I discovered Third Culture Bakery’s infamous mochi muffin back in 2015 during a visit to Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar. Although my description at the time might not suggest it, I fell in love with the unique Asian fusion dessert. It was wholly unlike any American pastry I’d encountered and scored well on my personal dessert preferences because of its use of traditional Asian flavors, subtle sweetness, and dense texture.
Fast forward three years: Third Culture Bakery now has a wide menu of Asian fusion pastries which can be found daily in locations across the Bay Area and as far south from their East Bay-based kitchen as San Jose, as well as a brick and mortar showroom out in West Berkeley.
I’ve watched the bakery rise in popularity on social media over the past few years and cheered from afar, celebrating the success of this tiny, unique Bay Area food business that thrived during a time when many of my other favorites were shuttering.
This past Friday, after many months of drooling over my screen at Third Culture Bakery’s social media feed, I finally found the time to take myself on a solo brunch date to visit the showroom during their brief daytime hours.
The showroom’s interior design is simple and clean. Everything is either a light, monotone metal or lighter shades of natural wood. The colors offer a neutral backdrop to their showcase their pink logo and products.
When it came to the food, I was nervous about whether Third Culture’s other items would live up to my memory of their mochi muffin. Had I simply memorialized the experience of eating my first mochi muffin, or was my memory still valid?
The bakery’s new, extended menu now includes custard cakes (in churro, Thai tea, ube, and matcha flavors) , mochi donuts (in chocolate truffle, black sesame, raspberry, and mango passion flavors) waffles, and scones.
I ordered almost one of each type of item: a banana espresso mochi waffle, a matcha custard cake, as well as a black sesame mochi donut.
Both the matcha custard cake and black sesame mochi donut were tastefully sweet. The most prominent flavor in both desserts was definitely their complex, traditional Asian ingredients. It was easy to tell, given the slight bitterness that ended each bite, that the bakery had used high quality ingredients to make their food. [Ed. note: They import their matcha from Uji, Japan.]
The texture of each item—cake, donut, and waffle—also found a perfect balance of crispy exterior and chewy interior. It was only the waffle with its with freshly-made espresso whipped cream topping that lost its crust over time, but the flavor and density of the waffle held up to the last bite.
Third Culture’s showroom doesn’t have any interior seating, so I stood outside to eat my waffle. This was when I noticed in the window of the bakery, a small sign with a brief summary of the company’s story. As it turns out, Third Culture Bakery was founded by two queer Asian male partners, one of whom is from Indonesia, Sam Butarbutar, the other from Taiwan, Wenter Shyu. (Butarbutar is also a Berkeley grad, Go Bears.)
My heart and stomach both felt a little more full after reading this sign and learning about their beginnings. Eating good dessert is always a joy, but eating good dessert made by people from minority communities who share your cultural heritage brings an even greater satisfaction. Each time I purchase an item from Third Culture Bakery, I know precisely who I’m supporting and what I’m standing for with my money and my mouth.
Despite the inconvenient parking at Third Culture Bakery’s showroom (I give it a 5/10), I 10/10 would dine again. But for the folks who don’t know how to parallel park, you have been warned.