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Jodet In Taiwan: Part III

Mr. Chen, Lorraine, and Jodet sort the leaves for rack drying.

I was not kidding about the Martha Stewart hat, which may I mention, followed me everywhere throughout the entire trip. I felt like an American tourist in the tea gardens of Puli. I wanted to soak all the excitement in; similar to how it feels when you first enter a new museum and you want to learn everything about a particular exhibit… in one hour!

As we entered the gardens, the first thing I received was my own hat and basket. “You have a long day ahead,” said Rebecca to me with a laugh as she pointed us to the bushes.  Floral ladies everywhere, with small razors at the tip of their index fingers surrounded us, quickly picking the best leaves possible in their designated sections.

These ladies are quick. I mean less than 5 seconds a “proper” leaf-kind-of quick. I made my way into the bushes and started picking. I was quickly scolded by one of the only men in the circle, who mentioned to me in Chinese

Tea leaves withering (air drying) under a mesh canopy. (They smelled like apples!)
Tea leaves withering (air drying) under a mesh canopy. (They smelled like apples!)

(Rebecca had to translate) that I was picking them incorrectly. According to Mr. Chen and this man, the proper way to pick leaves is to get them at the edge where the stem meets the leaf and trim them.

It’s important to pick two leafs and a bud. The typhoon had caused the leaves to grow increasingly, and essentially damaged them. This made it more challenging to find a healthy leaf. We spent what seemed liked an entire afternoon picking leaves from one garden to another with these women, as we clicked away at our cameras in the heat.

After we picked the leaves, we went to Mr.Chen’s small factory by the gardens to process the leaves. We set them out on the floor near a mesh netted area where the leaves were left to wither and dry. Ah, the smell of fresh tea leaves. After the leaves dry, we transported them inside the factory where we sorted them and put them on bamboo racks to dry for 20 hours. To think the process it takes to make tea. We wanted to stay awake and anticipate the 20-hour drying period, but we decided to call it a day.

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Hanami: The Cherry Blossom Festival Welcomes Spring


Spring Means Cherry Blossom Time!

Hanami is a long-standing Japanese tradition of welcoming spring. Also known as the “cherry blossom festival,” this annual celebration is about appreciating the temporal beauty of nature. People gather under blooming cherry blossoms for food, drink, songs, companionship and the beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms).

Celebrations begin in the day and often last into the night. The festival dates vary by location and year, as the trees bloom at different times with weather and climate variations, but they are typically in late March through May and last a few days to a few weeks.

Although the traditional beverage of choice for hanami is sake, you can also drink tea. Seasonal foods (like wagashi- Japanese sweets) and seasonally decorated teaware can echo the beauty of nature in your hanami tea ritual. For a pleasing floral-tart taste, fresh, organically grown sakura can be blended with green tea or black tea and then brewed in a kyusu (teapot with or without floral decorations).

You can also embrace the wabi-sabi nature of hanami by drinking organic matcha from a chawan-style teacup. This year, I plan to celebrate hanami with friends over matcha, wagashi, assorted Japanese foods and some seasonal tea accoutrements.

Hanami Tea Accouterments: Fukin with chawan motif, cherry blossom kaishi papers, and kyusu-shaped hashioki
Hanami Tea Accoutrements: Fukin with chawan motif, cherry blossom kaishi papers, and kyusu-shaped hashioki

A few seasonal tea items a friend in Japan gave me are pictured here. The pink cloth is a fukin (washcloth) portraying chawan (tea bowls). The blue chawan pictured have hot matcha in them, hence the steam. On top of the fukin is some sakura kaishi (papers with cherry blossom motif), which we’ll use to eat wagashi before drinking matcha, and a kyusu-shaped hashioki (chopstick holder), which we’ll use for holding chopsticks (obviously).

How will you celebrate springtime with tea this year?

-Lindsey “Vee” for Samovar Life

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San Francisco: The Heart of America’s Tea Renaissance

Tea's A-Brewing All Over America
Tea's A-Brewing All Over America

Tea aficionados in the U.S. are quick to point out that tea is an age-old beverage with deep cultural roots around the world, and that its popularity as a drink is only surpassed by water. Meanwhile, those in the tea business hype the rapidly rising sales figures the industry has seen over the last decade or so, predicting enormous yields in future years. Strangely, both of these divergent outlooks completely fail to capture something essential and incredible that’s happening with tea in America.

The U.S. is in the midst of a tea renaissance. Tea traditions that had long lain dormant under the surface of American culture have sprung to vibrant life. Tea rituals, tea flavors and types, tea foods and teaware have begun to intermix with one another to create a new fusion style of tea that is wildly international and yet distinctly American. The American palate has become vastly more sophisticated with regard to tea, just as it did with coffee, beer, chocolate, sushi and wine in previous years. American culture has been infused, if you will, with tea.

Continue reading San Francisco: The Heart of America’s Tea Renaissance

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A Meditation Begins at Samovar Hayes Valley

Les, Reclining in Quite Meditation
Les, Reclining in Quite Meditation

It was last Monday night.  I had the luxury of not teaching that evening but rather had just come from being a student in a yoga class.  For weeks, I’d been telling myself I needed to get back to the Zen Center on Monday nights and for weeks I’d been telling myself I would go take this yoga class and go to the new Samovar in “Hayes Valley” (aka Hayes Valley) and then drop into the meditation.  Why did so much luxury appear to be such a struggle for something my spirit needs on a very regular basis to replenish and re-nourish?

So, I got out of yoga and it was raining – ok pouring, first sign that I might not take the next step and might return home to my isolated intimacy (Facebook).  Then suddenly, I found myself sitting at the community table at the new Samovar, Hayes Valley and although I wanted to be alone, there were a few staff members at the other end but they were heavily engaged in some running-the-business matters.  So, I had the end of the table all to myself and after a while of reading and enjoying a pot of Wei Chi Cha tea (which should be made into popsicles), I realized that a meditation had already begun.  That just being in an environment that took care of me allowed me drift off and let go of thoughts that had nothing to do with the present moment.  All my concerns at that moment were if I needed more water and someone else would get that for me.

Then, as the universe always does, community begins to sprout and the front door opened and in walked a few folks I knew that were coming for some tea and then heading over to the Zen Center for the meditation and then a few minutes later, a few more folks came in and then more and more.  All of a sudden, there were 10 people at Samovar who were stopping in to begin creating a peaceful transition from their day into their spiritual practice and that practice began with sharing a pot of tea.  I knew I was in the right place but to secure and cement the foundation, the door opened one more time and a very important mentor and guide of my own spiritual practice walked in and asked me if I was headed to the meditation.  I thought the answer was obvious but that I needed to be asked was a good reminder that maybe my actions haven’t been speaking as loudly as my thoughts lately.

Samovar Hayes Valley, Where a Community of Calm Unite
Samovar Hayes Valley, Where a Community of Calm Unite

It took tea and some moments alone to reflect on a practice that has served thousands of people for thousands of years.  It took a great teacher to be mindful enough to ask the question are you going and I realized that a life with purpose always has the answer of yes I am going so that others may also go.  The community is already there on every side of the street in Hayes Valley but take a few extra moments to stop in at the new Samovar and give your self the gift of being still and enjoy some moments of meditation and some tea.  You will be well taken care of by the staff and the surroundings.

