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Tea is Hot! San Jose Mercury News Visits Samovar and Tells it Like it is.

san jose mercury news logoTea is Hot
By Susan Steade
Mercury News
Posted: 03/10/2009 05:00:00 PM PDT

For a long time, it was listed on menus just by color. Then, suddenly, there were tastings and classes, talk of varietals, origin, terroir. Like wine 20 years ago, tea has become the drink to know.

samovar teaAny beverage that’s been around for 3,000 years can hardly be called an overnight success. But even those who have been in the tea business for decades acknowledge a recent spurt of interest.

The reason? Part of it is a perception that tea has health benefits, particularly when compared with coffee. Part is a desire to be soothed in rocky times. And part of it is an appreciation of the increasing quality and variety of hand-crafted teas — what Gary Shinner of Marin County’s Mighty Leaf Tea calls “an upgrade in sensory experience.”

Jesse Jacobs, who last week opened his third Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, cites the farmers market effect: an interest in seasonal, artisanal products from family growers. “The quality of the tea we’re getting now is unprecedented. Partly, that’s because we’re getting it faster, so it’s fresher. But the new demand is also making it possible for a farmer to produce and sell some wonderful teas in small quantities.”

Descriptions of these high-end teas read like a rhapsody on a Bordeaux: thundering, nutty, silky, hauntingly ambrosial, “warm apricot marmalade on toasted English muffin.” It’s a lot like wine, Jacobs agrees — “except, with tea, you can always have one more for the road.”

So how does a tea novice — a two-latte-a-day die-hard, for instance — enter this world? With a glossary, a few caveats and some encouragement.

What’s the best way to find the right tea?

“Sample two or three from each category,” Shinner advises. “Explore as you would with wine. What are the flavors you appreciate?” Jason Simpson, director of coffee and tea education for Starbucks, elaborates: Consider acidity, body, flavor.

For a coffee lover, the first step might be something like Yunnan, a black tea — robust, with a slightly roasted undertone — that takes milk and sugar well.

Don’t rely on the name of the tea, as that can be misleading, cautions Eliot Jordan, director of tea for Peet’s Coffee & Tea. “There are no conventions in naming, and you get a lot of creativity. Is this jasmine tea the traditional green tea, or is it a black tea, or an herbal, or is Jasmine just the name of their dog?”

So taste, first, across the four categories of tea. (Some say five; we’ll deal with that later.) All come from the same plant, the tree Camellia sinensis; the difference is in the processing.

At the center of the tea world are black and green, Jordan says. Black is the thicker, darker brew that took hold in countries that use dairy in cuisine, like India and England. Green is the standard in areas with less dairy tradition — Japan, China, North Africa. Oolong covers the wide range of spectrum between those two, and white is a lightly processed variety that 10 years ago was barely known in the West.

How they’re processed:

White. Leaves are picked, sometimes lightly steamed, and then dried, and that’s it. Simpson describes it as vegetal, grassy.

Green. Withered, then steamed (for more delicate, herbal flavors) or pan-fired (for a heartier, aromatic quality) before drying.

Black. Withered, then rolled — which breaks open the leaves and allows oxidation — and, finally, dried to stop the oxidation.

Oolong. Also withered and rolled but not fully oxidized. The oxidation is sometimes stopped and started more than once, as a lot of change can occur in just an hour. With a smooth, aromatic character, it’s a favorite of many tea professionals, Jordan says, and it’s hard to find a good, inexpensive one because of the work involved in crafting it.

The sometimes-fifth type is pu-ehr, an aged tea often sold in compressed cakes. A secondary fermentation gives it a very dark, earthy quality. In China, where our black tea is called red, pu-ehr is known as black.

Wait, what about herbal?

Tea has to be from Camellia sinensis. Any other infusion is technically a tisane (“ti-ZAN”).

Loose tea good, tea bags bad?

