955 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Travel time from 77 Mass Ave: 10 minutes by No. 1 bus
Three things from recent memory come to mind when I think of the phrase “pleasant surprise”: Modern Family, for restoring my faith in the family sitcom; the Saferide tracking screen outside W20, for preserving our sanity; and Dado Tea, for being like no other café in the Greater Boston area.
Dado Tea is located between Central and Harvard Square, in an often ignored section of Mass Ave where the number 1 bus seems to fly past (there’s second location next to Fire+Ice in Harvard Square). Without the charming reputation of Harvard Square or the trendy feel of Newbury Street, I didn’t know what to expect when I first walked into Dado Tea, a hardly noticeable shop on the ground floor of a plain-looking office building. I walked up to the counter and asked the cashier what the most popular drink and food were. It didn’t take me long to realize that Dado Tea is Korean-owned after she responded with “peach tea boba and bibimbap.”
She had me at “boba,” but she walked me through the whole menu anyway, which consists of more traditional coffee shop items in addition to the Korean specialties, from salads and sandwiches to tea and coffee. Decadently frosted cupcakes, fudgy brownies, and red bean mochi tempted me from behind the glass case, but I saved room (and money) for my bibimbap with tofu, which cost a steep $12.
To be fair, the bibimbap was large. It was also quite different from traditional bibimbap and more like a salad. Served over mesclun mix and topped with multigrain sticky rice, bean sprouts, carrot and cucumber slices, and shiitake mushrooms alongside a giant bottle of spicy gochujang hot pepper sauce, Dado Tea’s bibimbap was a health-conscious yuppie version of the real deal. But I still found it fresh and delicious, a welcomed change from the omnipresent café bagel-wich. The peach tea boba was sweet, but not enough to offend your dentist. Unlike other boba shops that use concentrates and powders, Dado brews their own loose leaf teas. As fun as it is to watch your plastic cup get heat-sealed at those other places, drinking bubble tea in a glass is infinitely more refreshing. The only downside was having to spoon out the tapioca pearls, since they didn’t seem to have any fat straws.
The whole storefront is covered in windows, letting in a lot of sunlight in the front seating area. I thought it might be fun to people-watch, but not many people walk by this part of Mass Ave. If you prefer a cooler, darker, more intimate setting, sit in the back area, where there are more tables for two. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Dado Tea has free wireless internet, and I just had to ask the staff for the password. Soft classical music played in the background, and most customers (who seemed to be either nearby office workers or Central Square yogis) ordered to-go, making Dado Tea a good study spot with few distractions.
The only reason why I’m not rushing to move into Dado Tea is the price. My total meal cost nearly $16, a bit too expensive to make into a regular habit. At most, Dado Tea will become a stop for when I’m craving some Asian snacks (did I mention they also sell boxes of Pocky?) and in need of a quiet place to hit the books. On second thought, that might end up being more often than I think.