If you’d like some more information on Les and his practices, visit

Hari Om Tat Sat – Les

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The Ancient Tea-Horse Road

The View from the Path of the Old Tea-Horse Road
The View from the Path of the Old Tea-Horse Road

Tea has been traded far and wide since time immemorial. Before there were planes, trains, boats, and automobiles, tea was transported strapped to the backs of people and horses. For over a millennium, one ancient footpath has connected the tea markets of Yunnan, China to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Known as the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, this unpaved and rugged path— which was formed only by the foot traffic of humans and horses— is one of the most dangerous ancient commercial roads. It stretches across nearly 2,500 miles of mountains, rivers, canyons, valleys and planes.  In addition to tea, trade goods like salt and sugar flow into Tibet via the Tea-Horse Road, while livestock, furs, musk, and other Tibetan products are transported to world beyond.

Continue reading The Ancient Tea-Horse Road

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The Spice Route: Imbibe Scores our Chai Recipe

imbibe logoStory by Tracy Howard
Photos by Stuart Mullenberg
Issue 18  MARCH/APRIL 2009

Wake up your tastebuds with homemade masala chai

IF THE WORD “CHAI” MAKES YOU THINK MORE OF A SYRUPY CONCENTRATE than of a decadently spiced and creamy tea, it may be time to trace this age-old beverage back to its roots. Masala chai, which literally translates to “spice tea,” is a blend of Indian black tea, Indian spices and milk. With ingredients thought to possess healing porperties, many of the masala chai spices have been used as a part of the Hindu ayurvedic tradition for over 5,000 years. It was the British colonists’ addition of milk and sugar that finessed masala chai into the bold yet silky tea we drink today. This recipe, from Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea in San Francisco, fuses the pugency of cardamom and ginger with unexpected spices, like saffron and licorice root, for a delicate, yet vibrant, chai. According to Jacobs, no two chai recipes are alike, and he encourages customizing the blend to suit your personal tatses. “Every Indian grandmother will give you a different authentic recipe,” Jacobs says. “If you like your chai with more caffeine, add more Darjeeling tea. If you want more spice, grate in extra ginger and add a few additional peppercorns. With chai, the options are truly limitless.”

1 Tbsp. Assam tea
1 tsp. Darjeeling tea
1 two-inch-long cinnamon stick
1 tsp. dried, shredded ginger root*
5 whole cloves
5 peppercorns, whole
2 cardamom pods, whole
¼ tsp. shredded licorice root*
5 saffron threads
2 cups water
3 Tbsp. raw cane sugar
2 cups whole milk
*Jacobs recommends checking your local health-food store for hard-to-find ingredients.

Saucepan with lid

1. Combine all dry ingredients, except raw cane sugar, in a large bowl and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups of water with 3 Tbsp. of raw cane sugar; stir to dissolve sugar.
3. Add dry chai blend, stir to blend, and boil for 10 minutes.
4. Add 2 cups of whole milk and watch closely as you barely bring it to a boil. Turn off heat when chai reaches a boil. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Strain tea into a teapot and serve.

Check out the original article here.

No time to collect all the herbs and teas yourself? Here is Samovar’s Organic Masala Chai.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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St. Patrick’s Day Green Tea Cocktail

The Frothy Green St. Patty's Tea Cocktail
The Frothy Green St. Patty's Tea Cocktail

For some, tea is an incredible alternative to alcohol. For others, it’s simply an enjoyable drink. The latter of those two types of tea-drinkers often find they also enjoy tea cocktails, a flavorful mix of tea and alcohol.

There are many ways tea and alcohol can be combined to form sophisticated, complex tea cocktails. The most common method is to simply blend tea, alcohol and a mixer. Somewhat more complex methods include making a tea-infused liqueur or a tea-infused simple syrup before building the beverage itself.

A fun, simple and colorful method of making tea cocktails is to whisk matcha into an alcoholic drink. For a Saint Patrick’s Day cocktail, a bright green color is desirable, so I decided to go with this last method in coming up with a tea cocktail recipe to share with you here. It’s easy, tasty, energizing and a lot healthier than a Red Bull and vodka or an artificially colored beer. Check it out:
Continue reading St. Patrick’s Day Green Tea Cocktail

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Jodet’s Tea Trip to Taiwan Part II

Jodet Breathing in the Fragrant Tea Leaf
Jodet Breathing in the Fragrant Tea Leaf

When Lorraine and I first arrived in Taiwan, we were so excited, we were filming and photographing everything. We were ready to engulf ourselves in all of what the tea culture had to offer us, and we did.

At first, we had no idea what we would be doing, since our entire itinerary was in Chinese. We spent the majority of the first day traveling from Taipei to Puli; a four hour drive (on paved roads, of course). By the end of the day, we had visited Mr. Chen’s tea company Bih-lu Tea, met our translator Tinja, and Mr. Chen’s wife Kate and baby daughter.

In the late afternoon, we ended up at a Buddhist Monastery on the top of a mountain for the night. We had a full view of one of the world’s largest and tallest monasteries. It was beautiful.

I of course, almost forgot to mention the highlight of that day—the amount of food we consumed with the commissioners of the monastery along with our team. We even had our very own chef. That day, we found out that Taiwanese people love to eat 12-course meals. We were fine with it.

On that note, the next morning was followed by some great soy milk and sweet bread. It was a lovely experience, as we ate and prepared for our hour-long drive to Mr.Chen’s gardens to start our day picking and processing the beginning stages of tea. That morning, we also met our new translator Rebecca, who was there with us the duration of the trip.

The Beautiful Ladies of Puli. Dressed for Picking Tea.
The Beautiful Ladies of Puli. Dressed for Picking Tea.

A typhoon had damaged the majority of the roads the week before, so it was a wet and semi-dangerous road to travel in. We also had to take a different route since the main bridge to Puli had also collapsed in the damage. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

When we arrived at the gardens in Puli, there were so many women in extremely bright floral printed outfits and similar hats—it was almost as if it was a strategically planned wardrobe coordinated by one of the twenty or so women who surrounded the fields.

It was something I’ve never experienced or seen before, and it made me smile as I entered the tea gardens to join them for the day. I was ready for my own Martha Stewart hat and basket.

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Tea is Hot! San Jose Mercury News Visits Samovar and Tells it Like it is.

san jose mercury news logoTea is Hot
By Susan Steade
Mercury News
Posted: 03/10/2009 05:00:00 PM PDT

For a long time, it was listed on menus just by color. Then, suddenly, there were tastings and classes, talk of varietals, origin, terroir. Like wine 20 years ago, tea has become the drink to know.

samovar teaAny beverage that’s been around for 3,000 years can hardly be called an overnight success. But even those who have been in the tea business for decades acknowledge a recent spurt of interest.

The reason? Part of it is a perception that tea has health benefits, particularly when compared with coffee. Part is a desire to be soothed in rocky times. And part of it is an appreciation of the increasing quality and variety of hand-crafted teas — what Gary Shinner of Marin County’s Mighty Leaf Tea calls “an upgrade in sensory experience.”

Jesse Jacobs, who last week opened his third Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, cites the farmers market effect: an interest in seasonal, artisanal products from family growers. “The quality of the tea we’re getting now is unprecedented. Partly, that’s because we’re getting it faster, so it’s fresher. But the new demand is also making it possible for a farmer to produce and sell some wonderful teas in small quantities.”

Descriptions of these high-end teas read like a rhapsody on a Bordeaux: thundering, nutty, silky, hauntingly ambrosial, “warm apricot marmalade on toasted English muffin.” It’s a lot like wine, Jacobs agrees — “except, with tea, you can always have one more for the road.”

So how does a tea novice — a two-latte-a-day die-hard, for instance — enter this world? With a glossary, a few caveats and some encouragement.

What’s the best way to find the right tea?

“Sample two or three from each category,” Shinner advises. “Explore as you would with wine. What are the flavors you appreciate?” Jason Simpson, director of coffee and tea education for Starbucks, elaborates: Consider acidity, body, flavor.

