As I sip some Golden Phoenix Oolong this morning, I’m musing over a quality, hand-finished keychain curated by my friends at Huckberry. There’s a real boom going on these days in handcrafted goods. I’m not just talking about funky, craftsy things you find on Etsy. I’m talking about incredibly beautiful, well-made, durable, traditionally crafted goods.
Let’s face it: we’re physical beings in physical bodies. When we exercise we feel good, and have more energy and enthusiasm for life. Our minds can focus better, and our bodies fight off sickness more effectively.
Yet most of our modern day working lives are spent in a chair, behind a wheel, or in front of a computer. Exercise is uncomfortable, so therefore it’s undesirable. Our schedules are full, our days are long, and we’re overwhelmed with distraction, so we find plenty of reasons to let exercise slip off the priority list.
So what if we reframed our thinking about exercise—not as a chore, but as a practice, as important as brushing your teeth and meditating? Suddenly the challenges and excuses melt away. You might even find yourself enjoying the process.
One of the challenges meditation is how to deal with your mind wandering all over the place while you’re sitting there. One way to ease into the concept is to do a moving meditation.
Anything can be a moving meditation, from dance, to yoga, to labyrinth walking. Tea is my moving meditation. Just taking the time to brew a cup of tea mindfully can quiet my mental chatter and help me tune into the present moment.
Our organic Hibiscus Bliss isn’t a replacement for a multivitamin, but this caffeine-free blend contains natural vitamin C, which promotes a healthy immune system, skin, eyes, and heart.
The “C” in Hibiscus Bliss comes from two herbs: hibiscus and rosehips. Hibiscus is a bright red tropical flower which may also help lower blood pressure. Rosehips, made from the round red fruit that forms on a rose bush, is one of the richest plant sources for vitamin C.
The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word meaning “to breathe.” I agree with the ancient Romans; to breathe with intention is to be filled with life and inspiration.
There’s this perception that meditation is only for really spiritual people. That it’s woo-woo or granola-y. But the benefits of meditation are hard science; studies have indicated that meditation can reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, reduce stress levels, and much more.
Here’s a beautiful poem written by Gwen Weiss, a customer at the Tea Lounges. She said, “I was delivering tempeh to the Castro location today and decided to stop in my deliveries and have a cup of tea and get a snack…such a great decision. I ended up drinking Maiden’s Ecstasy [pu-erh] and a poem came through that I left for James and the other very sweet servers.”
I think it’s fair to say that the number one survival skill in the professional world is sales. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one buys it, it doesn’t matter.
At Samovar we focus on sales by actually NOT focusing on sales. All day long we’re bombarded again and again by ads: online, in the news, in the movie theater, everywhere. We’re trained to be on the defensive and revolt against anyone who tries to push something on us.
Instead of a sales pitch, what Samovar offers is connection. Genuine connection. This makes hiring and training hard; it’s challenging to find team members who truly care about connecting with total strangers. But it’s worth the effort, and customers often comment on the friendly, supportive service we provide.
And service is the best way to sell. No, we’re not a non-profit, and we can’t carry out our mission if we’re not profitable. But our focus is on understanding what our customers really need. We’re not here just to feed people and keep them hydrated. We’re here to give guests what they truly crave: a respite from the rigors of life. The opportunity to unplug, slow down, and connect with themselves, and with others.
If we compete just by selling lots of tea, we’re up against giants like Tazo Tea and Lipton. But if we compete by solving the true needs of each guest, we are wholly unique.
The typical restaurant has employees that are essentially “order takers.” It’s scary because if all you’re doing is literally “taking orders,” I’d say that your job isn’t very secure. There’s probably an app coming out for restaurants that will do just that.
Her name is Tie Kuan Yin. It means the Iron Goddess of Mercy, but to us she’s the Goddess of Tea.
According to Chinese legend, Kuan Yin’s temple was located in the Fujian province of China. At one point the temple became very dilapidated. A poor farmer took notice, and whenever he had a chance he would sweep the temple floors, burn incense, and clean her statue.
“Every day brings a clear choice:
to practice stress or to practice peace.”
Everyone you meet today has something they’re stressed about. Probably multiple things. It’s just part of life. But you can only do so much to address your stresses, and then you have the choice to let them go, or to hold onto them. What if you chose to let them go?
At Samovar Tea Lounge, we get a lot of customers coming in asking us how they can kick the coffee habit. We never hear people asking how they can get off tea though. Why is this?
I have nothing against coffee, and enjoy the occasional well-brewed cup of Joe just as much as the next person. But coffee as part of your daily routine can present some problems.