Not necessarily. There are good-quality teas in bags, especially with the recent advent of whole-leaf tea bags, which let the leaves expand and the water flow through. With the loose tea, though, you pay less for packaging, and you get the experience of the tea-making ritual.

The most flavorful teas are whole-leaf, which, though they shrivel when dried, will unfurl in hot water. Large broken pieces aren’t bad; what you want to avoid is finely crushed leaves and dust. Also, tea’s flavor fades as it ages, so consider how likely it is to be fresh. (Pu-ehr aside, of course.)

Where can I learn more?

Besides the thousands of tea aficionado Web sites? The Bay Area is a hotbed of tea stores and tea lounges; some offer classes, among them Tea Time in Palo Alto (www.tea-time.com, (650) 328-2877). Other South Bay tea rooms include Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Campbell and Menlo Park, Ku Day Ta in Milpitas’ Great Mall and Puripan Tea Garden in Santana Row.

Samovar, which has three locations in San Francisco, is adding more educational pages to its Web site, www.samovartea.com; Lupicia, a tea store in Valley Fair, is another good source.

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

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Where Magazine Sips Some Tea at Samovar Tea Lounge

Where Magazine logoSip at Samovar
by Erin Roth
March 2009

Sure, you’re used to swirling, sipping and savoring wine, but now it’s time to appreciate a libation of a different kind tea. Samovar Tea Lounge, in three locations throughout the city, encourages socialization, relaxation and inner peace while enjoying a selection of more than 50 tea types from all over the world (organic and fair trade certified, of course).

Where Magazine  imageThis approachable and international tea lounge pairs its teas with an eclectic food menu, serving up everything from turkey sandwiches with your iced tea, to aged Japanese teas paired with maki bowls. The newest Hayes Valley location, opening this month, features a tea bar made from a 1200 year-old, 20-foot, naturally fallen redwood tree from Marin. Be sure to try the Ocean of Wisdom tea, custom blended for the Dalai Lama himself. B, L, D (daily). Castro District, 415.626.4700, 498 Sanchez Street; Yerba Buena, 415.227.9400, 730 Howard Street; Hayes Valley, 415.861.0303, 297 Page Street. www.samovartea.com

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

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“Small Businesses Work Hard to Prevent Layoffs” The Wall Street Journal Pays a Visit to Samovar

Companies Try Several Tactics to Avoid Cuts Such as Asking Workers to a Take Day Off Without Pay, Trimming Hours
By RAYMUND FLANDEZ
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wall Street Journal LogoAt a time when the news is filled with large companies announcing major layoffs, some small businesses are determined to buck the trend.

For some companies, it’s a matter of pride: They’ve never had a layoff and they don’t want to start now.

But it’s also a matter of necessity. For one thing, unlike big companies, small businesses rely on each individual employee much more to keep their companies running. In addition, many small companies use their history of never firing people as an essential tool to attract and retain workers.

This recession, however, is testing the no-layoff policy.

“Many companies previously known for avoiding layoffs during past downturns are forced to make extreme sacrifices to resist pink slips now,” says Mel Fugate, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Mr. Fugate adds that “how these concessions are identified and executed can make a significant difference in how well a company emerges when economic conditions improve.” He says that, in general, “it is important for management — and particularly executives and owners — to share in the pain and the gain.”

Management should be the first or at least among the first to sacrifice and make concessions, he says. Conversely, when the economy improves, management should reward those employees who were forced to make concessions. “Doing so will preserve employee commitment and performance not only in the new good times but also in future downturns.”

Here’s a closer look at how some companies have tried to avoid layoffs:

Mandatory Days Off

“We’ve never laid anyone off in our company’s history,” says Matthew Zurn, general manager of Zurn Plumbing Service Inc., a family-owned Chamblee, Ga.-based business that has been in operation since 1985. And Mr. Zurn would like to keep it that way.