For a coffee lover, the first step might be something like Yunnan, a black tea — robust, with a slightly roasted undertone — that takes milk and sugar well.

Don’t rely on the name of the tea, as that can be misleading, cautions Eliot Jordan, director of tea for Peet’s Coffee & Tea. “There are no conventions in naming, and you get a lot of creativity. Is this jasmine tea the traditional green tea, or is it a black tea, or an herbal, or is Jasmine just the name of their dog?”

So taste, first, across the four categories of tea. (Some say five; we’ll deal with that later.) All come from the same plant, the tree Camellia sinensis; the difference is in the processing.

At the center of the tea world are black and green, Jordan says. Black is the thicker, darker brew that took hold in countries that use dairy in cuisine, like India and England. Green is the standard in areas with less dairy tradition — Japan, China, North Africa. Oolong covers the wide range of spectrum between those two, and white is a lightly processed variety that 10 years ago was barely known in the West.

How they’re processed:

White. Leaves are picked, sometimes lightly steamed, and then dried, and that’s it. Simpson describes it as vegetal, grassy.

Green. Withered, then steamed (for more delicate, herbal flavors) or pan-fired (for a heartier, aromatic quality) before drying.

Black. Withered, then rolled — which breaks open the leaves and allows oxidation — and, finally, dried to stop the oxidation.

Oolong. Also withered and rolled but not fully oxidized. The oxidation is sometimes stopped and started more than once, as a lot of change can occur in just an hour. With a smooth, aromatic character, it’s a favorite of many tea professionals, Jordan says, and it’s hard to find a good, inexpensive one because of the work involved in crafting it.

The sometimes-fifth type is pu-ehr, an aged tea often sold in compressed cakes. A secondary fermentation gives it a very dark, earthy quality. In China, where our black tea is called red, pu-ehr is known as black.

Wait, what about herbal?

Tea has to be from Camellia sinensis. Any other infusion is technically a tisane (“ti-ZAN”).

Loose tea good, tea bags bad?

Not necessarily. There are good-quality teas in bags, especially with the recent advent of whole-leaf tea bags, which let the leaves expand and the water flow through. With the loose tea, though, you pay less for packaging, and you get the experience of the tea-making ritual.

The most flavorful teas are whole-leaf, which, though they shrivel when dried, will unfurl in hot water. Large broken pieces aren’t bad; what you want to avoid is finely crushed leaves and dust. Also, tea’s flavor fades as it ages, so consider how likely it is to be fresh. (Pu-ehr aside, of course.)

Where can I learn more?

Besides the thousands of tea aficionado Web sites? The Bay Area is a hotbed of tea stores and tea lounges; some offer classes, among them Tea Time in Palo Alto (, (650) 328-2877). Other South Bay tea rooms include Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Campbell and Menlo Park, Ku Day Ta in Milpitas’ Great Mall and Puripan Tea Garden in Santana Row.

Samovar, which has three locations in San Francisco, is adding more educational pages to its Web site,; Lupicia, a tea store in Valley Fair, is another good source.

Media Contact: Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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SF Weekly Tastes Tea at Samovar Hayes Valley

sf weekly logoSamovar Hayes Valley Tea Tasting
March 4, 2009

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….

Click here to read the rest of the article in a new window.

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Quality Teas Reviews Samovar Super Green Ryokucha

Ryokucha Green Tea
Samovar Tea Lounge

Quality tea sheaderGreen tea is currently one of the biggest trends in food today, loaded with antioxidants and other essential health benefits. Unlike coffee, it’s “gently stimulating,” allowing you to feel energized without feeling jittery. Ryokucha Green Tea from San Francisco’s Samovar Tea Lounge raises the bar for how a green tea should taste. One of their featured teas, it includes toasted brown rice  imported from Japan. When infused with wok-fired green tea leaves, the result is a rich, earthy flavor that is irresistible when paired with sushi, other Japanese cuisine, or even a morning bagel. It’s made in-house at the Samovar Tea Lounge, which also sells and serves organic, fair trade tea and tea service. In addition, they also offer breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea and dinner.ryokucha

According to Samovar, Ryokucha is a converter, meant to convert non-tea drinkers into devoted followers, and it definitely delivers. As opposed to the overwhelming grass flavor of many green teas, the roasted brown rice provides a nutty flavor, making it a cut above the rest. As the St Patrick’s Day season approaches, celebrate with a tea in keeping with the theme and color of the holiday season.

Price: $16 for a 4.5 oz tin.

Get your own Ryokucha here.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Yoga Journal Reports on Samovar Hayes Valley

Tea Party
Friday, March 6, 2009

logoMeditators at the San Francisco Zen Center now have a place to socialize after they sit. A new Samovar Tea Lounge has opened up in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley (now affectionately dubbed “Hayes Valley”) with a full array of artisan teas to satisfy any spiritual practitioner. The YJ Staff Favorite? Ocean of Wisdom, which is a Samovar blend created for the Dalai Lama himself.

If you’re not local to the SF Bay Area, you can recreate the post-meditation tea tradition at home by ordering from Samovar’s online store.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Where Magazine Sips Some Tea at Samovar Tea Lounge

Where Magazine logoSip at Samovar
by Erin Roth
March 2009

Sure, you’re used to swirling, sipping and savoring wine, but now it’s time to appreciate a libation of a different kind tea. Samovar Tea Lounge, in three locations throughout the city, encourages socialization, relaxation and inner peace while enjoying a selection of more than 50 tea types from all over the world (organic and fair trade certified, of course).

Where Magazine  imageThis approachable and international tea lounge pairs its teas with an eclectic food menu, serving up everything from turkey sandwiches with your iced tea, to aged Japanese teas paired with maki bowls. The newest Hayes Valley location, opening this month, features a tea bar made from a 1200 year-old, 20-foot, naturally fallen redwood tree from Marin. Be sure to try the Ocean of Wisdom tea, custom blended for the Dalai Lama himself. B, L, D (daily). Castro District, 415.626.4700, 498 Sanchez Street; Yerba Buena, 415.227.9400, 730 Howard Street; Hayes Valley, 415.861.0303, 297 Page Street.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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“Small Businesses Work Hard to Prevent Layoffs” The Wall Street Journal Pays a Visit to Samovar

Companies Try Several Tactics to Avoid Cuts Such as Asking Workers to a Take Day Off Without Pay, Trimming Hours
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wall Street Journal LogoAt a time when the news is filled with large companies announcing major layoffs, some small businesses are determined to buck the trend.

For some companies, it’s a matter of pride: They’ve never had a layoff and they don’t want to start now.

But it’s also a matter of necessity. For one thing, unlike big companies, small businesses rely on each individual employee much more to keep their companies running. In addition, many small companies use their history of never firing people as an essential tool to attract and retain workers.

This recession, however, is testing the no-layoff policy.

“Many companies previously known for avoiding layoffs during past downturns are forced to make extreme sacrifices to resist pink slips now,” says Mel Fugate, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Mr. Fugate adds that “how these concessions are identified and executed can make a significant difference in how well a company emerges when economic conditions improve.” He says that, in general, “it is important for management — and particularly executives and owners — to share in the pain and the gain.”

Management should be the first or at least among the first to sacrifice and make concessions, he says. Conversely, when the economy improves, management should reward those employees who were forced to make concessions. “Doing so will preserve employee commitment and performance not only in the new good times but also in future downturns.”

Here’s a closer look at how some companies have tried to avoid layoffs:

Mandatory Days Off

“We’ve never laid anyone off in our company’s history,” says Matthew Zurn, general manager of Zurn Plumbing Service Inc., a family-owned Chamblee, Ga.-based business that has been in operation since 1985. And Mr. Zurn would like to keep it that way.

