Monday, August 22, 2011
Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco
Most people know San Francisco as a coffee town, but how many know about the wonderful tea options in the city? I recently met up with a friend in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco and he suggested we try Samovar's Zen Valley location.
Samovar offers a full menu with abundant descriptions of dozens of white, green, oolong, pu-erh teas and herbal tisanes. Unless your beverage is actually brewed from tea leaves, herbal "teas" are actually tisanes. The fact that Samovar noted this distinction in the menu gave me a boost in confidence. Samovar also has a food menu, mostly tea related finger foods. Best of all, they have full tea services, combinations of food and tea centered around various themes. For example, there's a Moorish service with mint tea, hummus, Greek yogurt; or if you're channeling your inner caveman, there's even a Paleolithic tea service of raw foods paired with a Japanese houjicha.
Since my friend and I were just meeting up briefly, we opted to just try the tea. With so many selections, we were quite lost. Luckily, our server Yoshi was informative and friendly, more than happy give us some direction. I ordered a peppermint Japanese roasted green tea (houjicha) ($8), pictured above. The fragrance of the mint is the most impactful component of this multi-layered tea. You get a big whiff of soothing mint bringing the cup to your nose. Though strong, the mint wasn't overpowering. The blend of mint with tea also brings out a curious chocolate tone also.
While the peppermint tea was delicious, we didn't have nearly the same ceremony for it as we did for our next tea. We were intrigued by the special 1989 aged pu-erh that the waiter was promoting, but ultimately couldn't bear to pay the $24 for a pot of tea that we weren't familiar with. We chose an entry-level pu-erh instead. Per our waiter's instructions, the maiden's ecstasy pu-erh ($9) was supposed to be steeped for only 25 seconds. The above picture is us timing our steep with an iPhone to get that perfect tea. After pouring the hot water into the tea pot, we waited the requisite time and did an elegant pour over two cups. It makes for a pretty cool experience. The flavor of the tea was Earthy, but not rich. It makes a good entry to pu-erh teas, which are post-fermented teas that are aged. The actual distinctions and classifications of pu-erh teas are better explained in its Wikipedia entry.
All in all, I had a wonderful experience. Both my friend and I enjoyed trying something different than meeting up at a Starbucks and I'd love to come back for a full tea service. Also, I walked by the Yerba Buena Gardens location and would recommend that as well since it's more convenient but subsequently more crowded.
Samovar Tea Lounge
297 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(It's in a residential neighborhood in Hayes Valley)