But sales in the last four months of 2008 were down 24%, to an average of $124,000 in sales per month from a $163,500-per-month-average a year earlier. So the plumbing company, which has 15 full-time workers, has had to take extreme steps.

Field employees must take a mandatory day off each week without pay, with hours down to 30 or 32 per week from 40 hours. They can opt to use vacation time for that day off. Office workers and management must take a day off every other week. Zurn has saved close to $7,000 a month in labor expense with this strategy since mid-September.

Meanwhile, Zurn’s parents, the company’s owners, have taken a 25% to 30% pay cut. The business also isn’t purchasing as much inventory.

“Our business is our people,” Mr. Zurn says. “Trying to keep them in the company is our top priority. When the economy bounces back, we’re going to need everybody.”

Turning to Employees

Even small companies making a profit during this recession are preparing for the worst.

Take Samovar Tea Lounge of San Francisco. While sales are up, the company is short on cash these days, because of loans and spending related to a new-store opening. So Jesse Jacobs, the company’s founder and owner, took some pre-emptive measures in October. He reduced payroll — the company’s largest expense, 7%, or $100,000 — by tightening up workers’ schedules.

Samovar no longer allows its 60 employees to clock in early, not even five minutes ahead of time, and encourages them to clock out early. People who clock out on time and don’t go into overtime get a reward: a free massage valued at about $100 to $200. Mr. Jacobs says such rewards are much less costly than having to consistently pay overtime.

“I need to proactively address the economic climate,” Mr. Jacobs says, “and I didn’t want to lay off anyone.”

In addition, the company welcomes input from employees about other ways to cut costs. Mr. Jacobs says he told workers: “Help me come up with creative solutions. I’m trying to keep your jobs. …This is a team process.”

A dishwasher suggested purchasing stainless-steel drinking glasses because they don’t break. The move saves the company $3,000 a year since it no longer has to replace broken glasses.

In all, Mr. Jacobs says, Samovar’s efforts should result in about $200,000 in savings this year. He projects $3 million in sales for 2009, up 36% from $2.2 million last year. “Business has increased, costs have decreased and morale has gotten stronger and more positive,” he says.

Doing Good, Doing Well

For one company, finding volunteer work was key to preserving a legacy of looking after loyal workers.

Last fall, Matt Legg, the owner and chief executive of Infinite Care Home Health Inc., began to notice that he didn’t have enough work for his 38 full-time employees. The number of clients had dropped to 130 from 100 at the Duncanville, Texas-based provider of medical-care services to the elderly in their homes.

So, in late October, he instructed employees to volunteer at local clinics when they had down time — and they would be paid for that volunteer time.

It was altruism, with an economic benefit. That’s because Mr. Legg says the doctors in the clinics, who have grown familiar with the nurses and practitioners from Infinite Care, have begun to send new patients his way — about four so far.

“It looks good for our company,” Mr. Legg says, and “it helps us grow in tough times.”

A Last Resort

Ted Bratsos, president of All Steel Structures Inc. of South Holland, Ill., which makes and installs billboard signs, says his business has been in operation since 1987 and he considers his employees his biggest asset. So, the reduction of nine of his 26 workers last month was a hard decision.

“We waited until what we would consider as a last choice,” he says.

Before then, changes were made to do everything to keep those nine workers on the payroll.

Freebies such as winter clothes for field workers, cellphone usage allowance for management, second shifts and wage increases were cut or pared. The company also instructed its field foremen not to take work trucks home to save on gasoline as well as wear and tear on the trucks. Extra phone lines were reduced from six to four.

For the first time, the company closed the day after Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas and the day after New Year’s — and nobody got paid for those days.

All office workers, including executives, took a 10% pay cut, while increasing their hours to 45 per week from 40. The reasoning: The salespeople would bring in more business. In addition, by October, Mr. Bratsos himself stopped taking a salary, except for during the holidays.