But sales in the last four months of 2008 were down 24%, to an average of $124,000 in sales per month from a $163,500-per-month-average a year earlier. So the plumbing company, which has 15 full-time workers, has had to take extreme steps.

Field employees must take a mandatory day off each week without pay, with hours down to 30 or 32 per week from 40 hours. They can opt to use vacation time for that day off. Office workers and management must take a day off every other week. Zurn has saved close to $7,000 a month in labor expense with this strategy since mid-September.

Meanwhile, Zurn’s parents, the company’s owners, have taken a 25% to 30% pay cut. The business also isn’t purchasing as much inventory.

“Our business is our people,” Mr. Zurn says. “Trying to keep them in the company is our top priority. When the economy bounces back, we’re going to need everybody.”

Turning to Employees

Even small companies making a profit during this recession are preparing for the worst.

Take Samovar Tea Lounge of San Francisco. While sales are up, the company is short on cash these days, because of loans and spending related to a new-store opening. So Jesse Jacobs, the company’s founder and owner, took some pre-emptive measures in October. He reduced payroll — the company’s largest expense, 7%, or $100,000 — by tightening up workers’ schedules.

Samovar no longer allows its 60 employees to clock in early, not even five minutes ahead of time, and encourages them to clock out early. People who clock out on time and don’t go into overtime get a reward: a free massage valued at about $100 to $200. Mr. Jacobs says such rewards are much less costly than having to consistently pay overtime.

“I need to proactively address the economic climate,” Mr. Jacobs says, “and I didn’t want to lay off anyone.”

In addition, the company welcomes input from employees about other ways to cut costs. Mr. Jacobs says he told workers: “Help me come up with creative solutions. I’m trying to keep your jobs. …This is a team process.”

A dishwasher suggested purchasing stainless-steel drinking glasses because they don’t break. The move saves the company $3,000 a year since it no longer has to replace broken glasses.

In all, Mr. Jacobs says, Samovar’s efforts should result in about $200,000 in savings this year. He projects $3 million in sales for 2009, up 36% from $2.2 million last year. “Business has increased, costs have decreased and morale has gotten stronger and more positive,” he says.

Doing Good, Doing Well

For one company, finding volunteer work was key to preserving a legacy of looking after loyal workers.

Last fall, Matt Legg, the owner and chief executive of Infinite Care Home Health Inc., began to notice that he didn’t have enough work for his 38 full-time employees. The number of clients had dropped to 130 from 100 at the Duncanville, Texas-based provider of medical-care services to the elderly in their homes.

So, in late October, he instructed employees to volunteer at local clinics when they had down time — and they would be paid for that volunteer time.

It was altruism, with an economic benefit. That’s because Mr. Legg says the doctors in the clinics, who have grown familiar with the nurses and practitioners from Infinite Care, have begun to send new patients his way — about four so far.

“It looks good for our company,” Mr. Legg says, and “it helps us grow in tough times.”

A Last Resort

Ted Bratsos, president of All Steel Structures Inc. of South Holland, Ill., which makes and installs billboard signs, says his business has been in operation since 1987 and he considers his employees his biggest asset. So, the reduction of nine of his 26 workers last month was a hard decision.

“We waited until what we would consider as a last choice,” he says.

Before then, changes were made to do everything to keep those nine workers on the payroll.

Freebies such as winter clothes for field workers, cellphone usage allowance for management, second shifts and wage increases were cut or pared. The company also instructed its field foremen not to take work trucks home to save on gasoline as well as wear and tear on the trucks. Extra phone lines were reduced from six to four.

For the first time, the company closed the day after Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas and the day after New Year’s — and nobody got paid for those days.

All office workers, including executives, took a 10% pay cut, while increasing their hours to 45 per week from 40. The reasoning: The salespeople would bring in more business. In addition, by October, Mr. Bratsos himself stopped taking a salary, except for during the holidays.

“Right now, I’m in a position where I can do that,” he says. “I believe that it’s my job to make this company survive and give the employees a place to work and to be here after the recession is over so that they have a place so that they can support their families.”

Mr. Bratsos is hoping that he won’t have to cut the company’s health-insurance program that fully covers its workers and their families.

“We have always enjoyed a reputation for being a high-quality business,” he says. “It’s so important to keep your employees who know your business and who have contributed to who you are. … It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Dinner and a Movie (and don’t forget the Tea!)

First Comes Yoga, then Comes Dinner and a Movie
First Comes Yoga, then Comes Dinner and a Movie

This week, I’m all about dinner and a movie at Yerba Buena.  I definitely watch what I eat.  I like to know that careful attention is paid not only to where the food is sourced from but how it is prepared.

So, when the Yerba Buena location opened, my movie nights came back at the Metreon’s theater because most of the food at the Metreon is just too quick, too loud and too who knows what, when, where and how.  I also enjoy a small jolt of caffeine if I am going to a movie at night.

A green tea is just right for me on those evenings.  I don’t like to rush through my meal and absolutely love to sit and slack for a while after eating.  It makes such a difference to be sitting in a movie after eating and continue the nourishing sensations of food tasting great on the tongue and feeling good in the belly and knowing it won’t disturb my sleep later on that evening.

Also, I have had the opportunity to experience Samovar, Yerba Buena during weekdays.  It is so clear that there was a need for a space to be created where folks could step back, relax and enjoy each other’s company in the midst of the hustle and bustle that is downtown San Francisco.  One day, I was attending a Caroline Myss conference and we only had one hour for lunch and a ten minute walk on either side but I knew that the Samovar oasis was what I needed.  As is with the other locations, the staff took great care of us and it was a busy day and the weather was amazing so we sat outside.

So, if you’re looking for healthy choices, a relaxing atmosphere at lunch, take a few extra minutes for yourself.  It will help your office mates for you to come back from lunch more relaxed and rejuvenated too.  But more important if you’re looking for a great place to have dinner and then head over to a movie, Samovar Yerba Buena is the spot.  Take your friends/family – tell your friends/family.



If you’d like to get more information about Les, you can go to

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The New York Times Visits Samovar

Fine Teas Flower in the Bay Area New York Times Logo
Published: June 13, 2004

AROMATIC steam spirals from the thin spout of my tiny teapot. In only a minute or two, I’ll pour the emerald- colored sencha tea into my cup and bring it to my lips. I’ve learned that waiting too long ruins the flavor, and I’ve discovered that when I refill that tiny pot with water, the next cup can taste even better. My education might better be termed immersion: I’ve become a tea zealot – a devotea, if you will – and I’m not alone.

There are more and more like me. Maybe it’s the fog, or a desire to slow down, or just another excuse to partake in one more sensory pleasure. Whatever the reasons, a number of new teahouses have opened in the San Francisco Bay area, the most interesting of which offer a range of Asian or “world tea” experiences.

I’ve been a green tea drinker for more than 10 years, but pathetically limited: I knew what I liked (Gunpowder and Dragon Well), but until recently hadn’t ventured any further. But after one cup of Kukicha Hatsukura Supreme at the Samovar Tea Lounge, in San Francisco’s Castro District, I decided to set out on my own tasting trek. It has taken me from one sumptuous teahouse to another, all of which offered food – from light snacks to full meals – yet also welcomed those simply interested in a cup of tea.

samovar New York Times photoMy first stop was the Samovar, where more than a hundred varieties of Asian, colonial, Eastern European and Middle Eastern teas are offered ($3 to $11 per serving). The food ranges from small snacks ($1.75 to $4.95) to a Russian high tea service from a samovar ($11 including such treats as tea toasts with caviar) to entire meals (tea, appetizer, main dish and dessert are around $20 a person).

