It looks kind of like if Pinterest and Jamba Juice had a baby, and it turned out to be Asian.
MasterTea Café and Bites, nestled in a tiny shopping center off West Market Street in Greensboro just past Super G Mart, is cuter than my entire house (and I spent hours studying Pinterest). Multicolored metal dining chairs flank about a dozen wooden tables while cushy, striped and pom-pommed pillows cozy up the bench seating that lines the left wall of the shop. A vibrant pink neon sign that reads “Master Tea” in adorable cursive adorns the wall next to the register where Instagram-hungry millennials can capture shots of their picture-perfect liquid lunches.
The café, which opened at the end of July, boasts an extensive food menu that seems to be a mish-mash of Asian staples like bánh mì (try the customer favorite Master’s Special) and phÓ, along with smaller side “snacks” like spring rolls, fried tofu, chicken wings and kimchi fries. Co-owner Maya Nguyen, who emigrated to Greensboro from Vietnam with her family in 2004, said she was inspired to create the diverse menu after going to other establishments in town.
“We go to different places and eat and see what we can make for lots of people,” Nguyen said. “We want it to attract more than just the Asian community.”
She says that many of the menu items like the bánh mì and even the bún bò huế, a Vietnamese spicy, beef noodle soup, were inspired by her late father, who loved to cook in the kitchen.
“My daddy would also cook and get everyone to eat,” Nguyen said. “We try to recreate the dishes in a simpler way.”
She says that they’ve taken the family recipes and altered them slightly to be more palatable to a wider customer base. She also says they try to offer a lot of vegetarian options.
And while the food can hold its own against other Vietnamese giants in the city (I’m looking at you Pho Hien Vuong), the real draw for most of the customers at MasterTea is the smoothies and signature fruit teas. At $5.50 each, the bright concoctions are priced reasonably enough to be competitive with local favorites like Juice Shop and chains like Smoothie King. With nine different smoothie flavors, including avocado and durian, customers can experience both familiar and experimental flavors. The signature fruit teas on the other hand, are unlike anything else in town. Using teas or juice as the base, these super-sweet fruit teas — which cover an array of tropical flavors from guava to lychee — are as delicious as they are beautiful. The clear plastic cups in which they’re served act as vessels that display the colorful jewel-like pieces of fruit that float in a golden liquid like fossils captured in amber.
And because of its convenient-for-studying hours (they close at 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), affordable prices and unique drinks, MasterTea has come to serve as a respite for many of the city’s young Asian population, despite Nguyen’s hopes to draw a diverse crowd. On a Wednesday afternoon, a constant stream of college-aged Asian kids stroll in, ordering smoothies and bánh mì. My sister, a junior at UNCG, admitted to coming three times in as many weeks.
“It’s popular among Asians because there isn’t really a boba place like this in Greensboro,” she said. “It’s got good hours and wifi for studying and it’s homey.”
And she’s right: Among the few places in the city that serve boba teas or similar beverages, MasterTea is arguably the most relaxing and inviting.
Its pastel colored walls, fake succulents and signs with rustic flare that read, “You are loved” and, “Gather together,” definitely give the cafe a younger vibe. There’s even a giant chalkboard wall where customers can write little notes or draw animated characters. Many scrawl their social media handles.
And with an atmosphere this cute and picture-ready, there’s no filter necessary.