This piece was written as a sidebar for the restaurant and travel guide Thirsty? San Francisco (2007).
Tea, if you please
Bostonians, foolish individuals that they are, tossed their tea over the side of a ship, but we San Franciscans covet it passionately. The city is home to several fantastic teahouses that range in style from the hip to the formal, offering Her Majesty’s leaves, as well as the best of China and India. Many of the fancier hotels like the Ritz Carlton and Westin St. Francis offer expensive and scarily proper English teas complete with three-tiered trays of crumpets and Devon cream. Pretend that you are the Queen on her birthday and these places can be a thoroughly enjoyable affair. For the commoners among us, teahouses offer a welcome alternative to the well-established café culture.
It’s up to you to decide what kind of experience you are looking for, but no matter what, put down that cup of Joe and pick up a cup of hot tea-liciousness. This is San Francisco!
Though you’ll have to cross the bridge to get there, Far Leaves Tea (2979 College Ave, Berkeley, 510-665-9409, http://www.farleaves.com/) offers the best mix of East and West. Its zen-like surroundings bode well for studying or conversation. More importantly, the tea is top-notch and comes with all the accoutrements, including a tableside electric kettle.
The newest teahouse in San Francisco, Leland Tea Company (1416 Bush St, 415-346-4832, http://www.lelandtea.com/) is also one of the best. Charming owner Will has gotten everything right: outstanding loose-leaf tea service, a warm inviting setting, free wi-fi, gourmet sandwiches, and delicious pastries baked fresh everyday by Will himself.
Lovejoy’s Tea Room (1351 Church St, 415-648-5895, http://www.lovejoystearoom.com/) decorated with mismatched furniture and teacups is San Francisco’s most famous. The ambience is quaint and the endless cup of tea exquisite. Closed Mon & Tues, the place is always packed, so make reservations before coming.On the other side of town, Secret Garden Tea House (721 Lincoln Way, 415-566-8834, http://www.secretgardenteahouse.net) offers matching everything and a dress-up closet for little girls.
Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez St, 415-626-4700, http://www.samovartea.com/) is the hippest of tearooms and often busy with freelancers, students, and other ne’er-do-wells. Still, it’s comfortable and boasts interesting fusion eats as well as a real Russian samovar.
If Asian is your tea persuasion, look no further than the Imperial Tea Court (411 Powell St, 415-788-6080, http://www.imperialtea.com/). It offers a befuddling variety of white, green, oolong, red, and black teas. Another location inside the Ferry Building (415-544-9830) is prettier still, offering less tea selection but more food options.
Vital Tealeaf (1044 Grant Ave, 415-981-2388) in Chinatown is San Francisco’s newest. Ask for Kenny or Uncle Gee and prepare yourself for intimidation and threats until you sit down at the bar for free tastings. Specializing in green teas imported directly from China, this is a tea experience at its most fun and fearsome.
© 2006 by b.z.