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Samovar Q & A With Founder, Jesse Jacobs

How Did Samovar Tea Lounge Get Started?

Samovar was born from the realization that our society is focused on the wrong things. We try to so hard to be good students, to please our parents & teachers, to find security in a good career, perfect spouse, perfect kids, perfect body. Our need for security creates all these market forces where people end up becoming seduced by products that claim to give us short cuts to the good life. Along the way we become addicted to quick fixes that don’t change anything. It’s like the image of the snake eating itself. Because we can’t see the overwhelming abundance of the present moment, we consume what we can see — ourselves.

I spent years living the corporate dream and for me it was not fulfilling.

I wanted to make a difference in the world by helping people remember what it is to be human.

Samovar is an alternate reality. A place where we can step out of the rat race. A place where we invite people to slow down, to inhabit the present moment, to disconnect in order to connect.

What Makes Samovar Tea Lounge Different?

It’s what we believe, and how we manifest those beliefs.

We are so proud to be able to offer a retreat from the rat race, an escape from information addiction.

We’re about enjoying the basic goodness of being present in the moment.

People come in for the delicious, healthy food and drink. They leave with their spirits elevated, nourished, and re-energized.

What Does Tea Mean To Us & Where Did The Passion Come From?

I was that kid who brought tofu sandwiches and seaweed wraps to school lunch in the 80’s. I was not popular.

At the same time, my parent’s passion for healthy food and diverse cultures introduced me to teas from around the world.

When I started Samovar Tea Lounge I realized that tea would be the perfect vehicle to satisfy just what the world neeeded today: to slow down, unplug, and wake up.

Why Is Samovar Tea Lounge So Popular Among Startup Entrepreneurs & The Tech Community?

I don’t know if they realize it, but tech entrepreneurs are the harbingers of a new era for our society. It’s the relentless march of progress, but they must realize consciously or unconsciously their role in bringing it about.

This new era is awesome with it’s potential connectedness, for spontaneous movements demanding justice. The efficiencies we have created have given more power to each of us than we’ve ever had—in the history of humankind.

But the machine is SO powerful. With all these geniuses at work creating new experiences and new devices it shouldn’t be a surprise. But now we’re back to the snake eating it’s own tail. “Crackberry” used to be a derogatory term, now we call them “smart phones.”

And as technology pervades every aspect of our society, the perspective has flipped and the machine we created to serve US starts to make decisions FOR us. From the innocuous Netflix or Amazon recommendation, to the more insidious things like Facebook and Twitter that while powerful, also demand us to change our expression, and even our thinking patterns in order to conform to the machine’s demands.

So Samovar is a fantastic escape into what really matters and nobody appreciates that more than these tech entrepreneurs.

Samovar’s food is some of the most delicious and healthy you can find, pretty much anywhere, and the tea a state of mind that is really different from the norms like coffee or beer. Tea is about being present. It’s relaxing and also energizing.

I don’t hate technology, or progress. I love it and recognize it’s inevitable. What I care about is making sure that WE are driving the machine and not the other way around.

Where Is Our Tea Sourced?

We’ve been in business for more than 10 years and in that time have made amazing relationships with artisan tea farmers around the world. From China, to India and Japan, these tea farmers have committed themselves to preserving an ancient art, and helping the planet along the way. Tea farming is a hard life, but a good life. We source almost entirely organic products which means more sustainable practices, and a better product. The whole chain benefits.

One of my favorite farms is this little place in Hawaii. A couple started the farm in Volcano Village after leaving their deadend jobs in New York City. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there and it’s amazing. You really see that tea is real food. Picked by hand from the Camellia Sinensis bush and then laid out to dry, cooked, rolled, even packed in dirt and aged like wine. The whole experience is amazing. The tea is only available in small batches and we try to buy them up as soon as we can because our customers really love it. I’m so proud to be a part of the chain that support farmers like them.

How We Train Our Staff: Creating Tea Masters

We have a kind of secret tea school that all our tea tenders have to take. We’ve started offering some of the courses to the public. In February 2013 we launched the Samovar Tea Lounge Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Tea which is a tea set and video series where I talk with a friend about the in’s and outs of teas. It’s a great tool for people who can’t get to the lounges and talk to me or our expert staff in person.

