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Reflections from Jesse, Samovar’s Founder

I opened the first Samovar 6 years ago, at 498 Sanchez Street in the Castro-Mission, with the purpose of propagating the tea culture to modern San Francisco. I have spent much of my life pursuing the practice of Awareness, on the cushion, on the mat, in the dojo, back on the cushion, dojo, mat, and finally now, onto the balance sheet and P&L statement. Samovar is really the most recent incarnation in my personal practice: how to use business for achieving awareness. That’s it. I thought it would be a really interesting endeavor to create an organization that on the surface was a business in pursuit of success, and underneath was a vehicle for creating awareness and peace.

One of my favorite quotes is from renaissance man Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais Technique, who said, “…if you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want….” That’s awareness. And, that’s a practice, a work in progress that is never complete. My goal with Samovar is to know what we’re doing, so that we can do what we want. And we want to serve as an exemplary role model for other businesses proving that a small business can exist and thrive, doing good things for the environment, the employees, the suppliers, and the investors. My aim is to make a positive difference in the world by our existing, and thriving. After all, what is nobler than serving, making a difference for the better for the good of the public?

We practice awareness not through sitting on the cushion, but by brewing tea for our guests, prepping and cooking food, and serving guests mindfully. Every detail has been questioned and at least attempted to be answered. From the source of our Houjicha Sencha, to the creator of our metalwork, to the artist or our red walls, the power consumption of our hand dryer, the selection of music, the fuel for our fireplace, the fabrication of our chai mugs, the patina of our copper, the supplier of our Kuan Yin, the grower of our rice, the brewer of our tamari, the forest source of our floors, the carpenter of our tea bar… Virtually every single aspect of Samovar has been attended to with singular intention, with awareness.

I’ll be honest: Sometimes we get the reputation for being “expensive.” I believe cost is relative and that the real question is where we choose to put our life energy, our money. At Samovar we put it in business relationships with very small, artisan families around the world who supply us with tea and other goodies. This tea, crafted seasonally, and in very small fresh batches costs more. It tastes better. Families, generally certified organic and fair trade farm it sustainably. It is fresh. It is healthier. And, we brew it to order, according to specific brewing instructions defining the scoop size, brew time, water temperature, specific handmade teaware, and, by a server who can answer your questions about why that tea has been selected and why it’s so special. That is what you get. We price our tea fairly for what we offer. And, when it comes right down to it, the actual profit margin is around 4%!

With that in mind, and then taking into consideration that as an employer we offer our staff health insurance, subsidized acupuncture, free yoga, English classes, Chado classes at the Urasenke Society, fully paid internships with our farmers in Taiwan, 2-month sabbaticals, frequent bonuses and recognition, free employee meals…we end up barely breaking even as a company.

Why do we offer so much to our staff when it takes so much from the bottom line? Because we feel strongly that if we support our staff, they will support our customers. And at the end of the day, we exist solely for our customers. Our prices include all those costs: product, staff, family suppliers, and, the cozy elegant environment. The ultimate question that we request from our guests is: Do you get value at Samovar? If you are treated kindly, able to relax, and feel better when you leave than when you arrived, then you will go out into the world and do good things. Then we’ve done our job.

That’s enough rambling. I can go on and on – so if you want to hear more please just stop by across the street and say hi, or have some tea and I or any of the staff there will be happy to wax on about the nuances of our tea bar, or the aroma of Hika Sencha. That’s easy for us.

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Jodet, Samovar Leader Reports on her Learnings


“Work is love made visible. Everything else is secondary.”

I have learned this past year just how much love one can have for something they believe strongly in. It could be a cause, a person, a book, or in my case, the essence of tea culture and everything it stands for at Samovar Tea Lounge: Community, vitality, equanimity.

So, yes…I have learned an immense amount this year. I feel that if I were to break down the myriad of things that I have learned, I could write a whole book. Just to sum it down, I would say this: I have truly learned the beauty of patience. If it were not for patience, I may have pulled away from management a very long time ago. I have learned that dedication and hard work…really pay off.

I have learned through the team and my experiences that respect is not granted to anyone or anything. I have learned this through my interaction with the staff and the way they treat me now, in comparison to the first week I came here.

I have learned how truly the way you feel and think affects those around you; especially a team in which you are leading. I have learned to separate myself from situations where I felt I could act on emotion, and really learned to put the well-being of a team ahead of my own “thoughts and misconceptions.” I have learned that “what you think is really happening, is not always an accurate reality of your truth.” By this I mean….remembering not to make assumptions. I still have a tough time w/ this one.

I have learned that the way others feel or behave is not a direct reflection of who you are—that doing your best, is your best. No more, no less. I obviously don’t need reassurance in my skills—not anymore to say the least. I know I do well. It shows through the effort I have put out.

I remember when I first started managing, I wanted so much to be reassured that I was doing well. I constantly felt that others actions and problems were always my fault. I felt insecure, fearful that I would not do well, that the staff would not “favor me,” and that I was not cut out for the job. Slowly……very slowly, but surely, things changed. I stopped thinking negative, and starting bringing in the positive.

With confidence, and time, thank God for TIME, I have truly learned that I am not the center of my own universe. I have learned what is truly important in life. Listening. Trusting. Letting go. Believing. Acting w/ intention and integrity. Being effective w/ words. Engaging. Inspiring. Smiling. Paying attention to detail. Being aware. Being kind. Being compassionate. And being open to everyone and everything around me.

Managing a business like Samovar is like a puzzle—every single piece counts; from the team, to pouring tea, to tea inventory, to the food, to COGS, to payroll, to customer feedback, to employee retention. The list goes on. Its endless.

And that’s only half of what I have learned at Samovar Tea Lounge. To be continued….next year.

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Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good

 Jesse's Entrepreneurial Spirit is Liberated
Jesse's Entrepreneurial Spirit is Liberated

Business can really make a difference for the greater good. Look at how Samovar makes people feel: good, healthy, and happy. That’s our purpose. And, although it isn’t easy, it is fun, and rewarding to see our customers smile and express their gratitude. We’re hosting an event next Thursday, 1/18 with Flow a Bay Area organization dedicated to “liberating the entrepreneurial spririt for good.” This will be an amazing event to connect with passionate, like minded folks who are really into letting the creative sparks fly.

Read more about the event
Are you interested in the role of business in changing the world for the better? Or curious about how different sectors might transcend their differences and join together in reaching for a more sustainable future?

You’re invited to a conversation on ”liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good” in Samovar Tea Lounge at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, from 5 to 7:30 PM. Local entrepreneurs, visionaries, and creatives are invited to this socially conscious entrepreneurial tea party.

What: A conversation on “liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good”
When: Thursday 18 January 2007, 5:00 – 7:30 pm
Where: Samovar tea Lounge, Yerba Buena Gardens,
Cost: By donation. Suggested donation $40
How:  415.497.0996