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The New York Times Visits Samovar

Fine Teas Flower in the Bay Area New York Times Logo
By ALLISON HOOVER BARTLETT
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.
TEAHOUSE INFORMATION
Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez Street, San Francisco; (415) 626-4700;
online at www.samovartea.com.
Open every day, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Imperial Tea Court, 1 Ferry Building Plaza, San Francisco; (415) 544-9830;
www.imperialtea.com. 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 www.celadontea.com. 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 owners.smart 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
Web address:www.samovartea.com

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, catteacorner.com, 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: www.samovartea.com.
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 samovartea.com); 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:

http://www.sfweekly.com/bestof/2006/award/best-tea-room-172826/

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:

http://www.citiesbyfoot.com/main/cityID/2/locationID/77/do/Eat_Detail

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