tea, tea review

Anniversi-Tea Day 3

The start of our day in the Bay area was definitely an adventure; having to find a tire place to replace our tire (some idiots left a glass beer bottle on the road, which we ran over at 2am), eating delicious food at the farmers market in Oakland, and finally starting our search for tea.

Herman the tea guy

The first spot we wanted to hit was the Vital Tea Leaf in San Francisco Chinatown (turns out there’s 3). (Klee has been there a couple times before, check out this review). Once they were done flirting with new-to-tea-college-women, the two guys that were working there were essential to our tea time at the Vital Tea Leaf. Herman was the tea guy that helped us during our tea tasting and he led us through an amazing, 2 hour (free!) tea tasting. Starting from the lighter to the darker teas, Silver Needle to Puerh, every drop was delicious. Herman was definitely not shy in expressing his love for tea, nor for explaining the health benefits of the certain types of tea.

Sitting in Vital Tea Leaf

For myself one of the highlights was that he introduced us to a green tea that we hadn’t experienced before, he called it “Virgin Angel”. Herman explained that “Virgin Angel” was named so because it was prepared from 1 day old tea buds, we also sampled a 3-5 day old “Angel”. Angel was definitely a natural art, from the moment it hit to the water until after the last sip, it was an experience. The way the tea grew as it brewed and the wonderfully fresh taste, was deliciously new and refreshing. So delicious that we grabbed some (it’s very pricey) to enjoy with friends. We also purchased Monkey Pick Oolong (click for review), Cloudy Mist Tieguanyin (click for review) and Silver Needle.
Although we were content with our newly acquired tea from the Vital Tea Leaf, our teadventure in Chinatown didn’t end. We came across a few more tea shops, which we were slightly familiar with.

-Blest Tea: Klee had acquired a Sticky Rice Pu-er Tou Cha from here before and we were so excited to find it again. Their tea samples weren’t too great (cold strawberry flavored Puerh with milk and honey, WTF???), and the atmosphere wasn’t as inviting, but we were happy to find the Tou Cha.

Princess in Red Blossom

-Red Blossom Tea Company: As we walked into this tea shop it was visually pleasing. A long shop with tea sampling areas to the right, with teawares behind it and all the teas that they had to offer to the left. They had a nice selection of teas that were nicely organized, white teas as soon as you walked in and darker towards the back. The staff was pretty friendly and eager to help us. We asked about tasting some teas that we were interested in, the woman that was helping us informed us that once we bought the teas then we could sample them…What?!, buy then have you prepare it for us? It’s like someone selling you a dozen cookies, then taking some out and showing you how to have a tea party with them. Aside from the newly “buy-and-taste” information we kept looking at their teas they had to offer and relying heavily upon our noses, like blind wolves to their prey. Our nasal orifices were focused upon their Puerh offerings (about 6 in all) and we found a modestly priced Puerh, Shou Pu-erh 2000 (review), that smelled so enticing that we purchased some, subsequently we were offered the opportunity to taste it *haughty huff*, finally. We would probably have acquired more tea from this establishment if we had the opportunity to sample some of them. Overall their teas were a little on the pricey side, especially for their “buy-and-taste” policy, with an average of 2oz for $25,…madness!!

Ten Ren (review): This tea shop is our Adversi-Tea. We’ve previously visited their stores in LA and NYC and we were none too impressed with them, our experience on this day solidified our feelings towards them. The staff have consistently been completely un-helpful, appearing almost happy to ignore us. While some of the teas we’ve acquired previously have been good, we have found better and cheaper offerings at Wing Hop Fung (located in LA, more on this spot later). On this occasion, the only sign that we were not invisible to them was the offering of an unidentifiable, hot, mouth-scalding tea in a paper cup which wasn’t very good. Needless to say we didn’t get any teas.

Picture from Samovar site

Aside from the Adversi-Tea we left Chinatown with high spirits and still ready for more tea, which took us to Samovar in the Castro (review). As soon as I walked into the shop I was pleasantly surprised with this tea place. Samovar was part restaurant, tea bar, hang out spot and it had a wonderful feeling to it. Although there were many other couples and groups in the shop it still felt very inviting, cozy and intimate, which was perfect for our anniversary celebration.
It was so refreshing to be in such an openly accepting space (it was the Castro after all), rather than the constricting mask of tolerance that is liberal Flagstaff. Flagstaff, where folks only really walk around openly during Pride in the Pines. Where couples in same sex relationships were almost denied human rights because of their love for each other and the self-righteous bullshit of the excruciatingly conservative and intolerant. Where tolerance lies on a deadly edge of sobriety and “getting drunk with the college bros”.

Yes it was wonderful to be in this region sharing tea with Klee, seeing other couples enjoy moments. The atmosphere was relaxing and there were a fair amount of people in the shop. We walked in towards the end of the day, close to closing time, so it was quiet enough to enjoy and enough people to show us that this was a popular place. The service was good. Our server promptly brought us some menus and was helpful with our questions regarding their food and tea. We really just wanted to try their tea and desserts. They only had a couple Pu-ers (much to Klee’s dismay), some oolongs, blacks and whites, and a lot of herbal or blended teas (which is usually a good sign). We chose their Tieguanyin and the dessert plate.

Samovar Dessert

Samovar was a little pricey ($12 for a gaiwan of Tieguanyin,$24 for their top pot of Pu-er), but they didn’t charge us for an extra cup and the server was very polite. The tea was tasty, but there were so many tea leaves put into the small pot that we had to take out half of the leaves and after a few steepings there was still a little too many leaves. If they would’ve made the price a little lower and put in half the amount, they still would’ve been making a profit (oh capitalism, how you are a jerk). All in all, it was a good tea and the desserts were delicious; brownies with matcha cream, shortbread cookies, coconut/rice pudding and fresh¬† fruit made for a very fresh and filling dessert.

Tieguanyin at Samovar

It was nice to visit a tea place like this outside of Chinatown serving Chinese teas (there were other teas as well) and not a Victorian style teahouse. It was a great place to sit and drink tea whether you’re alone or with a group of people. The staff was helpful, granted we were there at the end of the night. Pricey, average was $12 for a gaiwan. We would have liked to try their food, because the desert was tasty, but it was very expensive. The dessert was definitely enough for two.

I was elated with the tea experience today from the Vital Tea Leaf to Samovar, it was wonderful. The next day would be our actual anniversary and we wanted to visit David Hoffman’s place and drink some tea from The Phoenix Collection. David Hoffman hadn’t called us back about the visit, but our plans were to visit some friends near Point Reyes and have a wonderful day with each other.

Stay tuned for Day 4…

Note: Teaware in all these established tea shops is expensive. Wandering around LA & SF Chinatown you can find gaiwans for about 3.00 each. For some reason the cast iron tea pots are cheaper in NYC, by about $20 each.


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