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Trade Secrets of Samovar Tea Lounge

The Secret of the Samovar
The Secret of the Samovar

At Samovar, we treat the business of the tea experience, our work, as our art. And, we’re really proud of the art we are making for this world. The way we see it, the secret to being a successful artist is to really be able to listen. To listen to the customers, to our vendors, to the city, to the weather, to our farmers, our employees, and to listen to the world around us with all of our senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and energy.

If we can listen, and really see our surroundings then we can do whatever is necessary to make our work a beautiful piece of art that improves the world around us.

And, we’ve figured out the secret to listening successfully. Ask questions. Any kind of question, big, small, smart, stupid, obvious, obscure, immediate, timeless, personal, professional, happy, sad, or indifferent. Because if we’re always asking questions, then we’re always looking, thinking, caring, and acting.

That’s one reason that as a company we don’t have thick booklets of training materials and checklists for managers and employees to follow. We want our people to ask questions, to think, and to be creative. Certainly we have “our” way that we brew tea, our way of processing payroll, or completing  mail order for a customer. But, we don’t want robotic drones working here.

We want people who care, think, and are creative. And, if our people are always asking questions, then they are always thinking about what they’re doing. And if they’re thinking about what they’re doing, then, they’re thinking about creative solutions for whatever it is they are doing and how it might be done better.

It’s all about creativity. And with thoughtful, mindful, creativity, comes beautiful art, beautiful business, and beautiful life.

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(Part III) Teresa in India: More than San Francisco Tea Culture

Teresa and the Gang In India
Teresa and the Gang In India

This time, I will try to take a closer look at the specifics of culture and life in India. I don’t mean to plunge into any elaborate analysis, but rather draw a couple of examples which might strike a
foreigner, make him think, laugh and wonder.

In India, you can experience uniquely diverse, colorful and spiritual culture – women of all castes gracefully wearing sari, Hindu gods smiling from the temples, markets full of scents, spices, people,
animals and shouting…

Of course, the holy cows have unlimited access everywhere and so do the numerous stray dogs. There are billions of people living in India,and at least the same number of animals on the streets. No wonder that my friend who was coming to pick me up just recently, used a curious but a very credible excuse for running late – he hit the buffalo on the way, since it was dark and the black buffalo certainly didn’t have any night lights.

Westerners, especially girls, might be scared of mice, cockroaches or spiders. I haven’t seen yet any of these species here. Instead, there is an army of lizards creeping on the walls, in the bathrooms and windows. The girls at our home are all scared of them to death, while I think they are rather cute and harmless.

The local shopping center looks as a nearly abandoned market with exclusively over-the-counter type of shops. No vast parking lots, no shelves of goods, no trolleys…but a kind “uncle” who speaks broken English and is extremely helpful. I can also sing odes to the mango shake I’ve had once at the juice stand. After some doubts as for hygienic reasons, I have consented to try the famous potion which was positively the best mango shake I have ever had. With raisins, cashew nuts, dried fruit and ice-cream. Yum!

Every country has its own ways, America has its Jamba Juice, India has, for instance, Pappu Juice Corner – find 10 differences.

Talking about the services, what an unexpected surprise it is to realize that Pizza Hut over here is not a fast food place, but one of the most popular restaurants at the Connaught Place in New Delhi.
People are waiting in crowds outside to be seated (imagine a good sushi place in SF) and then ushered to a restaurant with booths, waiters, porcelain plates and menus. Yes, that’s Pizza Hut in India.

In my opinion, what makes any culture specific and different is the people. And let me tell you – the Indian people definitely let you feel that you are in a different place. Their generosity, boundless curiosity and constant smile never wear out. It is so natural for the Indian people to engage in a conversation with any foreigner (who is always easy to be spotted). I have been attacked by questions ranging from the education and economic system of my country to my private life (in a detailed cross check). Indian people are curious and at the same time let you know their pride over being Indian. They eagerly explain about their traditions, food (which is a crucial part of their culture), religions, movies, languages (they are sometimes very fierce to teach you Hindi)…etc.

It is amazing how most people here know English and there is hardly any need for the foreigners to step out of the language safety zone. However, their English is the “Queen’s English” as they proclaim, which means that some words are almost obsolete and hardly even used in today’s England. For instance, my little girls have never heard the word “dress” but daily operate with the term “frock”. To describe a teacher, one of the girls told me “she is a learned woman”. It has been some time since I’ve heard teenagers speaking like this.

As a part of cultural pattern, I never stop wondering at the emphasis Indian people, especially women, place on good looks. They are extremely outspoken when it comes to appearance. It is normal to comment on weight and overall looks to the point when one woman says to another “You look so beautiful!” whether they know each other or not. Good looking people seem to have naturally gained an authority and respect.

The Beautiful Girls of Uttar Pradesh
The Beautiful Girls of Uttar Pradesh

The general idea of beauty is ruled by the fairness of your skin – the fairer, the better. In amazement, I watched a TV commercial advertising a product for men called “Fair and Handsome” – some kind of a skin lightener. You could see a guy in the commercial being surrounded by sexy females, after he used the product mentioned (which makes a good idea for a crazy souvenir).