Samovar’s pan-Asian interior is elegant and cozy, and with the sun streaming through the windows and world music playing softly, people tend to linger. At one end of the restaurant is a raised platform with a long table, where people sit on straw pillows under the gaze of a large 400-year-old statue of Bodhisattva Kuan Yin, who looks especially relaxed, one arm resting on her bent knee. The crowd is varied, from young couples, to writers at their laptops, to grandmothers sipping with their grandchildren.

While I was there, a number of young women were taking part in another ageless but now popular pastime: knitting. And if the eclectic crowd doesn’t provide enough entertainment, the magazine rack in the corner offers such off-beat choices as Giant Robot, Surfer’s Journal and DestinAsia.

My husband, John, came with me, and both of us thought we’d try oolongs, which lie somewhere between the greens and the blacks on the tea oxidation scale. One of the most significant distinctions between varieties of teas is the degree to which they are oxidized – that is, exposed to air while drying. The process is often assumed, incorrectly, to be fermentation, which usually implies additives.

In choosing our oolongs, we were swayed by nomenclature and the elaborate descriptions: I went for the Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy (“Kuan Yin’s classic elixir offering transcendence via the tealeaf”), a smooth, full-bodied, slightly floral tea that is $6 for a small pot. And John chose, predictably, Caressing Royal Concubine (“Sip by sip, all-consuming rapture”) for $7. It tastes the way tropical flowers smell: like honey.

Later I learned the reason for this tea’s potent flavor; farmers take caterpillars to the tea bushes and let them devour the leaves, which causes the plants to put all their rejuvenating energy into the next season’s harvest: these are the robust leaves used for
Caressing Royal Concubine.

I ate Asian – the bento box with ginger baked mahi mahi ($8.95), and John decided on a grilled sandwich (Gouda and cured ham on rye, $6.50). While the menu features some English and Russian fare, the best of it – and most of it – is Asian. For dessert, we ordered two delicate white teas, which our tea server described as “tea at its purest.’’ Apparently, because of its very slow, controlled drying process, only this type of tea retains its leaf- bud color. Our Snow Buds ($5) and Wild Rose Silver Needle ($5.50), were lovely, but were overpowered by our decadent chocolate dessert choices. Oh, the art of matching
tea to food. We should have asked for recommendations.

While tea’s health benefits may be one reason places like Samovar are so popular these days, good taste is certainly another. A cup of Starbucks was enough to induce many to swear off Folgers – and there are plenty of inducements to move beyond Lipton. In addition to oolongs, greens, whites and blacks, there is the Pu Erh variety from Yunan Province in China, a dark, almost espresso-like tea that’s surprisingly low in caffeine.

Pu Erhs, I learned, are also the only aged teas – that is, they are oxidized much longer than other teas. Some of the oldest are aged for more than 100 years. Like wine, Pu Erhs are stored in a manner (sometimes buried or put in caves) that enhances taste. And like fine wines, these teas are more prized the older they get, and more expensive. I tried a pot of Jingmai Mountain at a later visit to Samovar and concluded that with its intense flavor, it would have been a better choice with our chocolate desserts.

I also noticed that the service at Samovar can be slow, which turned out to be the case at every teahouse I visited. Yet rushing would be beside the point. We were there to savor, as were the throngs of customers lined up to order at the counter.

Our next stop took us to the edge of the Bay where Alice Waters was among the customers at the new Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco’s beautifully refurbished Ferry Building Marketplace. For years, the Imperial Tea Court has been regarded as the quintessential teahouse in Chinatown, and this new branch, set in the city’s bustling cathedral to cuisine (the Marketplace houses local purveyors of every imaginable gourmet food), is a refuge for weary shoppers.

Open on one side to the Marketplace, and hung with red lanterns and delicate bird cages, the Imperial Tea Court has the feel of an exotic, intimate, sanctuary; it seats about 25. We brought our kids, aged 10 and 13, who drank water instead of tea but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
We ordered the gong fu tea service ($8 a person), which is something like a Japanese tea ceremony, but less refined. Our waiter, a gracious young man in a silk jacket, arrived with a number of unglazed teapots of various sizes and explained (to our rapt children) that they were made from river-bottom soil. He ceremoniously bathed the cups and pots by pouring steaming water over them, which ran into the hollow tin tray beneath. He recommended the Old Bush tea, and although the political jokes brewed faster than the tea, we tried to stifle them.

Our waiter passed us a small vessel with the dry leaves, which smelled remarkably like cocoa. Then, after wetting them, he passed it again. The aroma had been transformed into something leafier, more subtle. He swept the wetted pot in a circle around the tray – to wipe off the drips, he explained, and to move the leaves to the center of the pot. Then he poured one of the most flavorful teas I’ve ever tasted.

The staff at these teahouses is generally eager to impart knowledge, and I learned a fair amount while sipping (or slurping, as this waiter recom- mended). All kinds of tea, for example, come from one plant, the camellia sinensis. Differences in the soil, climate and topography of the growing regions, and in methods of harvesting and processing distinguish a Green Peony Rosette from a Lapsang souchong. And herbal teas are not techni- cally tea, but rather infusions of herbs.

With the Old Bush, we ordered both the dim sum sampler ($6.50) and the snack sampler ($4). The dim sum included savory vegetarian steamed buns filled with chopped baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms; subtly seasoned shrimp dumplings in glassy wraps; and delicately fried spring rolls, with shredded cabbage, carrot and coconut. The light snacks includ- ed ginger roasted almonds, fl aky, short peanut cookies and lovely, green tea-dusted pumpkin seeds. Items can also be ordered individually ($2).

Tibetans call tea “the water of long life.” Based on the number of people hoping to get a table at the Imperial Tea Court, it appears many are bet- ting on it. A steady stream of customers strolled into the restaurant with cherry blossom branches wrapped in newspapers and red mesh sacks of oranges from the Farmers Market outside.

Elegant teapots, cups and tea paraphernalia, including many beautiful gong fu services, are for sale.

Our last stop was Celadon Fine Teas, across the bay in Albany, a town next to Berkeley. It was an unseasonably warm spring day, and when we walked through the open doors, we stopped and slowly swiveled around to take it all in. A trip here is as much about architecture as it is about tea. Designed by Fu-Tung Cheng, a Bay Area kitchen designer, Celadon radi-
ates with subtle colors and handsome materials: grays, greens and browns shimmer through a balance of glass, wood, tile and metal.

On this quiet Sunday afternoon, most of the tables were full, so we sat at the bar, an arc of olive-colored concrete, flecked with turquoise stone and inlaid with fossils. Our waiter brought us menus and, after much ogling at our surroundings, we perused them. While Celadon sells about 70 types of tea, the tasting menu features only about a dozen. They are listed according to variety and caffeine potency, and since John and I were both in need of a boost, we skipped over the whites and greens. I ordered a pot of Lichee Red ($4.75), a “Cantonese favorite,” according to the menu. Poured into a yellow porcelain cup lined in white, it was a beautiful shade of cedar and tasted faintly floral and quite sweet.

I asked the waiter what gave the Lichee Red its color, but as with other questions I asked here, I wasn’t given much of an answer (“something to do with its processing”). While the waiters were courteous and friendly, they didn’t seem as knowledgeable about tea as servers at other teahouses.

John ordered a pot of Taiwan Beauty ($5), a honey-colored tea described as “floral, robust and spicy,” but I found it more grassy, almost vegetal, with a little bite. Both our teas were exceptionally smooth, even after numerous infusions of fresh, steaming water.