“Right now, I’m in a position where I can do that,” he says. “I believe that it’s my job to make this company survive and give the employees a place to work and to be here after the recession is over so that they have a place so that they can support their families.”

Mr. Bratsos is hoping that he won’t have to cut the company’s health-insurance program that fully covers its workers and their families.

“We have always enjoyed a reputation for being a high-quality business,” he says. “It’s so important to keep your employees who know your business and who have contributed to who you are. … It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

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

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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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Jennifer Sauer’s Interview with Jesse of Samovar (Part 2)

pressjennifersauerinterview2

Jennifer Sauer, photographer, Bon Teavant, author of Way to Tea, (the beautiful guide to tea culture in the San Francisco Bay Area), shares her audio interview with Samovar founder, Jesse Jacobs.

Listen to the interview at Sauer’s website Bon Teavant.

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

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Jennifer Sauer’s Interview with Jesse of Samovar (Part 1)

Tea Guy Jesse Jacobs
Tea Guy Jesse Jacobs

Jennifer Sauer, photographer, Bon Teavant, author of Way to Tea, (the beautiful guide to tea culture in the San Francisco Bay Area), shares her audio interview with Samovar founder, Jesse Jacobs.

See the original post at Sauer’s blog Bon Teavant

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

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Samovar Featured in “Tea Industry Roundtable: San Francisco Speaks”

Industry Roundtable (Part One): San Francisco SpeaksIndustry Roundtable (Part One): San Francisco Speaks
by Lindsey Goodwin

With close ties to the Far East, San Francisco has always been a beacon of the United States tea business. During a recent trip to the Bay area, WTN Contributing Editor Lindsey Goodwin spoke with leading tea room owners and tea retailers to get the pulse of the industry.
Participating were Roy Fong, co-founder of Imperial Tea Court, Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, Jill Portman, co-founder of Mighty Leaf Tea, Winnie Yu, founder of Teance, and Chongbin Zheng, co-founder of Red & Green Company. Highlights of the interviews follow.

WTN: What has been the most important change in the Bay Area tea scene since the American tea revival began?

Portman: There’s a really significant demand for whole leaf, but also for convenience. Customers won’t drink inferior quality in traditional bags, but now there are 20 to 30 companies offering similar products to ours, which we pioneered in the 1990s.

Yu: I think the biggest thing is the availability and recognition of high quality, premium loose-leaf tea. In the 1990s you were finding a lot of blended, herbal or black American-type teas. Now authentic, unblended, premium teas are much more available and appreciated.

Jacobs: I agree, but it’s more than just the tea. It’s the appreciation of the tea lifestyle and what tea represents, like awareness of health, relaxation, sustainability, artisanal products and Slow Food.

Fong: I think those things are important, but more importantly… You know how people drink tea in the Orient as a matter of course, like people in Italy drink coffee as a matter of course? People readily accept tea now, like “This is what you do.” It is so acceptable, you don’t even think of it as extraordinary, but it’s a drastic change from when I opened the first traditional Chinese tea house (in 1993), when people would ask, “Is it in a bag or not?” The first big step was getting beyond bags, and then the question was, “Is it a green tea or a black tea?” Now people know white tea and puer, and ask which region, year, factory and item number a puer is. These changes creep up on you, but it’s so drastic.
Zheng: Since 2005, there are many newspapers, publications, magazines, where people are talking about teas. People are really aware, and asking a lot of questions about teas. … Also, tea has expanded to many areas, and to a fusion of traditional and Western styles while staying pure. They’re in different geographical areas where you wouldn’t expect (them) to succeed, like Samovar in The Castro. There are even outlets in shopping malls, and the Asian Art Museum here has a lot of tea events and programs. … It’s very interesting – all types of people find access to tea. It’s almost like grassroots.

WTN: What are your thoughts on the current state of tea in the Bay Area?

Yu: We call this city “the hotbed of the tea renaissance.” Tea houses showcase teas through fusion and bridge the gap between ethnic shops that offer teas and more accessible, modernized and mainstream, but authentic, formats.