There is plenty to learn and explore every day. The children uncover hidden Indian secrets for me and teach me how to live, be happy and fight life’s hardships. If I could teach them half as much as they teach me, I would be able to leave content and satisfied.

With this I leave you for today. Be well and make others feel good.
Yours, Teresa

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(Part II) Teresa in India: Uttar Pradesh

The Girls of Uttar Pradesh
The Girls of Uttar Pradesh

From the Faraway state of Uttar Pradesh, all the way to Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, this is Tea Ambassador Teresa reporting from afar…

In another words, a place where time seems to stand still and therefore it comes as a surprise to me that it has been almost 3 weeks already since I arrived here.

This red brick 4 storey house, full of all those joyful faces of girls running around, really feels like home to me now. That is where I wake up every morning and before going down for breakfast, take an Indian bath. The whole intricate system of taking a shower in an Indian way lies in one bigger bucket full of water and a small pitcher with which a person splashes the water over himself/herself. So instead of “taking a shower”, it is more like “taking a bucket”. However, it serves the purpose fairly well.
The daily routine starts with a breakfast (invariably toasts and hot milk or mildly spiced chai) and follows with my workshops with the older girls. There is some time to exhale and wipe off the sweat before lunch is served. (The secret word is: 215) Lunch as well as dinner consists of chapatis (“pancakes” made out of flour and water, rosted on open fire), rice, raita (yoghurt-like sour concoction) and cooked vegetables of different sorts but bigger amounts, so that all the 50 hungry throats in the house would get fed.

The Girls' Bed Room
The Girls' Bed Room

After lunch, I’m having English classes with the little ones for a few hours that naturally flow into an art workshop (yes, the girls love to draw) and sometimes basketball or a game of cards. There are also moments I steal away a little time for making tea from my own collection.

Dinner comes as late as 8pm and then there is just a little time left for the weenies to brush their teeth and play in their roomsbefore they get too tired and often crush at any random place in a house (from where the older girls carry them to their beds). Seeing a little girl sleeping on a concrete floor is a common phenomena, which quickly stops being a matter of concern. The older girls (and I) stay up till about midnight and talk, study or iron their school uniforms (the older ones still go to school in the mornings). Night is the time I get to know the older ones as they become more open and eager to share their personal stories, their passions but also fears and worries about their pasts and their futures. It is at night when you get to hear the most touching, most frightening and most sincere stories of their lives which you wish they never had to live through.

The Older Girls
The Older Girls

English classes with the little ones would rather deserve a title “Teresa’s preschool play group”, since we are mostly drawing, playing, crying, screaming, laughing, sleeping (and all that the 6 year olds love to do) and, of course, we try to do all that in English. The personality development workshop with the older girls has revealed many areas that should be worked on – the ability to listen, express oneself, work in a team, not to give up easily, take challenges, think in abstract terms, be creative, trust and understand. Generally all that everyone of us needs to get better at, right?

Well, these girls need special attention and care since their reactions are sometimes not adequate to the situation. The management of their own feelings might be one of the tricky parts. So it happens a girl can start crying during the class for seemingly no reason at all and stays inert until the end of the workshop, one 6 years old princess threatens another 6 y/o by shooting her dead (obvious knowledge of handing guns), and I even witnessed an ostensibly symbolic gesture of suicide. That all and more. The light tone of my voice serves merely to make the tragic reality digestable for general public.

It is not an easy work at times, but then, don’t get the impression it is all just dealing with difficult deep-tissue problems. Thegirls are adorable and after all, they are just kids who want the same like any of us in their age. They need to play, to hug, to have a cry sometimes, they are smiling most of the time, running and calling at each other from the inner porches of the house, they help aunties in the kitchen and although none of them has or knows her parents, each has 40 other sisters living in the same house. It feels like a big loving family.

Teresa’s Preschool Play Group
Teresa’s Preschool Play Group

My time here has recently had two other highlights – a very positive one, when a Danish girl Camilla joined me here as a volunteer and became my friend and a work colleague for 2 weeks; and a not-so-great one, when I was shot down by a typical Indian sickness (which means 3 days of strong headaches, fever, diarrhea and being sick). This is apparently a common “tax” that every foreigner has to pay if he/she intends to spend more than 2 weeks over here. The local people are completely chilled about it and always have the remedy that gets you up to your feet again within 3 days. Just another typical Indian experience (usual for other hot-climate countries as well).

Alright, today it was mostly about “the daily life in one orphanage in India”. There are much more impressions and observations which I will keep for later. Anyone who should have any specific questions from social/cultural/touristic or any related areas, feel free to drop me a line. Next time, I will try to focus on confrontation of cultures (get ready for some surprising and funny bits). Hope a few pictures get through for you to get a better idea what I am writing about.

Many greetings and best wishes! Keep making small differences in the world and drinking good tea!
Teresa — [email protected]

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(Part I) Notes from Teresa in India: I Arrive!

Since every journey has its beginning, this one starts in the cozy shelter of Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, and ends on the streets of India.


Having loved tea with its different varieties since my teenage years in the Czech Rebpulic, it has always been a necessity for me to find a good tea spot wherever I live. So when I moved to San Francisco last August and started my desperate tea search, Samovar was one of the names that came up. I soon realized it was my favorite place to visit, and, yet that if I kept up my student life, I would go broke drinking up my savings!

