The unvirtual reality of your mind connected to your self is a different lifestyle from the always distracted online world. Samovar Tea & lounge in San Francisco wants you to connect with the present moment. Behold, this is not a new fad, since Samovar has been open for over a decade with mindfulness at the centre of its business. As a frequent traveler scouting for tea rooms in every city I visit, whether it is Hong Kong, New York or Tokyo, I find Samovar Tea unique: centered around experiencing tea in its distinct faces, culturally, philosophically, physically, and indeed wholesomely.
Being present, mindful of the moment with tea
Founder and owner Jesse Jacobs envisions tea drinking differently. You will often see him serving tea at one of his San Francisco locations. His growing up was spiritually cross-bread with meditation, yoga, and tai chi, yet his Mission pick up, sip on and hang on just for a quick bite is connected to the modern customer. Its no wi-fi policy went against the high tide of technifying of the city, and you will not find on laptops glued folks there. Rather, people having a meaningful conversation at the elevated benches along the wall facing all the bar action, a social chatter sparks up wondering at the chemistry of brewing the tea, that is stripping itself in front of you. What else he could do in the neighbourhood where coffee is roasted at Four Barrel Coffee, bread and pastries are hand-rolled at the Tartine Bakery, and chocolate is being conched at Dandelion? It is all about hands-on artisanship in tis hip part of San Francisco.
The social connecting power of tea
When the town hall invited him to open Downtown in an abandoned Starbucks in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, something was brewing in the local air. The need to slow down resurfaces when you sip on tea, and in a magic flick of the brew, balance the flickering mind.
The San Francisco coffee culture inspired some of the at Samovar ‘teaventions’. For example the glass VIVID BREWPOT looks like a French press and works exactly the same. Contemporary tea brewing meets tradition. The lab-like glass crucibles [pictures on top with Jesse Jacobs at work] developed with brewing-tech company Alpha Dominche are controlled by a tablet calibrating the water temperature for each type of tea – from white, green, oolongs, black and their blends with herbs and spices as well as the house-blended tisanes. A reusable and resealable glass jar serves for the iced teas. I admit, I kept it.
Being inspired by global tea preparing traditions connects the world tea puzzle into one space. Samovar has been traditionally used in the Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East to keep a large amount of water constantly warm so you could draw some each time you wanted to warm with a nice cup of black tea placed on the top. It can be translated as self-boil. The Masala Chai tea blend has slowly become the signature beverage at Samovar Tea in San Francisco. Catching on the global craze of the spicy chai, the copper pots with lids on are brewing the sweet and wholesome milky concoction. For these of you who have never wandered to India, Georgia, Mongolia or Russia, it is a unique sighting. Looks more like being in the kitchen, doesn’t it?
Yum cha at Samovar Tea
Delicious sweet cakes and simple sandwiches are served at the compact Mission branch. When I munched on the Matcha Canale (in France known as canelé) blending the Bordeaux pastry with Japanese powdered green tea or vanilla, it was perfectly caramelised on the top with a moist and chewy centre. Scones were not left out, and gluten-free options for pastries are available. Eggs in a jar or toast for a quick breakfast or lunch are offered for the savory tooth. Some are made in-house, while others are sourced from local pastry shops and bakeries.
You can have a bite at the Valencia street tea bar, but you better have a more nutritionally balanced meal head to the larger lounge at Yerba Buena, where tea is served in proper locally made ceramic pots or a glass brewpot, not mugs or take-away cups like at the Mission tea bar. Set atop the waterfall at the contemporary Art Centre in Yerba Buena, the views from the terrace are rejuvenating, while the full glass tea lounge keeps you connected with the outdoors, just noise-free, which is welcomed in this busy part of town. Here, tea is being paired with your a la carte meal or you can order the culturally inspired set service. I enjoyed the JAPANESE SERVICE of steamed organic brown rice, seaweed salad with seasonal veggies paired with Ryokucha Green Tea. To divert itself from the global craze for matcha, although also served here, the Ryokucha is a green tea powder blended with toasted rice grains. On another lunch occasion, I went for the MOORISH SERVICE, a bowl of grilled halloumi and veggie kebabs over large Lacinato kale salad, paired with Moorish Mint Green Tea. So refreshing.
My sino-centric husband savored the CHINESE SERVICE where seasonal veggie stir-fry, organic brown rice, and squash dumplings (also served separately as an appetiser) with Blood Orange Pu-erh Tea were set on the wooden tray. The ENGLISH SERVICE, RUSSIAN SERVICE and even the trendy PALEOLITHIC SERVICE (protein with kale salad) can stir your curiosity about these countries cuisines as much as the teas served with them.
Selling organic handpicked tea with integrity
Each pure white paper packaging contains a plastic bag protecting the herbs and tea from humidity. My favorite blends are the Turmeric Spice Herbal with a kick of ginger warmth, lemongrass, aromas of orange and lemon and a pleasant sweetness of licorice in your mouth. I also like the velvety hued Ocean of Wisdom, a blend of rooibos, ginger, cinnamon, licorice root, clove and black pepper which was originally prepared to serve the Dalai Lama when he visited San Francisco. The Spearmint Sage offers more depth than your usual fresh spearmint tisane. Here, Yakima Valley spearmint and peppermint, sage, lemongrass, lavender and orange peel congregate on your palate. The Pu-erh Maiden’s Ectasy of 2004 vintage was “wild-crafted, pile-fermented, with notes of espresso, peat moss, bridle leather” and is more purely evoking nature than the delicious Velvet Cacao Pu-erh, tastefully blended with roasted dandelion, yerba mate, and a scent of coconut and vanilla bean. The speciality Chai was boxed into a milk-like, take home and heat up conveniency. If not sold pure than the teas and tisanes are blended from mostly organically farmed herbs, plants, spices and fruit peels. Also a very rare and expensive tea from Hawaii is sold by them in limited amounts.
To conclude the flattery, I must share some of the wisdom of its founder: “As technology pervades every aspect of our society, the perspective has flipped and the machine we created to serve US starts to make decisions FOR us. From the innocuous Netflix or Amazon recommendation, to the more insidious things like Facebook and Twitter that while powerful, also demand us to change our expression, and even our thinking patterns in order to conform to the machine’s demands.” Being an online working person, I cannot more agree, and share Jesse’s philosophy of being grounded and reminded by my cup of tea – of what I like and who I really am. While working long hours, tea gives me the much needed sense of focus so I can penetrate deeper into the topic I am writing about.
Samovar Tea Bar 411 Valencia Street (at 15th): Daily 7am-7pm
Samovar Tea Bar & lounge San Francisco: Downtown in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 730 Howard Street: Sun-Wed: 9am – 8pm; Thur-Sat: 9am – 9pm
All teas can be bought at the Samovar online store.