Jacobs: I believe the Bay Area is the epicenter for tea culture in North America, due in part to the weather, which works for hot and iced tea, and because there are many different cultures in a small area. Also, San Francisco is very progressive. It’s a hotbed of new ideas. I can’t think of another area in the world that has all those three things together. It has allowed tea culture to take off. Sure, people drink Moroccan mint tea in Morocco as daily life, but they definitely don’t drink Japanese gyokuro or tea from a samovar. There’s nowhere else with a more international tea culture.

Zheng: San Francisco is pretty provincial and small compared to New York. There’s less distraction. If you have five or six tea stores in the city, everybody knows. The level of competition is very high in terms of getting high quality teas. People in Berkeley and Palo Alto are also very into tea. I live in Marin County, and they include tea tastings in county fairs along with the art, crafts and local foods.
WTN: What are the major business trends in the industry now?

Fong: I think the industry will stabilize, like anything else. A few years ago, at the Fancy Food Show, there were many tea companies cropping up. Now there are fewer new businesses. There are companies who have built up reputations and consistency, and they will do well. In China, they say that people do not stay rich or poor for more than three generations, and a business rarely lasts longer than three generations, but the exception is tea. There’s so much to tea that one generation cannot learn it all.

Yu: Education and sustainability are big trends. We’re dealing with a very educated consumer here in the Bay Area, but the education level is still so far from where it needs to be for them to really appreciate these teas. We need to help people build their palates and learn about tea through classes and events.

Jacobs: Education is also one of our foundations, but not in terms of specific classes. Winnie (Yu) does that really well, and educates the public very deeply. (At Samovar) we like to share knowledge without making it overt. We like making it fun and easy, and letting it resonate on a deep level.

Portman: I think that tea starts with education. Without education, one isn’t drawn to a product.
WTN: What about sustainability?

Jacobs: Nowadays, people are super-sensitive and observant of sustainability. Is something good for me and my wallet and my taste buds and the environment? Will it make me feel good? Does it support the farmers? That’s the metric for our customers.

Zheng: Sustainable packaging materials are important, too. I use bamboo for about 70 percent of my packaging.

Portman: We use biodegradable, corn-based bags with unbleached cotton strings.

Fong: Five years ago, organic tea from China was not readily available. Now I sell close to 100 tons of organic tea a year, which is pretty phenomenal for a small company like mine. In retail, certified organic tea makes up 30 to 35 percent of my sales. I’m surprised fair trade didn’t take off. In the tea business, you have to sell organic tea, but you don’t have to sell fair trade tea. The fair trade people charge so much, there’s no motivation from the merchant side, because it costs so much. With organics, it’s easy for merchants to believe in it and sell it.

Portman: We work in a more project-based way as opposed to feeding the TransFair offices. We are creating a foundation just for that, and have been giving back to gardens for the last three to four years in the form of schools, eyeglass programs, a senior center. … Our volume is becoming quite significant, so we can ensure that our gardens are implementing best practices.

WTN: What are the local changes you’ve seen since the economic turbulence began?

Jacobs: We opened during the dot-com bust along with a bunch of other places. Now it’s the changing of the second guard. There are places that are opening and closing, because the reality of this industry is that it’s tough to make a profit.

Fong: It’s hard to make a living selling only tea. It’s even harder if you only sell what you like. Each place has to do something well. I try to get better at the things I excel in every day. Anywhere with that approach, I think they will succeed.

Yu: People are responding to sales more, but we still have the same clientele. There’s less foot traffic, but when they’re here they buy the same things. Maybe they’re just not leaving their homes, but our buying patterns are the same, and the expensive teas are still moving. Once people recognize a certain quality, it’s hard for them to give up. Tea is not a replaceable product for people. They just want to buy it a lower price.