And so, knowing well that I loved the environment there, I decided it would be a perfect place to work (and, I could drink all the tea I wanted!) It was always wonderful to cross the Yerba Buena Gardens when going to work, which never really felt like work but rather like a community of people sharing similar values and love for tea. Doing matcha services, smelling the opening leaves of dong ding, hearing the church bells from across the Mission street, joking with my colleagues (who I miss and send my love to)…that all was part of my job which I very much enjoyed.

When the idea of my leaving to India came up, I was, of course, sad to say goodbye to all the tea-lounging of Samovarites and to all the friends I made there within the few months I was part of the TEAm. At the same time, I knew the India experience would bring a lot of joy to my life and to the life of others as well.
My mission in India is to make a difference, to help other people live their life in a rich and satisfying manner—and I decided to put my educational training (in education) into play by starting a program targeted at helping homeless Indian girls.

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Mi Xiang Oolong and Our Purchasing Philosophy


The Awe-Inspiring Mi Xiang Oolong
The Awe-Inspiring Mi Xiang Oolong

Jill, a regular customer of ours recently inquired how we, a “socially responsible company” could be so insensitive as to purchase the entire existing lot of Mi Xiang oolong tea–and that our doing so was an indication of Samovar turning into a big, careless corporation. I disagreed, and responded to her with the letter below. I have posted it to our blog because I feel it provides some good insight into who we really are. Enjoy!

Hi Jill–
Thank you for writing, and, for your concern about the purchasing stance of Samovar Tea Lounge. I thought I would write to let you how and when and why we buy tea, to hopefully ease your concern about Samovar.

My friend Josh is married to a Taiwanese woman, and he travels regularly to Taiwan to visit her family. Her family’s neighbors grow this tea for themselves, and, when he tasted it with them over dinner and realized how amazing it was, he asked if they were interested in selling it to an American customer base. They did not believe there was a market in America for a tea like this–so unusual, so premium an oolong, and, so rare. They had all the tea they needed, so, they sold him 20 lbs to take to America. Josh is a one-man-shop, and, just starting out in the US to make inroads to the burgeoning tea market. He knows of Samovar’s national presence with online sales, and of our strong Bay Area presence among locals coming to our store, and, he wanted to jump start his business, and introduce a really unusual, artisanal, and delicious tea, but didn’t know how–so I offered to sell it for him, to try it out with our customers.

Mi Xiang was an immediate hit, and we sold out 3 lbs (600 servings!) in less than two weeks. I told him that the risk was well taken, and, that if he didn’t have any other interested buyers, that I would happily take the rest of it because we had so many customers asking for more Mi Xiang. And so, he sold me the remaining 17.5 lbs (now down to about 10 lbs actually)–because of customer requests.

I understand your sensitivity to “corporate America,” and I couldn’t agree with you more about greed. I hope you do see the difference in this situation, especially because Samovar is the furthest thing possible from corporate America.

To give you some examples:
We’re not a corporation. Samovar is owned by me, and my two friends Paul and Robert–and it is run by an amazing staff.

Also, I don’t think corporate America provides massage, acupuncture, and free yoga to their employees! I believe strongly that if we do our best to take care of the people who make Samovar special, they will take care of Samovar, making it special–ie, the polar opposite of corporate America.

I hope I did not bore you with the length of this email, and that the information has been useful in clarifying Samovar’s stance. Feel free to email me directly if you have any other questions or concerns–or do say “hi” if you’re ever in either location!

Thanks again,



Below is the customer’s email:

Dear Samovar,
Thank you for the Newsletter. I was, however, sorry to read that you had
bought all of this tea “in existence.” How greedy of you! Reading
that fact did not sit well with me. You could have left some for others perhaps? I guess that’s corporate America–for you-all or nothing. Living like there’s no tomorrow-is that what
global warming is about? Thank you for listening. No need to reply to this letter.

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(Part II) Business is Nothing …But Community

People Unite at Samovar Yerba Buena
People Unite at Samovar Yerba Buena

One of the funniest ironies about technology and improvement is that as we make giant technological leaps ever day, and get ever more “connected,” we are at the same time we are also getting more disconnected from each other and the world. Author Bill McKibbons wrote recently in Mother Jones Magazine that ever since 1956, the “Happiness Index” of Americans has been going down. How can this be, amidst an ever improving “standard of living,” that we are getting progressively unhappy?

It’s because we are flesh and blood and that until that changes, like attracts like, and we need to be amongst flesh and blood, ie. other humans. We’ve become lonely and isolated, constantly digitally connected, and yet physically remote from each other.

Tea is the perfect social lubricant for greasing the pathways of a beautiful community. Ask any good psychologist and they’ll tell you that perhaps the strongest need of a human is the need to belong to a community. We need community to survive. That’s what makes Samovar Tea Lounge so special. Tea is about making a delicious, warm, satisfying pot of something special for someone special. It is about taking time out of your daily routine to breathe, see, touch, talk, and rejoice the simple pleasures of being human, among other humans.

What ever happened to the simple act of conversing in person? Nowadays most conversations take place over instant chat, email, phone messages, or cell phone. But while we’re still made of atoms, we still innately crave to be touched, hugged, and caressed. Have a pot of tea with someone you care about, and touch them. Talk to them. Savor their human-ness, and connect.