There are a few selections of pastries at Celadon, ($2 to $4 each) varying from day to day. We ordered the pear ginger tart, a thin, rich wedge that was superb, and a couple of disappointingly bland mochi, Japanese rice pastries.

Between sips of tea, there was much to appreciate: the narrow river of wa- ter trickling down the center of one of the counters, the tea strainers made of small gourds with green silk tassels, the mushroom-shaped rice paper light fixtures, the antique tea tools-and many delicate tea services for sale.

Throughout my tea-tasting journey, I found alluring havens to sample tea. The only thing I didn’t fi nd was someone who could read my fortune in a cup. Once, I noticed leftover leaves that looked something like a kangaroo. At home, when I consulted a couple of Internet sources on tea leaf-reading, I learned that I can look forward to either travel to exotic places or harmo-
ny at home. I chose to believe both.
Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez Street, San Francisco; (415) 626-4700;
online at
Open every day, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Imperial Tea Court, 1 Ferry Building Plaza, San Francisco; (415) 544-9830; Open Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday.

Celadon Fine Teas, 1111 Solano Avenue, Albany, Calif.; (510) 524-1696; on the Web
at Open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.

ALLISON HOOVER BARTLETT is a writer who lives in San Francisco

July 13, 2004
“…Samovar’s pan-Asian interior is elegant and cozy, and with the sun streaming through the windows and world music playing softly, people tend to linger…”

Lovely pots, cups, teas and related accouterments are for sale here.

July 13, 2004
Photography by Caren Alpert for the New York Times

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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“Stand Out: Tea Co. Owner Says Patience Is Key Ingredient” Smart Money Reports from Samovar Tea Lounge

February 2, 2009

Small-business owners, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Each week, we focus on an entrepreneur who has lessons to share that we think will resonate with other small-business money

Jesse Jacobs, founder of specialty tea company, Samovar Tea Lounge, answers our questions:

Name: Jesse Jacobs

Jesse JacobBusiness: Samovar Tea Lounge
Industry: Specialty Teas
Location: San Francisco
Year founded: 2002
Number of employees: 75

What are you doing to stand out from the crowd?

We only represent small-scale artisan farmers. Tea makers come to us because we offer them access to tens of thousands of retail and wholesale customers. And customers come to us to gain access to hard-to-find artisanal teas such as Hawaii’s Mauka High Mountain Oolong tea and Makai Sea Level Black Tea, as well as the Dali Lama’s own blend.

What’s the best part about owning your own business?

I see business as a truly effective way for creating positive social change. Not only do I help create fulfilling jobs, but I also offer a place for customers to feel good about themselves and the world around them. Especially in this day of turbulent social, political and economic times, providing an outlet for peaceful living is both exciting and rewarding at the same time.

What’s the biggest challenge of owning your own business?

It never stops. Even when the day ends, business scenarios continue to run through my mind, day and night. It can be extremely draining. Also, managing so many personalities and adjusting my communication style to effectively connect with staff, vendors and customers is extremely challenging.

What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?

Helping to create a market for specialty, whole leaf tea and educating customers about why such a premium is attached to these types of teas. This took four years to accomplish — and losing money every year has taken patience, perseverance and resilience.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

I wish I would have had the confidence to become an entrepreneur sooner. Instead of wasting five years working in corporate America, I could have spent that time running the business. Today, we’d be much further along.

What’s the best business advice you can offer?

Listening and being open to everything will help you latch onto opportunities and avoid roadblocks.

Media Contacts:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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“Tea Soothes the Harried Shopper” The San Francisco Chronicle Visits Samovar Tea Lounge

San Francisco Chronicle PressLoree Dowse, Special to The Chronicle
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

For decades, weary holiday shoppers in San Francisco’s Union Square have sought afternoon refuge from maddening crowds and over-weighted shopping bags with a pot of tea and a quick bite at places like the Westin St. Francis, Palace Hotel, Ritz-Carlton or the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus.

For $20-$45 per person, shoppers can sink into elegant surroundings, sip tea or Champagne and listen to a live harp or piano. But while tea may be a holiday ritual for some, others are taking to the 5,000-year-old brew year- round. In the last year, several teahouses have opened, all with the hopes of turning us on to something a bit more exciting than the years-old tea bags we’ve had stashed in the cupboard.

presssfc120804_2“Drinking tea is such a soothing ritual, and afternoon tea is a perfect break,” says Michael Mina of Restaurant Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The restaurant takes over from the Compass Rose, a bastion of holiday tea.

“Children come here with their families during the holidays, and the tradition is established

Danville teen Natalie Campo and her friend Katie Maute took the afternoon off school recently to join their mothers Rebecca Campo and Julie Maute for tea at the Palace Hotel before hitting stores. This is the second year they’ve done tea together, and plan to keep up the practice annually.

The holiday tea menus of the sort they indulged in offer an assortment of brews accompanied by a multi-tiered tray of small sandwiches layered with the likes of smoked salmon, egg salad or cucumber plus sweets such as almond cakes, lemon meringue tartlets or opera cake. And of course, there’s always the scone and its accompaniments.

Long-awaited trend

Taking a tea break at some of the newer teahouses can be just as soothing, but in a different way. Instead of scones and tartlets, there might be curry or flatbread.

A flurry of discoveries about tea’s health benefits, plus renewed appreciation of its ancient heritage, has pushed tea to the fore. Its antioxidants appear to lower cholesterol levels, improve cardiovascular health and help guard against some cancers. And some experts believe its flavenoids may inhibit the growth of plaque on teeth.

presssfc120804_3“People talked about a tea trend five years ago, but things are finally happening,” says Alice Cravens, former assistant to the late Helen Gustafson, the Berkeley tea lady who started Chez Panisse’s tea program. Cravens continues to supply tea to Chez Panisse as well as Zuni Cafe and Delfina, among others, and is looking to open up a teahouse of her own in San Francisco.

There’s certainly room for growth. While tea is the most consumed beverage in the world next to water, it is ranked only seventh in the United States. But according to Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Council of the U.S. A. Inc., a shift is taking place. In the last 10 years, wholesale sales of tea have surged to over $5 billion, from under $2 million, and while there were only a couple hundred teahouses in 1990, there are now about 1,500 around the country.

Says Eliot Jordan, tea director of Emeryville-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea, “People are trading up. They’re getting tired of bad coffee and boring tea and are looking for a flavor alternative.”

Beyond black and green

With tea, there are plenty of alternatives. From black to white, green to oolong, red to pu-erh, tea can be light-colored and delicate or full-bodied and complex depending on where it is grown and how it is processed. Peet’s sells 28 kinds of tea while other stores like the Imperial Tea Court and Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco often carry 100 teas or more.

“Learning and talking about tea is a great ice breaker,” says Jesse Jacobs, co-owner of Samovar, which opened in June 2003. “I can’t tell you how many blind dates we see in here. It’s a good alternative to meeting at a bar, and people immediately have something to talk about — what tea to try, how it tastes, etc.”

It doesn’t hurt that this latest generation of tea rooms look really good. Samovar‘s woven grass floors, warm woods and spice-colored accents make it look more like a hip cafe than a stuffy tea room. Celadon in Albany is a modern Zen oasis with a colored concrete tea bar, bamboo walls and stone fountain. And May Hung’s DynasTEA, a cozy shop on Russian Hill, greets customers with vibrant yellow and green walls offset by creamy accents and dark wood furniture.

Teavana, an Atlanta-based chain that opened on Polk Street in April, has warm yellow walls, airy space and approachable staff, all of which have made J. K. Harper a convert. Annoyed by the lines at his normal coffee shop one Saturday morning, Harper crossed the street to Teavana and hasn’t looked back. Now a nearly daily visitor, he likes the choices and the aesthetics.

presssfc120804_4More relaxing

“Having a lacquer tray arrive at my table with a pot and a glass mug is a much nicer way to spend my money than having a paper cup shoved in my face,” he says.

