Last Night: Tea Tasting at Samovar Zen Valley

Janine Kahn
Samovar's third SF location is built into a Hayes Valley Victorian.
Samovar Zen Valley Tea Tasting
Page at Laguna Streets
March 4, 2009
Better Than:
Brewing a generic, borderline metallic-tasting tea bag in your cold, lonely apartment.

The Samovar Tea Lounge's Hayes Valley edition has been up and running since the end of 2008, but there's still no sign on the door to mark the establishment. With its dim lighting, the lounge easily blends into the rows of Victorians on Page Street -- an unobtrusive, almost  organic piece of the neighborhood to the casual eye. Which is exactly what owner Jesse Jacobs had in mind.

Janine Kahn
Digg founder Kevin Rose sits at Samovar's tea bar.
Sustainability and repurposing are central themes in Jacobs' ethos; evident in the beams from an old Petaluma vinegar factory that line the ceiling, the emission-free fireplace that sits in the back end of the space and the 20-foot, naturally fallen redwood tree from Marin that serves as the tea bar.

Janine Kahn
The fireplace.
Some seven months back, a coffee shop called the Laguna Sidewalk Cafe occupied Samovar's space. Jacobs tells us his tea salons have taken over areas vacated by coffee shops at his two other locations as well (the biggest coup being the prime spot at Yerba Buena where a Starbucks used to be). "The evolution from coffee to tea has begun," he said with a grin.

Janine Kahn
Tea tasting cups.
That's not to say that the coffee drinker is forgotten at Samovar. Over the course of Wednesday night's 10-tea tasting, we sampled the "Palace grade" blend, which, with its deep bittersweet flavor is an intense yet healthy alternative to espresso.

Janine Kahn
Jesse Jacobs gives us an education as we taste tea.
The evening's tasting spanned white ("Downy Sprout," a fine, mellow tea for rinsing the palate), oolong (the fragrant "4 Seasons" and "Phoenix Oolong" which was complex enough to offer up hints of caramel - unless we're crazy), herbal ("Ocean of Wisdom," a woody sort, which was blended for the Dalai Lama himself and "Nocturnal Bliss," which smelled like Tom Yum Goong and was so soothing we bought some to take home), pu-erh ("Blood Orange" which was marvelously citrus-y and the aforementioned "Palace" grade) and green tea (the most memorable of which was the "Gyokuro Inoka Hill," which recently ranked #1 in the all-Japan Gyokuro competition and sells for a whopping-but-worth-it $50 a pot).

Janine Kahn
Japanese Maki Bowl with Duck
The last tea of the evening was the Mauka High Mountain Oolong from Hawaii, which was mild but very fresh, and will be available alongside the Makai Sea Level Black Tea starting the first of July.

Opening a third location in this economic climate was a gamble, but Jacobs says his company has been able to pull through thus far without a single layoff. For more on that, check out this article in which the Samovar czar is quoted describing his recession strategy in today's Wall Street Journal.

Janine Kahn
A sampling of Samovar's sweet treats.
The Samovar Zen Valley Tea Lounge will hold its official launch party this Saturday, March 7, from 1 to 5 p.m. For details, do click here.

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