Having lived in the UK, I’m a huge fan of tea and never have a shortage of it in the house….you want a flavor, chances are I have it. You want a flavor you can’t resemble in any way shape or form, chances are I have it.
In London, I used to spend more time at tea houses than cafes however the opposite was true in Paris, Milan, Rome and other cities where coffee is as delicious as food.
Some of my favorite tea houses, l0unges, and cafes in the San Francisco area are listed below, starting with one that has a couple locations around the city, Samovar.
1. Samovar Tea Lounge
Samovar’s original lounge is in San Francisco’s Castro/Mission area, and there’s another one at Yerba Buena Gardens, which overlooks the Esplanade. The tea menu is satisfying, with white, green, oolong, black, Jingmai, yerba mate and daily chilled varieties. Samovar has wicker and cushions, Buddha statues, and an excellent presentation of cultural tea services with select platters of region-specific foods.
2. Lovejoy’s Tea Room in Noe Valley
Lovejoy’s began as an antique shop that served tea, and is now a tea room decorated with antiques and decadent pillows, curtains and decorations throughout. For my British friends, they have Devon cream. They also boast Cream Tea service, High Tea, Queen’s Tea, and even Wee Tea for young tea drinkers. It’s a very traditional lounge, the kind you could easily bring your great Aunt Evelyn to.
3. Imperial Tea Court
The Imperial Tea Court, a traditional tea house in Chinatown, has premium Pu-erh and gaiwan tea preparations and they often include food snacks as part of the experience.
4. Leland Tea Company
Leland has a stylish tea bar with numerous loose-leaf tea choices, outdoor seating, and room to enjoy full tea service, sandwiches, or soup — and a bit of wi-fi (if you have to break from tea-time tradition).
5. Secret Garden Tea House
Located on Lincoln Way near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, The Secret Garden’s decor may be too detailed and floral for the alpha malen. It’s a perfect stop after roaming the Botanical Gardens. You can get both hot and iced tea, as well as light lunch items. The tea-party setting is a great outing for children as well.
6. Crown and Crumpet Tea Salon in Ghirardelli Square
The pink and white interior (and checkerboard floor) of Crown and Crumpet, although dramatic and vivid, is a more modern and bright incarnation of traditional tea room. And, the people behind San Francisco’s newest tea room, Amy and Christopher Dean, fuse their San Francisco and UK experience into this lively English-style venue on the site of San Francisco’s historic Ghiradelli Square. There are 38 tea varieties at Crown and Crumpet, from traditional black to green to oolong and white. There’s also a tea boutique with a variety of items including the requisite tea cozies and cups.
7. Rotunda for Tea
It’s worth lunching or taking afternoon tea at least once in the elegant Rotunda. There’s a bittersweet quality, however, to looking through the amber-tinged light of the glass dome. The original beaux-arts building on this site, the City of Paris was a late 19th century repository for fine goods traveling to San Francisco from Europe. When Neiman Marcus demolished the building in the 1970s, amid significant local controversy, the compromise was a mandate to save the stunning glass rotunda under which you can take your tea.
8. Tea at the Ritz in Nob Hill
The tea selections range from a Traditional Tea service to a Royal Tea — and a Vegetarian Tea and Children’s Tea in between. The Ritz Carlton also serves a Sunday jazz brunch in the Terrace (with both indoor and outdoor seating).
9. Tea at the Palace Hotel in SoMA
The historic stained-glass atrium is the core attraction of the Garden Court restaurant — in the 1909 Palace Hotel. Tea at the Garden Court shows off some of San Francisco’s best architectural heritage. The setting does resemble a garden, with daylight streaming in over the Austrian crystal chandeliers and planted greenery. Choices include a basic Garden Court Tea, Sparkling Wine Tea, Royal Tea and a Prince & Princess Tea (for kids).
10. L’Amyx Tea Bar in Oakland across the bridge
L’Amyx is very modern and hip, but also relaxing. The cafe is popular with laptop users and bubble-tea drinkers.
Photo credits: Leland Tea (from website) and Crown & Crumpet (from site).