Tea snacks are a lure, too. Samovar offers a seasonally changing menu ranging from breakfasts like a polenta-ginger waffle ($5.95) to dishes like baked tofu with miso chutney ($3.75), a bento box featuring smoked duck ($8. 95) and tea-seared tuna ($10).

The Imperial Tea Court, the Chinese teahouse with its dark wood tables, heavy empire chairs and decorative bird cages, has expanded its Ferry Building location’s menu with lunch specials like braised pork stew ($10.50), vegetarian curry with tofu ($9.50) or pork won tons in a jasmine tea broth ($9).

Several teahouses also build education and special events into their repertoires. The Imperial Tea Court’s Powell Street store offers classes on tea basics, tea varietals and formal tea presentations. Samovar offers free tea tastings on Tuesday evenings, and on New Year’s Eve the teahouse is featuring a five-course menu paired with several fresh crops of tea for $65. Reservations are required for the tastings and dinner.

English-style tea havens outside of downtown San Francisco include Lovejoy’s Tea Room, a Noe Valley institution packed with comfortably lumpy easy chairs, squeaky tapestry couches, lots of lace and traditional fare like shepherd’s pie; Tal-y-Tara Tea & Polo Shoppe, a tiny place in the back of an equestrian shop in the Richmond; Benicia’s quaint Camellia Tea Room; Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Menlo Park and Campbell; and the English Rose in San Carlos.

Whether you want to incorporate tea into your daily life or simply enjoy it as a holiday tradition, one thing is certain. The ritual forces the drinker to slow down and sip, something most of us could use at this bustling time of year.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Samovar Featured in Chicago Tribune Article, “In Coffee-Loving U.S., Tea Sees Surge In Sales”

By Jane Meredith Adams, Special to the Tribune
Published January 8, 2007

logoSAN FRANCISCO — In a city saturated with coffeehouses, a state awash in lattes and a nation deeply in love with a cup of joe, they have come for tea. With their heads bent over stainless steel tins of leaves at the Lupicia Fresh Tea boutique here, they sniff chocolate mint black and inhale blueberry-raspberry green. They come for tea because of beneficial flavonoids, exotic flavors and the elegance of an Asian ceramic teapot. They are top-of-the-line tea drinkers, and in a Starbucks world, their numbers are increasing.

A coffee man in the morning, accountant Roy Wong wants nothing but green tea in the afternoon, and when it comes to green tea, he wants nothing but the best. Hence his pilgrimage to the Japanese-owned Lupicia, which offers 200 varieties of black, green, oolong and white teas.

“I’ve read that green tea helps prevent Alzheimer’s and helps with digestion, so why not?” Wong said.

Tea in America once meant a bag of Lipton floating in a cup. Green tea was a fringe product and white tea unheard of. All of this has changed, including the shape of the lowly tea bag, as U.S. tea sales are expected to grow to $10 billion by 2010 from $6 billion in 2005, according to the World Tea Expo, a trade show.

Driven by reports that tea has less caffeine than coffee, is loaded with antioxidants and may even help prevent tooth decay and Alzheimer’s disease, Americans are guzzling ever-increasing quantities of chilled, bottled tea. Premium loose-leaf teas also are surging in popularity, packaged in bulk or in silken, oversized tea pouches, which enable the leaves to unfurl.

Nationally, the number of tea cafes has boomed to 2,000 from 200 in the past decade, according to the Tea Association of the USA. California has the most, with the coffee-loving Midwest trailing. “The Midwest has always been a laggard when it comes to tea consumption,” said Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the USA.

The TeaGuide, which maintains a list of tearooms worldwide in conjunction with the Cat-Tea Corner Web site,, reports that there are 33 tea cafes in Chicago and 18 in the suburbs.

What’s in your tea bag

Just as wine, coffee and chocolate transformed from foodstuffs into gourmet pursuits, tea drinking has become a province of connoisseurs. Education is at the core of the transformation. The idea is that once
you’ve tasted high-end single-estate-grown Assam black tea, that cup of Tetley won’t be as appealing.

Take this bit of education from Kalvin Louis, co-owner of the Samovar Tea Lounge, a San Francisco Asian-themed food and tea salon. Traditional tea bags, Louis said, contain nothing more than discarded tea leftovers known as fannings, dust, soot or shake. As tea is processed, whole leaves are shaken in a mesh basket. What falls through is bagged.

“They color it and flavor it,” said Louis disdainfully as he sipped a cup of Ancient Tree hand-picked green tea.

The tea experience comes in two forms. In sync with the pace of American culture are bottled chilled teas, tea smoothies, sparkling tea mixed with fruit juice and bubble tea drinks–a Taiwanese specialty characterized by pearls of gummy tapioca at the bottom of the cup that are sucked up through a wide straw.

On the hot side, loose-leaf sellers such as L’Amyx Tea Bar in Oakland are selling the idea that pausing to steep a pot of tea is a calming respite from a hectic world. To this end, L’Amyx doesn’t sell take-out cups of tea.

But do Americans want to slow down?

“It’s an uphill battle with American culture,” said Marcia Lam, chief financial officer at L’Amyx, as she stood behind the bar, pouring tea made from delicate white buds. Just as yoga and spas have emerged as a way to find balance, so too has tea, she said.

Making the switch

In Chicago, even the pressure of law school can’t make Chrystina Zelaskiewicz, 26, drink a cup of coffee. On winter nights, she favors Fruit Blast herbal tea at Argo Tea on Rush Street.

“It’s hot, it tastes good and it doesn’t have caffeine,” she said. Herbal teas aren’t technically teas because they aren’t from the Camellia plant that is the source of all teas, but they’re steeped like tea and also are growing in popularity.

“I like the flavored teas,” said Chicago medical school student Bonnie Hoel, 25, who recently sipped a cup of Ginger Peach black at Argo Tea. When she’s at home, she’s partial to the milky cinnamon sweetness of chai black, which she pairs with homemade banana chocolate chip bread. She’s also acquired a taste for green tea. “It’s a little bitter, but I’ve heard about the health benefits of it,” she said.

Behind most tea drinkers is a conversion experience–the day they put down their java and picked up some oolong.

“I just realized how much better I felt when I drank tea,” said Dominic Martello, 55, a waiter who once drank four or five cups of coffee a day. “It’s easier on the stomach,” he said, sipping Jasmine Pearl green tea. Just as relaxing as drinking tea: the slow-paced tea house ambiance, he said.

“It’s a place to think about what I want to think about.”

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Jesse Jacobs, Owner of Samovar Tea Lounge: “SF Business Times Entrepreneur of the Month”

Friday, September 12, 2008sf_business_times
Entrepreneur profile
Jesse Jacobs
Founder and CEO, Samovar Tea Lounge

HQ: San Francisco.
2007 revenue: $1.8 million.
Number of employees: 40.
Year founded: 2001.
Source of startup capital: $300,000 in loans from the SBA, family and friends.

Background: Born in Brookline, Mass., raised in a commune and graduated with a bachelor’s in international relations from University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Taught English in Denmark and Japan. Founded a web startup in Boston before driving to California for the tech boom. After the dot-com bust in 2001, founded Samovar.

Age: 37.
Residence: San Francisco.

Web site:
What it does: Tea shop

Big Picture

Reason for starting business: I wanted to create peace. Tea is the perfect vehicle for creating peace.

Most difficult part of decision: Risking everything — money, family, friends and free time.

