in order of my preference. (Note that I judge them on the basis of their plain milk teas.)

  1. Din Tai Fung
  2. It’s Boba Time
  3. CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice

I would put Toastea on that list, but it’s in downtown L.A., too far for a Westsider to make casual drive-by. Toastea’s Earl Grey boba is definitely up there as one of my favorite boba drinks.

If you live in West L.A. and have a favorite boba shop that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments below!

Trader Joe’s Non-Dairy Thai Tea Mini Mochi Ice Cream


Here’s the problem with Trader Joe’s: I go in there to get some eggs, I get distracted by all the new products in cute packaging, and I come out with fifteen items — none of which are eggs. Then after loading my car, I realize my mistake and I have to crawl back in there to get the eggs, making sure to go to a different cashier this time so that the first one doesn’t recognize me and say, “Weren’t you just here?”

This week, I was distracted by the pumpkin-flavored dog treats (so crunchy and autumnal!) and the newest offering in the frozen dessert aisle: Non-Dairy Thai Tea Mini Mochi. First of all, how can you resist this festive box? Pastels and polka dots? It’s so pretty you could give it to someone as a gift and not even bother to wrap it.


The fact that these mochi are miniature makes them even more appealing. Bite-sized nuggets mean convenient snacking and less sugar with each serving. I love anything mini, like miniskirts, Mini Coopers, and Minnie Mouse.

Minnie and me polka-dotting it up at Disneyland in 2013.

Like their Vegan Matcha Green Tea Mochi, Trader Joe’s Thai Tea Mini Mochi are made from coconut milk. Some ice cream alternatives made from coconut milk simply taste too much like coconuts, but this one doesn’t. It tastes like tea.

But “Thai tea” might be a bit of a stretch. Thai tea is traditionally a strong black tea, sometimes spiced, mixed with sweetened condensed milk and served over ice. It’s a lactose-intolerant person’s worst nightmare. I don’t understand how all these Asians are digesting condensed milk. It makes no sense.

Despite the name, the Trader Joe’s mochi taste just like black tea. There’s nothing Thai about it. In fact, the ice cream is not too sweet and that’s a good thing.

Just so you know, when you open the package, this is what you’ll see:


All you need to do is pop those suckers out of their sad plastic tray, arrange them on a tea plate, and serve them with a cup of your favorite tea. Not too shabby and way more special than a box of Joe-Joe’s — although I wouldn’t kick those out of bed either.



“Nectar Sun” Herbal Iced Tea


One of the most fun things about travel is bringing home something that reminds you of your trip. I don’t mean the kind of souvenir that you buy in a gift shop, because chances are that coffee mug or magnet is going to end up in the Goodwill box. I mean something that has a special significance for you.

On our latest vacation in Las Vegas, we stayed at the Nobu Hotel inside Caesars Palace, an offshoot of Nobu the sushi restaurant. (For my review of the hotel, click here.) In the serene, minimalist lobby, they offered free iced tea for hotel guests all day long. But this wasn’t just any old iced tea… it was a delectable herbal blend that I’d never tasted before. It was called “Nectar Sun.”

Now, I’ve always preferred black teas, the stronger the better. But the caffeine can mess with my sleep, and I can’t drink tea with milk because I’m lactose-intolerant. So I’m always looking for herbal teas that’ll hit the spot. Nectar Sun had a surprising depth to it, plus a hint of sweetness without being cloying. I realized there was no reason I couldn’t have some of that herbal magic back home.

Dairy bombs: stuff I did NOT eat in Vegas.

The problem is that when I looked up Nectar Sun tea, I discovered that it’s only sold wholesale to hotels, restaurants, and spas, and not stocked in retail stores. You can order it directly from the manufacturer, Ikaati, but it costs a whopping $20 for a box of twelve tea sachets. That’s what my dad would call “highway robbery.”

So I decided to make my own version of Nectar Sun. The main ingredients are rooibos tea, marigold, hibiscus, and peach. After experimenting with a few different herbal teas, I came up with a blend that tastes almost exactly like Nectar Sun.


It’s truly guilt-free because rooibos tea is good for you, and the peach tea gives it enough sweetness so that you don’t need to add any sugar. Did I mention that it’s dairy-free, too?

Every time I take a sip, it reminds me of our vacation. What are some foods you’ve made that were inspired by your summer travels? Let me know in the comments below!


3 tea bags of Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar
1 tea bag of Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion
1 quart filtered water

Place tea bags in a heat-proof pitcher. Bring water to a boil and pour over tea bags. Let them steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags with a slotted spoon. Let the tea cool, then refrigerate. Serve over ice.