You can't help but squish the buns.
Standing in front of a small cubby filled with a half-dozen pitch-black pastries, each draped with a green swath of garlic butter, you reach in with your tongs to test their springiness.
Just then, another pair of tongs cut you off from the side and swiftly take three of them. You grab the remainder in a panic, for fear of missing out. You look over and see that the other tongs are held by a young mother, who gives you a dirty look. Her child gives you an even dirtier one.
Welcome to shopping for Taiwanese pastries at 85°C Bakery Café.
On any given day, this outpost of the popular Taiwanese bakery franchise in Pasadena, California churns out anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 pieces of bread. Among them are savory pastries like these alluringly garlicky "Japanese calamari sticks," dyed black with squid ink. The shop also offers sweet and savory variations like "whole wheat mushroom cheese rolls" or "pork sung half moon" (vanilla sponge cake with fresh cream and shredded, dried pork).
On a recent weekday evening, the majority of the busy bakery's customers were Asian-American Millennials buying boxes of pastries and cakes. At least one patron double-fisted an iced taro latte and an iced sea salt latte.
The menu includes over 37 varieties of bread, but the bakery's best sellers are the sweet ones like the brioche buns and marbled taro buns filled with taro paste. But it's hard to resist the other offerings: matcha red bean rolls, walnut double-cheese loaves, premium milk buns filled with white chocolate custard, cream cheese and mango-filled things, Portuguese egg tarts, tuna danishes, and pine nut streusel buns. The bakery melds techniques and influences from Europe, Japan, and Taiwan.
"We are like the Starbucks of Taiwan; we have around 400 locations there alone," says Gary Morones, the 22-year-old manager of this location. He's been with the franchise for four years. "And in the five years that we have existed in the US, we have opened 16 locations and planning to open a lot more."
At the rate that they are growing, the States may start looking a lot more like Taiwan soon. With a bag of garlicky black buns in hand, who could possibly complain?