Sign up for our free newsletter
Free Oakland news, written by Oaklanders, delivered straight to your inbox three times a week.
In any list of comforting desserts, butter mochi would be toward the top. Its squishy texture combined with a sweet (but not too sweet) flavor makes it a favorite for many. And in the Bay Area, where Asian-inspired desserts and bakeries draw long lines, the pastries, made with sweet rice flour, have developed their own cult following. Oakland’s Big Boi Mochi recognized that craving and ran with it, building a business that serves nothing but delightful, individually packaged and curiously flavored squares of butter mochi to scores of customers.
Big Boi Mochi was born in February, a collaboration between Xinyue Wang, Tina Lee and Irene Pan. Wang oversees operations and finances, while Lee is the baker and “mastermind behind the product.” Pan is the outreach and social media maven, a critically important role since many of Big Boi’s sales are online. The three are childhood friends, growing up together in the East Bay; Wang was born in China, while Lee and Pan are second-generation Chinese American. Big Boi’s original recipe, the origins of which can be traced to Hawaii, comes from Lee’s family. “Tina’s mom would make it for us, for parties and potlucks, and we’d ask for more every time,” Wang told Nosh.
In the beginning of the year, pandemic-induced boredom and yearning for the cake, as well as the local trend of independent, Instagram-based desserts with an Asian flair, prompted the friends to start making and selling the beloved cake. “We decided to tweak the recipe and play with Asian and American flavors,” Wang said.
So far, rotating monthly flavors flavors have included pumpkin spice and black sesame, cookies and cream and melon, Earl Grey and salted egg, as well as the original — a subtly sweet, coconut-scented affair. Customers are welcome to preorder the product — sold in adorably labeled boxes — and have them personally delivered by the team. Alternatively, pick-up is available at Sweetheart Cafe & Tea‘s location at 315 Ninth St. in Oakland’s Chinatown.
“It was daunting to start our business, but the responses have been amazing,” Wang said. Not that the beginning was easy. “Honestly, butter mochi is not the most marketable product,” she said. “On Instagram, you’d see beautiful pictures of cupcakes, pretty desserts, and butter mochi is like a brick.”
But, while visually unremarkable, once newcomers taste the chewy squares, they’re charmed. Many people are familiar with mochi desserts already, thanks to the springy and iridescent mochi muffins and waffles at Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery. Big Boi’s offerings are their own thing. Much silkier, smoother and bouncier than other mochi desserts, Big Boi’s squares feel both dense and incredibly light, but aren’t gummy.
According to Wang, Big Boi’s instantly loveable quality comes from a combination of labored texture control by Lee, and the unique flavors, which also translate to sweet, irresistible fragrance. The end result — a mix of sweet, glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and butter, plus eggs and ingredients that infuse the milk — is greater than the sum of its parts. (How much butter are we talking about, in a product that has “butter” in its name? “Not as much as you think,” Wang said with a laugh.)
“We make sure there’s a good balance, and use our friends as testers,” Wang said. That’s how their melon mochi is somehow more melon-like than the fruit itself, and their sesame is delicate and not too nutty.
Big Boi Mochi, it seems, is destined for even bigger things in 2022. While some pandemic-era initiatives opted for an underground, unpermitted launch, Big Boi has operated under an LLC and a Food Handler Certification from the very beginning, with an eye on opportunities for growth. The team has been hard at work spreading the joy of butter mochi on the ground — be it through in-person pop-ups or vaccine drives in the Asian communities around the Bay, where medical staff and patients get free samples. Next year, Big Boi is planning more pop-ups and community events, catering for businesses and organizations, and — not a small detail — hopes to get on an established platform for delivery, to reach a bigger customer base.
“To expand our business, we do want our product distributed to other places, and we’ve felt limited by home baking,” Wang said. “We wanted to be ready for bigger opportunities.”
Big Boi Mochi’s next preorder window is Dec. 19, and will be announced via Instagram. Original Mochi: $10 for six pieces. Any other flavored mochi: $12 for six pieces. Mochi Sampler Box: $24 for 12 pieces (three pieces of each flavor).