After all, what’s the point of it all? I think few people, when on their deathbeds, ask how much money they are leaving in their bank accounts. Instead, I’d reason the more common question is, “What did I do that mattered?” And what matters is what kind of influence you exerted in life. And that often comes down to the bonds you’ve fostered. The community of human bonds. And it just so turns out that business is a phenomenal means for creating and fostering our human bonds.

Business is nothing but the forging of human bonds.
And as business philosopher Peter Koestenbaum wrote in Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness : “Business is above all a vehicle for achieving personal and organization greatness. It is for accomplishing something worthy and noble. Business is an institution that can enable you to make a significant contribution to society.”

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(Part I) Business is Nothing … But Stories of People

At the end of the day at Samovar our business is not how much money we made or lost, not what teas were bought or sold, not which employees showed up for work. No, at the end of the day at Samovar, when the last scones have been sold, and the last pot of tea brewed, the floor cleaned, and the lights turned off, at the end of that day all that is left is just a bunch of stories. And the stories are absolutely fascinating. That is business.

The mother and daughter who connect over the grilled portabella sandwich and a pot of Magnolia Snowbud. The writer who finishes the last chapter of their novel fueled by a mug of chai. The single woman who meets the blind date of her dreams over Phoenix Bliss oolong. The retired real estate agent who muses the next chapter of life with a pot of Maiden’s Ecstasy pu-erh. These stories of customers, employees, and suppliers is actually what makes business, business. The tea families who ship us fresh tea monthly are directly sustained by the husband and wife who have a chance to finally catch up over a pot of Dragonwell Green tea at our Yerba Buena Gardens location. And what about those customers who literally live on our Japanese organic green teas, and visit us every single day, rain or shine, alone or with friends?

We support our suppliers giving them the means to survive and thrive. We support our customers by making them happy, healthy, and relaxed, and they support us by returning to us time and again for the experience we offer. We support our employees by giving them a good place to work, eat, drink, and make friends.

This is the story of Samovar Tea Lounge. And what makes it all happen is the interplay of all these stories. At the end of the day, week, month, quarter, and year, we get together and recount the stories that really stand out. The funny ones, the scary ones, the sad ones and the happy ones. Why? Because those stories are Samovar, and, if we understand the stories, we then understand what we’re doing. And if we know what we’re doing, then we can do what we want.

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Meditation & Tea: Words of Wisdom from Samovar’s Paul T.

Wise Guy, Paul T.
Wise Guy, Paul T.

Sure, some folks may have what constitutes as a religious commitment to that morning cup, but those snaky lines, noisy steam and the jolting nature of caffeine in coffee can make mindfulness a pretty tall order. Good ol’ coffee and conversation considered, we’ve come to associate the dark pick-me-up more with passion and productivity then we do with self-contemplation.

Tea, on the other hand, brimming with grace and femininity, was ennobled centuries ago into a religion of aestheticism – Teasim, if you will. According to Kakuro Okakura’s Book of Tea, “Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony…worship of the  imperfect…and is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in the impossible thing we know as life.” Today, tea is hot, and its popularity symbolizes the shift in America’s values toward living a less stressed, more tranquil lifestyle.

The inspiration behind all these thoughts of coffee, tea and duality was my pursuit of the tranquil new American dream at a Buddhist meditation retreat over New Years. Steering the silent ride to the land inside of our minds was Shinzen Young, a western teacher of eastern Vipassana or Insight meditation. There, a student of Shinzen’s who was also an avid tea practitioner provided an opportunity for us to take part in the Cha-no-yu ritual (literally “hot water for tea”).

Transforming the lobby of the aged, Catholic retreat center into a tasteful teahouse, she demonstrated her agility with powdered green tea, known as Matcha, meticulously preparing servings to a small group of us in the tranquil setting. We were taught that the study and mastery of the tea ceremony takes many years, often lasting one’s lifetime. Just participating as a guest in the semi-formal Cha-no-yu required me to study and learn general tearoom deportment, prescribed gestures and phrases and the proper way one takes teas and sweets.

Given my affiliation with Samovar, I got to thinking… thinking… and thinking a bit more (a phenomena I now understand consists of body sensations, self-talk, and visual images emanating from my mind).  Why, I wondered, is it that one doesn’t cross paths with more black-robed, Buddhist devotees sipping Soy lattes? Why the stronger link between enlightenment and coffee’s cuz, this slightly bitter beverage served hot? Scratching around a bit, I discovered that tea, like coffee, had been bound up through the ages with popular cultural values. The tea social experience, however, was more closely tied to ritual, often occupying the center of certain ceremonial practices.  Established rites like the Japanese Tea Ceremony I experienced, strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, sought to divide the world between the sacred and the profane (or everyday) in the effort to establish community or create a social experience.

The Simple Pleasure of Pouring Tea
The Simple Pleasure of Pouring Tea

Those fortunate enough to have taken a seat at one of Jesse’s Tea Tastings have sensed a similar energy of reverence and nobility. To the unenlightened eye, it may appear to be a creative marketing medium that helps move product. But look a little closer… and you just might catch a glimpse of Samovar’s skillful tea shaman upholding a living legacy of relaxation, pleasure, dignity, and delight.

