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New Take on Tea

Zen Zoo Whips Up a Frothy Blend of Drinks

November 22, 1998|BOOTH MOORE

Tea is hot. It's also iced, spiced--and now shaken like a martini at Brentwood's hip new teahouse, Zen Zoo.

Although the tea phenom has been steeping for a few years now, Zen Zoo co-founder Linda Yu says most American teahouses have been based on a Victorian model.

"We wanted to open a fun Asian-style teahouse where people can hang out and learn about tea," Yu says.

The house specialty is the Zenfusion--a takeoff on the "bubble teas," which are quaffed in Taiwan with the same fervor as ice-blended espresso drinks in L.A.

Zenfusions ($2.75) can be made with black or green teas, with honey, mint, passion fruit or mango syrups added. They are poured over ice in a martini shaker, given a shake by the bartender and served in a tall glass. The result is a beverage with a foamy head like a glass of beer, that can be anything from emerald green to sunshine orange in color.

For a twist, you might want to try your Zenfusion with black pearls. These tiny tapioca balls are added to give tea drinks a heavier body and can be slurped up through an extra-wide straw. They have an interesting texture, almost like Gummi Bears.

Another of Zen Zoo's offerings is iced milk tea. Despite the name, the drinks are nondairy, made instead with soy milk. They can be brewed with green or chai teas and honey--a good sore throat remedy.

There are also dozens of hot whole-leaf teas to try, from Japanese popcorn tea (green tea with puffed brown and white rice), to scented rose and jasmine varieties. Snack foods like rice bowls, bao (dumplings) and salads are also available.

The shop, located next door to a Starbucks, carries a range of tea and New Age accessories: ceramic and iron pots, travel aromatherapy kits, tea-scented soaps, incense and perfumes, and Zen Zoo's teas packed into tiny tins. A few items tucked inside one of the store's darling bamboo-handled tote bags makes a nice gift.

Yu founded Zen Zoo with her fiance, Alfred Ritter. The couple met in Taiwan, where they say most of their courtship took place at--you guessed it--teahouses. Other Zen Zoo locations are planned, with a Brea outlet expected to open in January.

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Zen Zoo, 13050 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 576-0585.

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