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W hen you walk through the door of SnoJoy Cafe, a bit of advice greets you on the Tiffany-blue walls: “Life is short… eat dessert first.” Among SnoJoy’s many ways of helping you do that is a signature dessert, something New Haven hasn’t seen before: shaved snow.

It’s neither snow cone nor frozen yogurt nor ice cream. Instead of crystals, swirls or scoops, it comes in ribbons—smooth, creamy, fluffy ones that feel light on the tongue. And on the body: cups of snow sans toppings range from 80 to 150 calories or so, and those looking for the healthiest kick can top it with real fruit.

Shaved snow is a relatively new concept in America but especially on the east coast, where SnoJoy’s young owners Nina Xiao and Jolina Li see it as the next trend in frozen treats. “I don’t like to jump on the bandwagon. I want to start something new,” Li says. She and Xiao, who’ve been friends since childhood, were inspired to open the shop after a trip to California, where they saw customers lining up to dip their spoons into the stuff, which some have described as frozen cotton candy. The shaved snow at SnoJoy comes in a pastel rainbow of worldly flavors: green tea, strawberry, mango, milk and taro. Taro is the purple one, its flavor derived from the sweet root that’s particularly popular in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine.

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The snow flavors allow you to be safe or adventurous, as do nearly 20 fun-to-explore toppings. In addition to white chocolate chips and mini M&Ms, you can choose sweet red bean (pairs well with the green tea) or “pink poppers” (offering bursts of juiciness mid-bite). There are mango jellies shaped like tiny yellow stars and highly addictive gummy mochi candies. To finish off any particular concoction, out comes a squeeze bottle of condensed milk for a crosshatch of drizzles.

Li and Xiao enjoy guiding new customers through all their options, but Xiao also likes to offer creative combinations of her own. “Watch out for my specials,” she says.

The shaved snow is $3.95 for a small and $5.75 for a large, and the toppings are $0.75 each. Show your student ID to get 10 percent off. “I can’t wait to see the reaction of the students,” Xiao said, anticipating the start of the new academic year at Yale. Study groups can take advantage of the WiFi, or take a break with the free photo booth in the back, where customers can also share messages on the chalkboard and play board games.

In addition to the shaved snow, the shop sells bubble tea, crepes and fondue for two or four. It also serves Pearl Sago, a bowl of mini beads of clear tapioca, which can be eaten plain ($3.50) or garnished with ice cream (add $1.00) or mixed fruit (add $2.00). Moving for a moment into full-on entree territory, SnoJoy offers quite possibly the city’s only banh mi—a fragrant, pungent Vietnamese sandwich featuring cilantro and pickled veggies on a roll, with either chicken ($6.95) or tofu ($5.95).

Whether you’ve eaten an entree or not, bring reinforcements if you want to finish the tower of decadence that is the Honey Brick Toast ($12.95). Pieces of bread are slathered with the sweet stuff and toasted in the oven on a baking sheet, then assembled into a box topped with ice cream, whipped cream and buttercream. An assortment of berries are sprinkled on, with sliced mango and kiwi surrounding the base and chocolate sauce zigzagging the plate. The bread box soaks up the ice cream as you go, creating new sensations—which, if you think about it, is what SnoJoy is all about.

SnoJoy Cafe
9 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri 11am-11pm, Sat 12-11pm, Sun 12-10pm

Written by Lauren Langford. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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Lauren recently relocated from the Washington, D.C. area to New Haven, where she lives with her husband and their future dog. The daughter of two English teachers, she earned her journalism degree at the University of Maryland and still Fears the Turtle. Lauren's other interests include traipsing through the endless aisles of Ikea and watching classic episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

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