Which brings it around full circle for me. Shinzen explained that we’d all soon be faced with “aftershock” and “afterglow,” his terms for the positive and negative feeling states experienced during turbulent, post-retreat reentry into a clattering modern world.  He encouraged us to work at meditating daily, while seeking out places and people that supported our practice. Okakura’s charge to “know the stillness that makes the impossible possible,” echoed in his words. I can’t help but thinking… thinking… thinking…   how Jesse’s efforts have made Samovar one of hose magical places that assists patrons and pilgrims in finding the harmony, the serenity and the sacred underlying our everyday world.

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The Samovar Tea Lounge Growth Plan: One Slow Sip at a Time

The First Samovar in the Castro-Mission
The First Samovar in the Castro-Mission

Thanks to amazing support from our customers, vendors, and employees, Samovar Tea Lounge has grown from a little tea spot in the Castro, to becoming a huge presence in the tea industry, with our new location in Yerba Buena Gardens, a great online store, plans for regional rollouts, and phenomenal national, and international press. From the Dutch foodie community surrounding Bouillon Magazine, to the Chicago Tribune, to the Japanese tourist industry featuring us in Figaro Magazine, the world has received us with a warm embrace. Thank you.

Because of this strong public reception, we are constantly asked “Are you going to grow? Are you planning on becoming the Starbucks of tea?” I actually saw a recent reference in an online blog that suggested we are in fact owned by Starbucks, and that Starbucks is testing out the tea market by going undercover in “stealth mode” as Samovar Tea Lounge!

I was amazed, surprised, and slightly alarmed, and, felt it was very important to respond.

First, to set the record very straight: Samovar Tea Lounge is NOT owned by Starbucks. It is owned by Paul, Robert and Jesse, and a few of their friends. That’s it.

Coming out of the hyper-speed, consumer-frenzied, coffee-fueled dot com bomb era, we three wanted to do something that made a difference to us, to our community, and to the world. A tea lounge was that special something that we conjured up that would serve these needs. And it has made a difference!

498 Sanchez Street was a love of labor. We three built it with our hands, and we were the first staff: cook, dishwasher, and tea-maker. There’s been lots of changes in how we do things and in what we offer. But the core, to deliver the ultimate tea experience to make the world a better place, has remained the same. And fortunately for everybody, we now have an amazing staff that is much better than us three at making and serving tea!

Samovar II: The Oasis in Yerba Buena Gardens
Samovar II: The Oasis in Yerba Buena Gardens

Now about growth…
The mission of Samovar is to make the world better place by delivering the ultimate tea experience. And, we’re only effective if as many people as possible experience what we offer. If it were possible to accomplish our mission by maintaining our single original location at 18th and Sanchez, then, that is what we would do–have just that single store. However, the tea lounge business is a very physical, visceral experience, and we accomplish our mission by spreading this experience as far and wide as possible. So, to accomplish the goal, we’ve got to spread it far and wide and and as deep as we can through additional locations.

How do we do that?
That’s the business part. For us to grow as “far, wide, and deep” it takes money. Money is the lifeblood of business, and there are three ways for us to get money to grow:

1. Wait until our two locations yield enough money to allow for more locations.
Pro: We own the company, and this is a super slow, natural, organic growth.
Con: This is really, really, really….(maybe even too) slow. We are in a tight margin business, so to expect our margins to fund our growth would take a really long time. So long in fact that we might miss out on the momentum we’ve created thus far.

2. Get loans to grow.
Pro: We own the company, and get necessary money to grow it.
Con: Repaying loans takes away from the money we use to run the business. Paying interest on loans isn’t good. And, getting loans is a very lengthy process that generally doesn’t fully fund our needs anyway. Also, you have to put your first born children on the line in addition to everything else you own.

3. Get investors.
Pro: People aligned with our vision, our mission, and whom we get along well with invest money in Samovar because they want to be part of something good, exciting, and to contribute to what we’re doing. And they want to know they are contributing directly to making the world a better place through our expansion. And of course they want a return on their investment.
Con: Investors own part of the company. How much depends on the investors.

That’s it. Those are the ways we can spread the gospel of tea and accomplish our mission. It is my belief that there are a lot of people out there who want to make a difference. And, it just so turns out that by joining us, they will make a difference, because we’re making a difference.

The constant question then is “how fast do we grow?” I can openly state in response to the “Starbucks thing” that we will never be the Starbucks of tea. Starbucks is all about churning people through a line as quickly as possible (to ensure hitting estimates and projections for the stock market’s expectations) at counter service delivering highly addictive milk and sugar loaded caffeine beverages. That is the modern commodity of coffee shop business: churn the customers through asap, get their money, send them on their way, and welcome them back for the 4pm slump.

Tea is the antithesis to all of that. Tea is about SLOWING DOWN, spending time with friends and family, taking time for yourself, and drinking something universally healthy that has survived the millennia, and touches nearly all the world’s cultures. Samovar Tea Lounge is about the tea experience. Therefore, it would be to our immediate demise if we were even to attempt becoming the “Starbucks of tea.” Personally, that’s an oxymoron that I don’t think is possible.