Zheng: We just did a (retail) warehouse sale. Our teas sold like hotcakes.

Pull Quote: Jacobs: I think that people will pull back on bigger spending and continue to spend on tea like they did in the dot-com bust. Our average price point is $10, and our goal is to make you feel better than you did when you walked in. It’s like the cheapest spa treatment you’ll ever experience.

A cup of coffee is $4, and a pot of tea is $5 and makes 20 cups. It doesn’t matter how expensive it is if there’s value. Our downtown location is up 50 percent over last year, and Castro is up five percent. I think the economic stuff hasn’t settled in yet. I think we’ll know in six months, but in the meantime nothing has really changed. I have noticed that a lot of people became fans of this Japanese gyokuro we sell for $18 a pot after we added a $50 a pot gyokuro to the menu. It’s like they can get an idea of the $50 tea by buying the $18 tea, so the $18 gyokuro is now a best seller.

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

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Sustainable Business News Features Samovar Tea Lounge

sustainSustainable Business in San Francisco…Samovar Tea Lounge makes the delicious and intriguing world of tea approachable and affordable, and perhaps just as important, sustainable.

http://www.hansonbridgett.com/edms/grn_newsltr_2008-09/article2.html

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

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New Videos Promoting World Peace through Tea Released Today by Samovar Tea Lounge

“San Francisco, CA (PRWeb) July 15, 2008 -– Samovar Tea Lounge today announced the release of their new video series on world peace entitled “Passage to Peace: Exploring Tea Culture Today.” The videos — aimed at promoting universal peace by engaging viewers in the culture of tea – offer a behind the scenes look at the families and individuals who cultivate tea for a living.

From Africa to Asia, the 16-video educational series is made up of one-on-one interviews with tea experts, growers, foodies, tea company owners, tea houses, organic and fair trade experts, and many others from various continents. Video subjects include ‘how tea is made’ and ‘the history of Chinese tea,’ all with the common theme of promoting world peace. ”

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

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Samovar Tea Lounge Launches Tea Series Podcast Online

Samovar Tea Lounge Launches Tea Series Podcast OnlineHot off the press: we have just launched the first episode in our series of tea videos: on samovartea.com, on iTunes, and on youTube.com.

Subscribe to this entire video podcast series on iTunes (What’s a podcast?)
rss Subscribe to this entire video podcast series via RSS
To view these videos, you need the latest Flash player. Click here to download.

Why did we do this project?
In an effort to elevate the perception of tea, making it approachable, and informative, and educational, and to show just what the tea experience is like and why it is so valuable, we just completed this Web Tea TV video series in which I interviewed the Bay Area’s top luminary tea producers, buyers, sellers, and retailers.

The name of the series is Passage to Peace: Exploring Tea Culture Today, and the preview trailer is currently viewable online: www.samovartea.com, and on iTunes .

It will be launching online only, and available as a weekly podcast on itunes, and on the Samovar site as well. This project is all about propagating tea culture because tea culture is about two people connecting and creating peace. And what better way to create peace and make a difference in the world, than to have a cup of tea with a friend. Let me know if you have any questions and I am happy to talk.

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Fresh Cup Tea & Coffee Magazine Features Samovar Tea Lounge

freshcupExcerpt from Bruce Richardson’s Article in Fresh Cup Magazine, “San Francisco, America’s Gateway to Tea”

CALIFORNIA NOUVEAU

Not all tea experiences in San Francisco are either Asian or contemporary. Traditional European-inspired tea experiences are still popular occurrences at the palatial hotels such as The Ritz- Carlton, The Fairmont, The Sheraton Palace, The King George and The Renaissance Stanford Court. The city also holds a wealth of British afternoon tearooms catering to ladies in hats and serving tea with all the petit fours and lace you can imagine. However, this style is giving way to what some call “California nouveau,” a tea experience that centers more on the leaf and less on the cliche?.