The real secret to our employee success, though, is in the attitude. We need and love people who are passionate about tea, but even more, passionate about connecting with our customers. Everyone appreciates a little authentic attention, and caring. And that’s what separates our staff from the typical restaurant or coffee shop.

With a little time you can teach anyone to appreciate tea, the origins, the processing differences, the food pairings. But to teach someone to genuinely care about a total stranger, that can take lifetimes.

What’s The Difference Between Coffee, Alcohol & Tea?

It starts with a question, “What’s your objective?” Each drink has survived and thrived because it meets some core human need.

Let’s start with coffee. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually love coffee. I’ve got my favorite San Francisco coffee spots and if you’re lucky you might find me hiding out there with a cup of joe and copy of Outside Magazine. But the coffee culture is completely different than tea. The coffee culture is all about Go-Go-Go. It’s like a burst of jet fuel. Drink a little and you get morning boost. Drink a lot and your hands are shaking and you talk so fast no one understands you.

Go into your typical coffee shop and amongst all the laptops what you get is a cup of caffeine and some kind of white flour, sugar pastry. It’s no surprise that these are all extremely addictive substances. And that’s the danger of coffee. It can come to rule you and if it does, it ain’t pretty.

Beer, wine, alcohol, they’re at the other end of the spectrum. When you start the day with a tank of jet fuel, it’s inevitable that you need some kind of antidote at the other end. As a society we swing between hyperactivity and numbness.

In the right situation alcohol can be a wonderful enhancement to food and social interaction. It’s been widely appreciated for a long, long time. Craft beers, incredible wines, do-it-yourself wineries, small batch distilleries, it’s all apart of the backlash against industrialization of our lives. Tea culture really shares a lot with this world.

Alcohol can be a great complement to food, celebrations, and so on. We’ve even been experimenting with some tea infusion cocktails—you can join our mailing list if you want to get the recipes when we release them.

And that brings us to tea. Tea is the drink that you can keep by your side all day long. You can start with a nice black tea to pull your eyelids back and help focus your attention. You can drink a pot of Ryokucha which is a green tea powder blended with toasted rice grains–earthy, savory depth topped with that unique bright green tea flavor. This one is really great because the powder is so fine that you can actually ingest it along with all the cancer-fighting health benefits. And of course there are many, many choices.

So you pick your morning tea, and with two tablespoons of tea leaves, you can brew 10, 15, or more cups of tea. Keep the tea leaves in the pot and then just keep adding hot water. We just added a completely glass electric tea kettle to our online shop that is perfect for the office. So now you can have a perfect tea setup for your workplace. Tea kettle boils water. Pour it into the teapot with a couple tablespoons of tea. Count to thirty, and pour it into your cup. Each infusion tastes a little different. Experiment with the timing. But you’ll have tea for the whole day, and enough left over to serve your friends while you make your plans to be the next Instagram.

Later in the day you might want to switch to an herbal blend.

Herbal blends are another timeless tradition of infusing water with delicious, healing plants. Each blend has it’s own unique properties of relaxing, inflammation fighting, cancer-fighting, and so one. I’m not a doctor so I can’t make any claims about the health benefits, but it’s all out there. And since we source organic ingredients whenever we can, I can say it takes great and it is good for you.

So you rinse your brewpot and then toss in two tablespoons of your favorite herbal blend—popular choices are Tumeric Spice, Hibiscus Bliss, and Ocean of Wisdom, a blend we prepared to serve the Dalai Lama when he visited San Francisco—get your water going again, and you’re all set.

And tea is a naturally social drink. One pot can serve many people, so you can order a Tea Service at our Lounges and get a whole variety of teas and complementary foods. You drink, sample, share, laugh. It’s a very basic but at the same time much needed experience that is on the edge of extinction in our society.

A friend told me that when she’s figuring out what to do with her girlfriends at night, everytime she recommends Samovar people are really excited. They realize it’s just perfect. They want to be together, and they don’t want the bar scene. And they love the food and tea combination.

And that’s what brings people to tea and to Samovar Tea Lounge.

We host corporate holiday parties, wedding shower’s, wedding receptions, baby showers, family reunions, you name it. Because Samovar Tea Lounge is a place where people can experience the joy of being human in the here and now. Alone or with friends. Being present and being truly connected. And tea is vehicle that makes it all possible.


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