Jesse, Samovar's Inspired Leader
Jesse, Samovar's Inspired Leader

As a growth plan, our intention is:
1. Grow as fast and big as is reasonable
2. Embrace slow money. It takes time to grow with solid deep roots. We succeed as we maintain our community involvement, and success as a local business. There’s no IPO planned in 90 days. We’re not on the “for sale” auction. All the investors involved are here for the long haul because they understand developing something of quality and depth takes…time. Slow money fans can apply here and now.
3. Listen. Number 1, and 2 above may seem contradictory, but, if we listen well to our community of customers, employees and vendors, the best pace of growth will become self evident.

There’s no question that people need, desperately, what we offer. And with that, I see an unlimited market potential for our offering: an escape, based on community, health, and a splash of the exotic–but all totally approachable. And, partnered with the right people, the market is ready and waiting for us. Our market is anybody who wants to be healthy, who cares about the quality of their life, who embraces an affordable luxury, and who cares to make more time for themselves. As long as there are overworked, over-stressed, time starved people in this world, there is an absolute need for Samovar Tea Lounge. And that is a need that we aim to fill as soon as possible.

If you’re interested in participating in our growth, come in and have a pot of tea and snack. If you think you have what it takes to join us for the “next level,” just email us. If you think we’re whacky, that’s ok too. Either way, thanks for reading, and happy drinking.

PS–In case you haven’t yet tried our new Japanese senchas from Mr. Ko in Kagoshima, please come in and check them out before the staff drinks them all! Ask for: Morning Dew, Lobocha, or Spring Twig

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Slow Money, Slow Food, Slow Tea, Slow Living

The world is getting fast, and the older you get, it seems the faster it gets. When you’re 18, life stretches out infinitely before you, you’re aware of it because you are just floating in the stream, and you feel eternally young. In your twenties, you are still light. You’ve got enough experience and cockiness and opinion to do anything. You can’t believe that you are already an adult. It seems like life has gone fast, but, you are still invincible.

The thirties come, and there’s no question: you are adult and truly independent. But you also see life  differently now. You’ve been through some pains, and even in your body you notice random little aches and pains at times. Your teens and twenties seem a long time ago, and, ‘forty” the years you always hear of people freaking out over, loom very closely. In your forties you cannot deny that aging is truly a part of your existence. And that’s when things kick into high gear, going really fast…cars, houses, families. Life starts to blur from then to the end.

Routine settles in with responsibilities. Things get stale, cynical, rote, and potentially bitter. Some people crave and create escape–any kind of excitement possible to break out of the rote routine, and to interrupt the speedway that life has become. But many times these escapes are not to a constructive end. Escape is not what we need from life. The secret to feeling alive, and to getting out of the routine is to…


We are members of the Slow Food Association because we believe in valuing and savoring those things in life which take time. Growing food, eating food, spending time with friends and family, relishing the process of life. We are physical human beings which operate at the speed of our hearts. As a company, we also believe in Slow Money. Valuable money takes time to make, and a valuable company takes time to succeed. By succeed I mean to create a lasting and positive influence on its community of customers, employees, vendors. It takes time to create value. How long? As long as it needs. The question for us is never “How fast can it be done?” Instead it’s “How slow will it be?”

The slower something is, the more valuable it becomes. Why? Because time is the one thing that cannot be created. Time is an investment of…time. The more time something takes, the more valuable it becomes. An iced tea takes 15 seconds to pour. It tastes cool, refreshing, slightly sweet and may have aroma and flavor of chamomile, or mint, or citrus. An organic Japanese sencha takes 5 minutes, an eternity to some customers, because we warm the cup and pot, measure the tea, decant and cool the water, steep the tea three minutes, remove the leaves, and then serve it. The taste is out of this world: buttery, grassy, slightly sweet, lingering. It is soothing on the nerves, and yet also gently uplifting. The experience takes time to create, and should take even more time to enjoy. The slowness of it makes if more profound and more valuable.

Our mission is to make the world a better place by delivering the ultimate tea experience. For us, tea is about Relaxation, Health, and Social Intimacy. Relaxation occurs by slowing down. Health takes time to develop. Social intimacy is about slowing down and spending time with friends and family.
Each of those is rooted in slowness, and, if the everybody were to slow down to appreciate those things, the world would be a much better place.

In slowness we are forced to experience the fluctuations and vacillations of our mind, our thinking, our patterns and habits, and our surroundings. Through slowness we witness the blowing of the wind, the honk of a horn, the smile of a passerby, the aroma of a cup of tea, the good morning kiss of a partner, the abilities of our body, the beauty inside our home.

Speed is a drug, whether it’s meth-amphetamines, or, just living in the fast lane. And, by looking at the pictures of people hooked on either the drug Speed, or the lifestyle Speed, the effects are very similar, and, pretty scary: haggard, nervous, darting, sunken eyes, sallow and pale complexion, drawn cheeks, stooped posture, jittery nerves…totally consumed.

How slow is slow enough?