First off, coffee is highly addictive. Once you start to depend on coffee to wake you up in the morning, and keep you going all day long, it becomes a crutch. How many people do you know who have to have their cup of coffee in the morning, or else they’ll get massive headaches? Perhaps you’re one of them.
White teas are processed so gently that you can still see the fuzzy hairs on the tea buds. To make white tea, the baby tea buds and tender young leaves of the tea plant are picked, then dried in the sun. After one to three days, they’re baked briefly to halt the oxidation process. That’s it.
1. All tea comes from the same plant.
Whether black tea, white tea, oolong tea, green tea, or pu-erh tea, it all comes from the camellia sinensis plant. The varietals, oxidation level, and processing techniques differentiate each type of tea. Herbal blends are actually not “real” tea, since they come from other botanicals.
2. It’s polite to slurp your tea.
As with wine, professional tea tasters slurp their tea from a spoon to experience the full flavor of the tea on all parts of their palate.
The biggest problem with tea today is that there’s too much of it. The choices are overwhelming. Which tea company should you go with? What tea should you drink? Which brewing method should you use?
Wherever we turn, we’re faced with options, and lots of them. Think about it. You go to your local deli and they offer you six kinds of bread, four kinds of mayo, two kinds of mustard, five kinds of turkey, and eleven garnishes. All I want is an amazing turkey sandwich and I have to make all these choices? What a pain!
Legend has it that popped rice and tea originated in ancient Japan when premium green tea was a luxury item. Peasants made their tea stretch further by adding toasted rice kernels.
Samovar Tea Lounge pays homage to this tradition of tea and rice with our Ryokucha Green Tea. We blend high quality, organic Japanese green tea with toasted rice and a touch of organic matcha. The result: a smooth, nutty brew with a luminous jade green color.
Cereal-like with a sweet grassiness, Ryokucha is the ultimate tea for breakfast. Pair Ryokucha with freshly baked bread, oatmeal, or our Jook with smoked salmon.
Today I’m savoring our Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong. A clean, robust infusion with woodsy high notes and deep baked apple undertones. As our description for this tea says: “Sip. Penetrate your issues. Dissolve them.” This is the way of tea and the way of business for us at Samovar Tea Lounge.
It’s easy to see tea as a simple commodity; a utilitarian item you keep on hand for occasional enjoyment and/or health benefits. It’s so easy to forget what went into giving you the perfect cup of tea that you may be sipping even this moment:
The soil, water, and air that nourish the tea plants and help them to put forth fresh buds each season.
The farmers, who work so diligently to grow the tea plants and to coax out the leaves’ full potential for flavor and aroma.
The servers at the Tea Lounges who share their passion for tea every day.
Samovar Tea Lounge is proud to partner with The Long Now Foundation to source a rare pu-erh tea for the foundation’s future Salon, for which they are raising support.
The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996 to to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. They are championing the Clock and Library projects, to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.
Beginners to Bigshots featured Jesse Jacobs and Samovar Tea Lounge in the 2004 edition. Here we catch up on what has happened with the business since then.
With three locations in San Francisco and a growing presence online, Samovar Tea Lounge, founded in 2001, is poised to deliver peaceful living to the masses.
“Our whole focus is on how do we help our customers and people in general get more of what they need, which is often slowing down, focus, calm, reduced stress. We end up really promoting a lifestyle choice,” said Samovar founder Jesse Jacobs.
Customers are soaking up the Samovar lifestyle, indeed. The company’s revenue has jumped to north of $4 million today from $2.3 million in 2008. Even more impressive is that since receiving a $160,000 loan through the Small Business Administration and counseling, training and technical assistance from a local Small Business Development Center in its early days, Samovar’s growth has been organic.
Mary McCue, president and CEO of MJM Management Group, a designer and manager of public spaces in San Francisco, and a regular to the Mission-Castro location, “begged” Jacobs to open a lounge in Yerba Buena Gardens in 2006.
“I wanted tea to be served in on our terrace, and I knew Samovar would do something that would be distinctive to the Gardens,” said McCue. “I was also impressed with Samovar’s commitment to excellence. Most importantly, they are experts at tea service from countries all around the world.”
Once Samovar agreed to open the second location, MJM Management did what it could to help. “As a small company, we didn’t have deep pockets, and they helped make it a viable next step,” said Jacobs. Samovar opened a third teahouse in Hayes Valley a few years later under similar circumstances. Jacobs plans to expand to other cities with the “right partners.”
“Developers and landlords have come to realize that we have a solid business, a solid brand and proven operations, and they see it as a great opportunity to increase the value of their property,” said Jacobs, who attributes his company’s growth to a focus on the customer experience.