Biggest plus of ownership: Doing exactly what you love. Watching an idea turn into physical reality.

Biggest drawback: There is no “clocking out” and going home for the weekend. Ever.

Biggest misconception: Getting rich quick and defining your own schedule.

Biggest business strength: Our model is a tea experience to make people feel good, like going to China or visiting a spa.

Biggest business weakness: Trying to be a sustainable business in San Francisco is really expensive.

Biggest risk: Putting more money and time into the business. We finally turned a profit last year.

Biggest mistake: We were undercapitalized and didn’t do things professionally at the start.

Smartest move: Hiring staff looking to grow with the company and having “open-book” accounting, where the dishwashers knew the gross profit and understood how breaking a dish impacted the bottom line.

Biggest worry: Growing too fast, and not delivering the same Samovar experience, mission and culture.

Top source of inspiration: Dalai Lama.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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“Tea-Totaling” Daily Candy Features Samovar Tea Lounge

February 7, 2005

logodailycandySocial drinking? Love it.

Except sometimes. Like the time you told your boyfriend’s mom about your penchant for prescription pills. Or when you hit on your boss at the holiday party.

But it was the night you publicly peed on yourself that really caused a stir.

In your case, you’d best hightail it to Samovar Tea Lounge for some mood-boosting, booze-free libations.

Owner Jesse Jacobs promises a warm, happy glow after an hour or so of sipping and yapping over fine artisanal

teas at the new Tuesday tastings. And he won’t turn his nose up when you can’t tell the difference between Oolong and green.

What he will do is introduce you to the mind-expanding world of tea varietals (Maiden’s Ecstasy Pu-erh, anyone?). The experience includes an informative dose of Tea 101 along with the tea tender’s choice of three different teas, selected for their uniqueness, taste, and

seasonality — all for just ten dollars.

And to keep the good feeling flowing, Samovar’s tea comes from small family farms across the world. So relax, drink, and be merry.

Just not too merry.

Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez Street, at 18th Street (415-626-4700 or; Tuesday tea tastings are by appointment only.

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Samovar Tea Lounge Chosen as “Best Tea of the Bay 2008” by San Francisco Magazine

sanfranciscomag2“…Named for the Russian contraption that boils water—honors the traditions of all the world’s tea capitals (Moroccan, Indian, Japanese, and Russian meals are paired with complementary teas from each region), but the three-tiered British service is the shop’s specialty. And there’s no need to guess your tea’s pedigree—Samovar serves primarily organic and Fair Trade goods…”

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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SF Weekly Votes Samovar Tea Lounge San Francisco’s Best Tea 2008

sfweekly_blue1“Some tea rooms are all about the scones and crumpets; others embrace the more tranquil practices of the East. Still others go the Moorish route and serve up dolmas and dates with the brewed mint leaves. Samovar, an inclusive sort of place in a quiet corner of the Castro (and now in a second location in Yerba Buena Gardens), honors all of these traditions and more…”

Click on this link to see the entire article:

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Crocs Cities by Foot Visits Samovar Tea Lounge, Yerba Buena

cross“About Samovar Tea Lounge
Quick quiz: What do the Dalai Lama and tea have in common? The Samovar Tea Lounge, of course! A great place to meet and have a conversation, this teahouse unites the world’s best teas under one roof. They also offer organic meals paired with the perfectly selected tea. USA Today even rated the Samovar Tea Lounge as one of the top ten great places to be seeped in tea, tradition and comfort.”

Click on this link to watch the Crocs video of Samovar Yerba Buena:

Media Contact:
Jesse Cutler, Samovar: (415) 655-3431 / [email protected]

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Jodet’s Tea Trip to Taiwan Part I

The tea culture is growing and essentially, so should we. My name is Jodet Ghougassian and I’m the manager at Samovar Tea Lounge, Hayes Valley location. I have been studying tea for about three years. The various flavors and cultures of exploration in the world of tea fascinate me.

Jodet Picking Tealeaves in Taiwan
Jodet Picking Tealeaves in Taiwan

I find that often times, what people don’t know is that tea, much like any other plant, takes great skill and process. How often does one ponder, while sipping their black tea in the morning, “Wow, someone actually hand picked these leaves and spent hours contributing to the final process?” I know I never used to. Until now.

Eventually after understanding how to describe tea and its basic processes, I thought, how amazing would it be if I could actually go out and live on a farm with a tea master who can teach me everything I need to know about the processes of tea? This little dream soon became a goal needing to be accomplished, and that’s where my trip to Taiwan comes in.

On October 12, one of my staff members, Lorraine and I flew to Puli, Taiwan,  a mountainous region three hours outside of Taipei where a large population of tea cultivation takes place. We were staying with a farmer whom I met in May at the World Tea Expo. The farmer, KC Chen and his wife, Katie, welcomed me and Lorraine into their home with open arms.

Lorraine and host Rebecca on the tea bus
Lorraine and host Rebecca on the tea bus

We did not speak the language, nor did we know what to expect. We just shared a common love for tea. We packed our bags and traveled thousands of miles with our Flip camera, and our digitals in hopes of bringing back an experience for our Samovar staff and community. Mr.Chen had arranged for two lovely translators to guide us through the process.

Essentially, the itinerary was to process oolongs and black tea for a whole week from start to finish.  I was so intrigued with the complete tea experience. I feel that that’s not something you can find in a book.  We filmed and processed tea for the week and were able to get some amazing photographs and footage. I hope that the next couple blogs will enrich your knowledge of tea and help bring joy into your life as much as it has to mine.

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Ambassador Erick
Ambassador Erick

When Erick isn’t helping lead the staff at Samovar, he’s working out. A fitness freak, being healthy is important to him. Erick is actually 45 years old (not really…). What’s his secret? Vinyasa yoga with Les as Yoga Tree. Lots of it.

Erick has a passion for simplicity, communication, Japanese green teas, yoga and meditation retreats, tasting and analyzing tea, and he’s generally good at almost anything that involves movement. He loves doing tea tastings, and balancing three pots of tea simultaneously on his forearms on busy days.

One of the many of his favorite teas include the Wuyi Oolong.

“It’s relaxing and uplifting, and helps me get ready for a busy day because it’s very adaptable,” he says. It can be strong or light– easy to brew intense and roasty, or light and sweet.

On his free time, or when he has some free time, Erick loves to read books on leadership, mindfulness, and communication. On cold days, he loves listening to Krishna Das, while reading “The Mindful Leader,” and enjoying a cup of Ryokucha.

Ryokucha is the best breakfast tea. It is full bodied, has a little caffeine from the green tea, but has an amazing grassiness from the organic matcha that we blend it in. The roasted brown rice kernels make it a little sweet. I love this tea paired with a salmon maki bowl.”

Erick loves his green teas!

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Ambassador Irene
Ambassador Irene

Irene is a true foodie. And, we should be proud…Samovar ranks so high on her list of best places to eat in the Bay. She also loves wine….studying the regions, growing conditions, food pairing and learning all she can about small scale artisan products. Of course she’s crazy about our tea because of the small scale farms and artisan estates we source from.

“Personally, I really like the teas that come out of Jingmai Mountain. This is such a unique place. And to be able to get these teas direct from these village people who have been crafting the teas the same way for many generations… And to think they are getting the tealeaves from wild tea trees, and that some of them are over 1000 years old! The story behind some of our teas are as intriguing as the tastes! Jingmai Beencha, Maiden’s Ecstacy, Gold Toucha and Green Toucha, Sun Dried Beencha, and the Ancient Tree Green–actually I can’t decide which is my favorite. They are all so different. I am partial to these Ancient tree teas, and I really love making delicious meals, and pairing the different teas to different courses of food.”