Going slow is painful. We are addicted to the speed, and the faster we go, the faster we want to go. We continue pushing the pedal down, faster and faster, until….we redline. A car operating at red the line for long will break down. I heard recently that the most efficient speed for a car’s engine is 60 miles per hour, 1 mile a minute. But is is hard to slow down to 60 on the highway. It’s frightening and uncomfortable. It’s hard to pay attention to every breath, in and out. It’s hard to cook your meal slowly, focusing on the bounty you have, and even harder to focus on eating it slowly, no TV, no magazines and no talking to distract you.

But if you can slow down you will experience magic.

I don’t believe there is any other way. Slow things have more value, they take more time, and they deliver more. Slow food tastes better than fast food. Slow breathing makes you more relaxed than hyperventilating. Slow loving feels better. Friendships take time. A good meal takes time. Wild salmon takes time to grow up big and strong. Delicious produce takes time to go from seed to sprout to full grown and edible. Deep, meaningful, lasting companies take time to evolve, develop and prosper.

How do you live slower? Just do it.

Seriously, the littlest things will bring the biggest joys. The taste of sauteed garlic in olive oil. The aroma of jasmine flower in your cup. The feel of the kitchen table under your hands. The smile of a co-worker. The caress of your partner. Slowing down allows you to taste the flavors of life, at no cost other than your time and attention. Slow down and you will have more time, and time will mean much more.

Just slow down.

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Samovar Staff Speak Out: How to Spot Your Own Sweet Darjeeling


Tea for Two
Tea for Two

Julian, one of our most esteemed tea gurus talks tea, and dating and how to best blend the two!

You can learn so much about a person by what kind of tea they order. Don’t get me wrong – I was definitely a peppermint Stash kind of guy when I walked into Samovar for the first time on a man-date with one of my best friends. It was his secret date place, and, as it is for many people unaccustomed to camellia sinensis, the tea and herbal selection was quite intimidating to me at first. I knew I wanted to be adventurous, however, I had no idea how to even begin saying the word pu-erh, let alone know how to order or drink it (pooh-air, as it turns out).

My first hot sip at Samovar Tea Lounge was of the 8 Treasures, a sweet and refreshing mix of dates, berries, rock sugar and schizandra. It was served gong-fu style, which was handy to learn given I would begin my love affair with oolongs not long thereafter. Following that first experience I was hooked, and it was only a matter of time before I became interested in learning more about tea and joining the Samovar team.

Continue reading Samovar Staff Speak Out: How to Spot Your Own Sweet Darjeeling

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The Bottom Line is Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Tea at Samovar= Profit + So Much More
Tea at Samovar= Profit + So Much More

The bottom line is profit, or not. What happens when the only goal is about financial profit? Generally speaking, if that’s the primary overarching goal, then nothing else matters. People don’t matter. The environment doesn’t matter. Even the longevity of the company doesn’t matter. Only profit matters, and it is achieved at all and any cost. That’s part of the problem with Wall Street and with business as a whole in today’s economy. A public company must show a profit, or be punished by the market. Companies do whatever it takes to show that profit to their shareholders: buy cheap, sell high, destroy the competition, and yank the necessary resources from the earth. That all works in the short term because it makes it easier to show profit to shareholders. But then what?

Everything is connected as we’re quickly finding out. Fill your SUV full of gas to go to the mall, and that gas has a cost that may not be apparent. Political, environmental and other costs may take some time to arise, but are clear and definite cost nevertheless. As Al Gore spoke to those other costs in his article For People and Planet, “…Not until we more broadly ‘price in’ the external costs of investment decisions across all sectors will we have a sustainable economy and society…”

But it’s a fact that the times, they are a-changing. Companies that are driven solely by profit are very quickly becoming “old-school.” That’s because the light is dawning on the interconnectedness of things, and the reality is that there’s more than only one bottom line that defines a business’ success. And although a business must be profitable in the traditional sense to succeed, today there are two other quantifiable metrics for business success, viability, and sustainability:  People and Planet.

Without profit a company loses the game of business. But without environmental stewardship and concern for humanity, the company loses its natural resources, the earth and its people lose their health, and we all go down the drain. When considering a company’s quantifiable, measurable bottom line, the environment must be strongly considered as do the employees of the company. It is the people who make a company, not the other way around.

Consider evaluating organizations not only on quarterly financial profits, but rather on whether they provide health insurance for their people, or sabbaticals, or maternity leave, or stock ownership in the company, or consistent, positive feedback and appreciation, along with free yoga and acupuncture. Or anything else that helps improve the lives of the employees. And then evaluate the company on what they do for the environment. Do they cause more good than harm? Do they recycle? How much? Do they use biodegradable cutlery, or plastic? Do they compost? Do they buy organic, local products?

The challenge and the reckoning time will come when you reach the checkout line. Are you willing to pay the price?  Many Americans shop based on price. Does that price include the true environmental cost? Does the price include supporting the local artisans and farmers who grew and processed the product for you? That’s what Fair Trade is for.  So, show your values with your dollars, and choose to support companies that survive by being profitable, and, attending to the environment and the people who work there.

When it’s all said and done, at the end of the day and the end of our lives, the question at hand is not “How much profit did I make?” Instead the question is “Did I make a difference? Did my life matter?” By creating, and supporting companies that make a difference to their people, to their customers, and to our environment, by doing so profitably, we know with assurance that our time spent here did make a difference, and left the world a better place. We don’t consider it grandiose. We consider it truth.