Although Samovar still derives most of its revenue from the tea lounges, it is keen to deepen its relationship with customers online. Its website includes a tea emporium for wholesalers and individuals as well as informational posts about different teas and educational videos about the benefits of tea culture. Jacobs’ recent webinar about meditation and the ritual of tea drinking drew 1,500 participants around the world.
“It was a way to reach the entire world with a message about who we are, what we do, and how it can help,” said Jacobs.
Building the Samovar brand on- and offline is part of what differentiates it from Amazon and Starbucks, according to Jacobs. Samovar charges between $5 and $6 for a pot of chai tea — “more than anyone else in the world.” said Jacobs. “And people come back again and again and happily pay for it.”
Nathalie Pierrepont is a freelance writer in San Francisco.
If we were stranded on a desert island and could choose only tea brewing utensil, we’d choose the Samovar Cloud Gaiwan. It’s beautiful, simple, and makes great tea.
The Chinese gaiwan, or “covered bowl,” is one of the oldest brewing devices around. It concentrates the infusion, allowing you to re-infuse the same leaves over and over. Sip straight from the cup or decant into a separate cup, and you’ll enjoy stronger aromas, more full bodied taste, and a beautiful view of the leaves unfurling.
Pu-erh is the wine of the tea world: earthy, strong, and complex. Infuse the same tea leaves again and again to emit dark flavors of cedar forests, tobacco, bittersweet chocolate, and espresso. An epicurean experience favored by coffee drinkers and wine connoisseurs.
Eat tea. Yes, that’s right. We love eating tea, when it comes to matcha that is. Matcha is the only tea we actually eat.
The finely milled powder from shade grown organic Japanese green tea whips up into a creamy delicious froth. And the effect? We describe it as somewhere between wheatgrass and and espresso. Caffeinated and robust, yet fresh and vegetal. Perfect for sleepy mornings or whenever you could use a boost of inspiration.
Customers thank us every day for the peace that Samovar Tea Lounge brings them. We are so grateful to be doing what we do.
But when I step back to survey the magic that happens at Samovar, I realize the real superhero is you.
You are the one who took time to meet with an old friend. You are the one set aside work to savor a dish of smoked duck and poached eggs. You are the one who chose to reach out to an estranged family member and reconnect over a pot of tea.
All we do is offer a space for the alchemy to take place.
When the weather warms up, it’s a great time to chill your teas down. Did you know there’s more than one way to make chilled tea? The most common technique is to brew tea with hot water, then pour it over ice or refrigerate it. But you can also brew tea with cold water, which extracts more sweetness and yields a smoother body.
Cold-brewed Pineapple Coconut Oolong is our favorite warm weather refreshment. With a creamy flavor, heady tropical aroma, and natural sweetness, it goes down easy on those scorcher days.
Here’s how to cold-brew tea:
Put about 2-6 teaspoons of tea in a glass jar or cup (fewer teaspoons for dense teas, more for fluffy teas like Pineapple Coconut)
Add 8 ounces of water and refrigerate overnight, or for a minimum of four hours.
Sometimes when I’m at the Tea Lounges and have a moment to myself, I like to sit at a remote corner table and pretend to be a customer. Then I just observe. I never tire of watching haggard, stressed out people plop themselves down, then slowly transform as they experience our warming teas and nourishing food. Watching their eyes get clearer and suddenly seeing – actually seeing – the person sitting across the table from them, and connecting with them for one quiet moment.
As you explore the world of tea, you’ll come to a point where you want something more. Something more exotic. Something that surprises. Something so delicious that your worries melt away leaving you squarely in the present moment, a cup in your hand and a smile playing on your lips.
That’s when it’s time to brew some Samovar Gyokuro—the fine wine of Japanese green tea.
Unlike most teas, Gyokuro is grown in the shade under straw mats for about 20 days prior to harvest. This stresses the plant and as it struggles to draw energy from the sun the chemistry of the leaves change. The result is higher levels of L-Theanine, responsible for increased mental clarity and focus, and a clear resonating note of the most unique of all flavors: umami.
If you are familiar with our standard brewing instructions (steeping one to two tbs. of tea in boiling water for 15-60 seconds) you’ll have to set them aside. They won’t help you here. Gyokuro has special leaves that you need to treat with extra gentle, loving care.
Two of the most common questions we hear are “What is the best way to brew my tea?” and “How should I taste tea to get the most out of it?” The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Tea video series covers these and a number of other topics: how to judge tea quality, what tea is, information on all tea varieties, and more.
How To Taste Tea The Samovar Way
Engage all your senses as you learn the art and practice of tasting tea. Enter your email and we’ll send you details to unlock this episode, for FREE.
Agrarian society fed the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution created the tools and workforce for the Information Age. But what comes next? The pattern of change in human development is as predictable as it is disruptive. The one constant in this world is that nothing lasts forever.
