Vegan donuts, clockwise from top right: Blood orange, strawberry with sprinkles, tiramisu, chai spice, chocolate mint and chocolate sea salt. Center: Chocolate sprinkle.

PICTURED: Vegan donuts, clockwise from top right: Blood orange, strawberry with sprinkles, tiramisu, chai spice, chocolate mint and chocolate sea salt. Center: Chocolate sprinkle.

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Hello Mai Darling
2855 Johnson Dr., Suite A, Ventura

My first thought when I walked into Hello Mai Darling: Hello Kitty grew up and opened a tea shop. The cafe in the North Bank Shopping Center (near Sky Zone Trampoline Park) is light and bright and full of winsome charm, with large windows and pretty pink cherry blossom murals on the walls. There are comfy couches and upholstered chairs, where friends can sit and chat while sipping their beverages of choice, and long tables with lots of nearby outlets, perfect for study sessions and pounding out homework on a laptop. Attached to the cafe is an equally quaint gift shop, full of costume jewelry, pretty trinkets, handbags and other accessories. A more mature crowd certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome here — my server was very friendly — but all that pastel whimsy does give the spot a distinctly youthful energy. My high school friends and I would have flocked to a place like this, back in the day.

No matter your age, this is a fabulous place if you like boba milk teas. Also called bubble tea, this Asian beverage originated in Taiwan and consists of brewed tea mixed with milk, served over ice and accompanied by chewy balls of tapioca. Any number of flavors and sweeteners can be added — and does Hello Mai Darling add them! Strawberry, coconut, Oreo, winter melon, rose, lavender . . . the options go on and on.

Not into boba? No problem — try one of the juicy “refreshers” (made with mango, passion fruit, guava and other tropical delights), a smoothie, a matcha latte or coffee drink, or a pot of perfectly brewed green tea. If you’re feeling peckish, the well-stocked pastry case near the cash register beckons with any number of baked goods, including cinnamon rolls made with ube (purple yam), colorful macarons and guava pastries. The hardest part will be deciding what to order.

I did finally decide on a refresher, flavored with guava and passion fruit juices and garnished with a slice of orange, a slice of dried apple and chia seeds. An unexpected combination, but visually very appealing. “Refresher” is a good descriptor, as it was cold and sweet and cooled me off on a hot afternoon . .  . although I personally found it a little too syrupy. The sweetness level can be customized, and next time I’ll be sure to ask for something less sugary.

The vegan donut selection intrigued me, with flavors like tiramisu and blood orange, so I purchased a handful to take home, plus an ube-Oreo cinnamon roll. The latter was lovely — a bit dry but yummy . . . and the Oreo was surprisingly good on it.

The vegan donuts made an attractive display when set out together, but I found the flavor a little underwhelming. These were cake-style donuts, and the same batter seemed to have been used for all of them. The variety came from the glazes — which were subtle. I could taste the strawberry and the chocolate icings, but the rest were hard to distinguish from each other. They were all quite dry; I’d recommend getting a hot cup of coffee or tea to wash them down.

Donuts aside, I was enchanted by this sweet little tea shop. Boba for days, and lots of other delightful beverages, cold and hot both, with interesting flavors to boot. The sunny decor is sure to bring a smile to your face, and provide a pleasant place to meet up with friends, work on your laptop or perhaps read a book. Hello Mai Darling is aptly named.