There are many different tea experiences to be had, and there has been some discussion on this blog recently about different ways to take your tea and the conflicts this might create (see the articles here, and here). Tea houses take many shapes and forms, with some offering an overwhelming selection of teas and some offering only one. Some are styled in a traditional East Asian manner, with tea served gong fu style, or in cast iron pots, while others serve afternoon tea English-style. When in San Francisco last month, I happened upon a place that offers another take on this situation.
Samovar’s Tea Lounge, exclusive to San Francisco but with several locations throughout the city, offers seven “tea services”. Fittingly for San Francisco, known for its foodie culture, the tea services are pairings of delicately prepared food dishes and teas based on traditions from around the world. The seven tea services offered are: Moorish, English, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Indian, and Palaeolithic (this theme is more for fun than authenticity!). So there is something to meet your needs whether you are in the mood for an Asian, Middle Eastern, or good old English-style tea experience…or all of the above!
If you can’t quite make up your mind you can always mix and match because they do also serve some of the dishes that appear in the tea services as separate appetizers. And, of course, you can also order any of their thirty-seven teas independently.
My tea companion and I opted to mix and match. We paired Middle Eastern appetizers with oolong teas, each selecting a different oolong. I opted for Baozhong oolong, a Taiwanese oolong with a fruity, floral undertone, while my companion chose a featured tea not listed on the menu—Aged Oolong. Both were exquisite, and our server had good (and accurate!) knowledge of the subtleties that differentiated the various oolongs we were considering. I was looking for a lighter, less oxidised oolong, while my companion prefers smokier teas (her favourite is Lapsang Souchong!) The Aged Oolong is roasted and more oxidised, which gives it something more akin to a smoky flavour. Dried, the Aged Oolong is a much darker colour than the green twists of the Baozhong oolong—black dragons indeed! When brewed, it produces a golden brown brew in comparison to the yellow-green brew of my less oxidised oolong. We had many chances to analyse the differences between our oolongs, as our teas were served in gaiwans accompanied by cast iron teapots full of hot water, which the waitstaff refilled without prompting (much appreciated!). This allowed us to appreciate the subtle ways in which the tea flavour changed over time as the leaves slowly opened up after multiple steepings.
While Samovar’s is a little pricey, this is actually a place that I think might be worth it for a special occasion. They have successfully created an atmosphere of calm, acceptance, and contemplation in which to enjoy your tea and enjoy the company of others; they fulfil their mission to connect you to the present moment and create positive human connections through tea.
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