So where are we headed now?
Joshua Jacobs, who works on Special Ops for us at Samovar Tea Lounge, has been a key collaborator for the last 12 months, and he has some interesting ideas on this subject. Rather than speak for him, I invited him to write a guest post here and share his perspective.
Recognize the last name? Yup, he’s my brother. But don’t think that means I’ve been easy on him—I’ve already fired him three times…
Best Practice #1: Never Trust A Best Practice
Best practices only make sense within a particular context. Applied in the wrong context, they’ll produce horrid results. The best practices at Google bear almost no resemblance to the best practices at a 3-person app development shop. Change the context and the governing rules also change, making all “best practices” worthless unless they are tailored to the situation.
And the consequences are huge. It’s why the Luddites could not stop the industrialization of their craft. It’s why telephone operators were replaced by Cisco routers. It’s why Borders and Blockbuster went bankrupt.
The Ages of our civilization don’t end; they evolve. First slowly and with incredible resistance, and then faster and faster until the cycle is complete.
The fact is, the Information Age has already evolved into a new era. How do I know? By looking at the results.
We are passionate about tea and committed to helping you find the best way to make tea a rewarding part of your life.
We often get questions about tea and we wanted to share the discussion with you so everyone can benefit. Here’s a question that came in this week from Doug in Tuscon, AZ about the difference between Samovar Tea Lounge tea and Teavana.
Subject: Samovar, Teavana, and other
Loving your website! I have been reading and learning more about tea (and coffee–go Blue Bottle). In Tucson we have an excellent Chinese Tea House and also a Teavana retail shop. However, I am curious about Samovar vs Teavana where equipment suggestions, tea ware available for purchase and the tea itself are concerned. They [Teavana] tout themselves as the ultimate in tea but in spite of finding their tea very satisfying I am not convinced that they are the true purveyors but rather a major chain doing quality work. Are you willing to speak to this? My wife and I are departing for a few days this weekend. Upon returning I will be spending more time on your site viewing the videos. Am considering the Ultimate Guide package/s. Have been reading Zen Habits for nearly a couple years now and have at least one of Leo’s books. We had a San Francisco trip planned in January that fell through. We will be making plans for a long-weekend visit as soon as we can. You are on the list of Must-See places.
Oh, also read 101 Cookbooks and Omnivore Books postings. Pitch Perfect Audio (Matt Rotunda) is one of my favorite audio shops and people in the US! I say this in hope that you understand my enthusiasm for the Bay Area and tea, as well as the sincerity of my question. It’s part of how I learn. You know, who to trust where the real information is concerned. Thanks for any help you can provide. Best, Doug (Douglas & Peggy, Tucson, AZ)
Thank you so much for taking the time to research us and to ask this great question. Tea has been growing like crazy in America, and as you can see in Tuscon, the number of options is growing quickly.
If there’s one thing I can say for certain about tea, it’s this: Tea is personal. We’ve got our opinions and perspectives, but I don’t assume they are right for everyone. Way to go for doing the research and making up your own mind on the subject.
We live in a culture that denies fear. I guess that’s not surprising considering how uncomfortable cold, raw fear is. But it’s a disservice because if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that you cannot run from fear, and you definitely cannot hide.
Before Samovar Tea Lounge, I had a “killer” job in high-tech. My fear then was that I would never leave. Golden handcuffs bound me 10 hours a day to a life that was compromised. Uninspired. After I finally drew the courage to change and started Samovar, customers would walk in asking for coffee, or if we were a Chinese restaurant—and leave me haunted by visions of it all coming crashing down.
Try a flight of three top-quality pu-erhs at the Mission-Castro and Hayes/Hayes Valley Tea Lounges! This tea flight is a great opportunity to experience the complexities that make each tea uniquely delicious. And then there’s the chocolate.
Pu-erh Tea is the class of tea that is aged to perfection. It gets its name from the market of the city of Pu-erh, in Yunnan Province, China, where this tea was historically brought for sale from the more remote regions of the countryside where the tea is actually grown and processed. ?Authentic Pu-erh are made with Yunnan’s famous broad-leaf tea tree varietals. Unlike white, green, yellow, black, and most oolong teas, which are highly perishable and have a short shelf life, well-made pu-erh teas may be stored and aged for years of enjoyment.
There are two types of Pu-erh: Raw (or sheng) Pu-erh and Ripe (or shou) Pu-erh; both types of Pu-erh Tea (Raw and Cooked) are made with Sai qing “sun-cured green tea,” which is processed by withering, roasting, rolling, kneading and drying the leaves in the sun. Sheng Pu-erhs are aged naturally over time; Shou Pu-erhs are ripened using a modern, intentionally accelerated aging process.