Samovar Tea Lounge is a prime example of how tea is putting on a new face in America by combining the best of several tea and dining cultures. At the original location, straddling the Mission and Castro districts, you’ll find a mix of young professionals, col- lege students and neighborhood regulars who drop by every day to enjoy a pot of tea and pastry or a light meal. Russian, British, Chinese and Japanese tea service are all offered in this eclectic setting. Nowhere else will you see a guest enjoying a bento box accompanied by a bowl of green gyokuro tea sitting next to a diner drinking a pot of lapsang souchong and nibbling away at a three- tiered stand of English afternoon tea sweets and savories.

The popularity of the hospitable Samovar has spawned a second location in Yerba Buena Gardens, just steps from the Moscone Convention Center. As is true of any outstanding teahouse, the emphasis here is on the tea. From aged earthy pu-erh to flowery Earl Grey, there is a tea on the menu for every palate. Each is brewed and served according to tradition. Packaged teas bearing the Samovar Tea Lounge logo are the favorite take-away item at both locations.

San Franciscans may not realize what an extraordinary wealth of tea-drinking opportunities they have at their doorstep. With
its multicultural neighborhoods, diverse shops and ethnic restau- rants, this blended metropolis offers unique tea experience after unique tea experience. The ancient brew has become infused into the life of this city unlike any other in the United States.

In “The Way of Tea,” Sauer issues an invite: “I cordially offer you this invitation to our local tea party, whether a Chinese tea
tasting, an afternoon tea at luxury hotel, an austere Japanese tea ceremony, or a night out with friends at a tea nightclub. You
can bring a hat, a kimono, a fan, a bird, a book, or a pair of white gloves. Or just come as you are. You’ll fit right in. I promise.”

It remains true, as Pratt has written: “A love of tea inevitably engenders friendships around the world and any one writing a
book about tea is wise to live in San Francisco, where friends from around the world may be discovered living next door.”

50 Fresh Cup Magazine. freshcup.com

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

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Listen to Samovar Tea Lounge Music…

samovar cdTea Lounge Groove is the perfect accompaniment to your tea drinking experience. Listen to our custom blended music, made with local musicians, to elevate your tea drinking to a higher level…

One is the beginning.
The sum of many parts, one is whole and united. One full circle, one beginning is one ending. We live in one world. We have one life. There is one human race. One man and one woman, one sperm and one egg, one spark and one…

Sound
The sound of a beating heart confirms life. Relish your own sound, your own life, because you have only one. Love life and dance to its rhythm. Let our music inside you, guide you, inspire you, illuminate you. Let it sway you as it reflects the voices and rhythms of the world. Dance and rejoice to this music of…

Tea
Tea is the sum of the earth and the sun and the gentle touch of humankind. Sun and rain, wind and fog, mountains and lowlands, heat and cold, and gently crafted, tea is everything, and tea is for you. In one slight sip, tea becomes you for an instant, and then leaves you forever changed; relaxed and enlivened, warmed and refreshed. Sip again.

Tea is like life. It can be bitter and it can be sweet. It can be strong and it can be weak. Like you, it is mostly water. It can be young or old, smooth or wrinkled, black, white, yellow, brown, green, red. It is there on a hill-side, then here in your cup, then steeped then sipped then gone. It can be soothing or invigorating, stolid or sensual, enrapturing or enlightening. It is alluring and ephemeral. It is the union of the earth and humankind and we offer it to you.

Welcome to the sound of Samovar Tea Lounge, One. One sound, one tea, one world, one life, this is the beginning. Sip, dance, enjoy.

[sl_callout]

Free Download

Join the Samovar Tea Lounge community and we’ll send you links to three of our favorite tracks.

[sl_mailing_list_form css_class=”one-line” field_label=”” type=”minimal” group_name=”Digital Content” group_value=”One: Tea Lounge Groove” redirect=”/connect/one-tea-lounge-groove”]

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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