Iri&s Tea Bakery
Where Bread is Knowledge and Cake is Art
Whoever coined the old proverb “Philosophy bakes no bread” obviously did not venture into one of the Iris Tea & Bakeries in Flushing or Elmhurst, in Queens, New York, where colorful rows of pastries, cakes and breads exude the alluring aroma of freshly baked goods hooking the appetite to hover dangerously on the edge of senseless hedonism – held back only by the master baker’s artful cake designs that calls one to deeper thoughts, and the subtle and complex mingling of textures, tastes and flavors in the constantly changing variety of breads beckoning from brightly lit shelves and behind glass counters, leaving one to contemplate the possibility of perfection and sensory overload.
The idea of Iris Tea & Bakery is to rejuvenate the depth of an era when good things were savored slowly, infuse them with daring necessity to catch up with the speed of new times so that where the older generations discern nostalgia, the young detect undaunted passion. The Bamboo Garlic Bread, for instance, stands out like a sullen, stalwart knight – its trunk colored coal-black from powdered cephalopod ink, his war wound spilling savory, thick and creamy garlic paste. In your mouth, the harsh exterior of this seemingly reticent warrior gives way to familiar softness, augmented by the crunch of garlic. A brave combination, indisputably distinguished among fairer skinned opponents.
And yet, this spunky recipe is hardly the trump card. The Guiyuan is a special boule credited for bringing the Louis Lesaffre Cup – esteemed as the Olympics of the baking world, to Asia in 2008. The Guiyuan’s somewhat ordinary- looking, crusty outside protects its chewy center, which oozes whiffs of fermented wine, and every so often, one’s teeth bite into a succulent and sweet bit of dried longan. Naturally leavened without commercial yeast, this bread takes at least 15 hours to rise but the end product makes it worth the wait. Baked in a unique mold fashioned out of cane, like a dome-shaped coil, its oven time and temperature varies with the capricious weather and air humidity, and can only be determined by an experienced baker. However, the process and ingredients used in a Guiyuan are not ealously guarded secrets, because, although craved and desired by all, including the most delicate of taste buds, the skill and technique involved in baking a Guiyuan will stay none but the strong-hearted.
Without common baker’s yeast, the Guiyuan limits the growth of lactic bacteria, which causes acidity that irritates the colon and thus, improves digestion. It also retains moisture better than commercially leavened bread and keeps well without refrigeration. Iris Tea & Bakery understands full well the exclusiveness of the Guiyuan, which is unavailable in the city, as far as anyone knows; only two batches of seven are baked on weekends. And, very often, they have all been snapped up by pre-bookings.
Fortunately, there are other seasonal creations open for orders, such as the Mother’s Day strawberry gelatin covered strawberry mousse cake, lined with chocolate pieces and lightly dusted with edible, sliver star-like specks. The pale-chocolate-orb-on- a-pale-chocolate-flat cake- topper signifies a mother’s unconditional love.
A tad profound for only an orb? Sam Lin, the brainchild and founder of Iris Tea & Bakery, surveys the warm wash of the Flushing branch cramped with eager customers, he cautiously flashes his winsome smile and whisperes, ‘You know, bread is knowledge and cake is art.”