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Pu-erh 101

A Golden Mini Pu-erh Toucha (Cake Tea)
A Golden Mini Pu-erh Toucha (Cake Tea)

A lot of customers have been asking about Pu-erh tea, so, I thought I would provide a bit of insight into this really magical brew…

Pu-erh is a category of tea, just like Black tea is a category of
tea. And, just like there are different types of black tea (Darjeeling,
Assam, Earl Grey, etc.), there are countless types of Pu-erh teas.

The one special thing about Pu-erh tea unlike all other teas (White tea, Oolong tea, Green Tea, and Black Tea) is that it is the only tea that is intentionally aged, just like a fine wine or cheese.

With that unique processing method, Pu-erh has an incredibly different flavor and effect than all other teas. Pu-er is dark, rich, smooth, and robust with an incredibly deep flavor that often is characterized by notes of chocolate, espresso, and even coffee–but it is tea!

In the US we are only just beginning to discover the variety and deliciousness of Pu-erh tea and Samovar Tea Lounge is currently the largest supplier of certified organic fair trade pu-erh.

Pu-erh Tea Cake Wraped and Unwrapped
Pu-erh Tea Cake Wraped and Unwrapped

In China Pu-erh is known as a”slimming” tea because of its digestive
benefits when sipped with meals,especially with rich, hearty, or oily meals.

Now, how to decide WHICH Pu-erh is right for you? The best way is just to taste away! The flavor of the different types of Pu-erhs ranges from more chocolaty and espresso like (Palace and the Maiden’s Ecstacy), to more oceanic (Menghai Select), to more green (Sun dried Green Beencha and Green Toucha).

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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

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People of Samovar: Meet Paul T.’s Mom


Paul T. (a face not only a mother could love)
Paul T. (a face not only a mother could love)

“…As far as I know, my Mother never sipped tea out of a small Raku-fired cup in a tea house or nibbled Japanese sweets out of a lacquered bowl. To think of tea and Mom, it’s more the English approach that comes to mind. Earl Grey, a splash of half-and-half, a teaspoon of honey and Mom perched at the countertop, the sound of a slow stirring spoon tinkling the inside of a favorite cup, her pursed lips cooling the steaming surface.

As far back as I can recall, tea was an essential elixir in our home. Not exotic Pue-erhs or Oolongs mind you– more the kind that came in the red and yellow box marked Liptons, the little white tea bags stacked up firm from side to side, the string tucked up under and packaged tight. When I first made the move to San Francisco and was exposed to the burgeoning ‘tea scene’ by way of Samovar, my friend Jesse’s hip tea lounge, I was excited to explore a shared passion with Mom. Who knew my seventy-seven year old Mother and I would find common ground over tea?

Then again, when I sent her Samovar’s menu, the retail list tea list and a tin of – what else? – Mother’s Mint, I should have anticipated her response.

Mom: “I don’t see Lipton’s on the menu.”

Me: “That wasn’t a printing error Mom. Samovar doesn’t serve Lipton’s.”

Mom: “Well, look at all these. What am I going to order when I’m there?”

Me: “I’ll talk to Jesse and find out if we have some plain, bland tea socked away in the basement somewhere that I can bag up for you.”

Mom: “What have you got against Lipton’s? What’s the closest thing, then? The Lapsang Shoochang? The Monkey-Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy? The Maiden’s Ecstasy? Can you still drink that if you’re seventy-seven?”

Paul T. and Mom "Cheers!"
Paul T. and Mom "Cheers!"

Well, at least she had fun rattling off the names. Louise explained that at her age, some things still worked well and if they did, you stuck with them. It turns out the closest thing to Lipton’s was a Black tea and fairly straightforward, something along the lines of an Earl Grey. I sent her a tin along with a few other herbals, a wise choice considering caffeine intake was a concern. Mom’s tea ritual, practiced and perfected over many, many years, typically began in the early evening, when the backyard Oaks were splashed with dusky reds and purples.

It turned out she was a bit set in her ways, accustomed to the simplicity of dangling tea bags with stapled strings, and hadn’t sampled the loose teas I’d sent prior to my visit home this past Thanksgiving. But her curiosity – and no doubt willingness to indulge her son – coupled with my enthusiasm created an opening.

I walked her through the choice of waters and degrees of boiling (“Ooohhh, degrees of boiling” she intoned, pronouncing each word deliberately), the steeping, the subtleties, the beauty. She explained to me that she was quite familiar with things like boiling water and steeping, reminding me that she’d been steeping for years, long before I considered anything other than milk for a beverage.

And before I knew it, my Mom and I were connecting, as I had hoped, over tea.

To be sure, her Midwestern Way of Tea was less rigorous than some of the customs of my urban tea lifestyle. I had no illusion that anything but a uniformed bag of Liptons would occupy her mug the evening after I’d left and returned to San Francisco.

But something happened that post-Thanksgiving afternoon during that half hour, or was it longer? that Mom and I sipped tea, slipping in and out of light conversation and silence. It left me feeling that perhaps the making of a skilled Tea Master can take a multitude of forms….”

Thank you Paul for this story, and, for bringing tea to the Midwest. If you have had our teas make an impact on your life, or your Mother’s life, email us. We’d love to tell the world.