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Tea Leaves and Aprons: it’s all in the detail

A server prepares a cup of chai

Tea Leaves

The size of every tea leaf matters. Leaves that are consistent in size, shape, and color mean that the cup of tea will be complex and consistent. The leaves will steep evenly, delivering a brew that has a unique aroma, body, taste and aftertaste. And it’s much more work to grow and select and process leaves that entirely the same throughout. It takes a lot more work to choose only those leaves that are the same. It requires more attention to each leaf. And the results are noticeable. It’s why our tea is so good, so full of complexity and nuance and awesomeness. Look at our leaves and you’ll notice that the English Breakfast Black tea is uniform throughout, and entirely different than our Green Ecstasy. Our farmers pay attention to every leaf they pick, ensuring this consistency stays true. Continue reading Tea Leaves and Aprons: it’s all in the detail

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Escape from the Outside World at Samovar

Dennis is a beloved regular at Samovar. Everyday he graces us with his kind eyes and spirit.
He comes to escape the hectic outside world, and to drift off over a pot of Ryokucha.

If you’ve had an inspirational experience at any of our locations, please, tell us about it–draw it, write it, email it. Let us know and we’ll show the world.

Our deep gratitude to Ashanti for her amazing rendition of Dennis’ escape here in Samovar Yerba Buena Gardens.

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Jodet, Samovar Leader Reports on her Learnings


“Work is love made visible. Everything else is secondary.”

I have learned this past year just how much love one can have for something they believe strongly in. It could be a cause, a person, a book, or in my case, the essence of tea culture and everything it stands for at Samovar Tea Lounge: Community, vitality, equanimity.

So, yes…I have learned an immense amount this year. I feel that if I were to break down the myriad of things that I have learned, I could write a whole book. Just to sum it down, I would say this: I have truly learned the beauty of patience. If it were not for patience, I may have pulled away from management a very long time ago. I have learned that dedication and hard work…really pay off.

I have learned through the team and my experiences that respect is not granted to anyone or anything. I have learned this through my interaction with the staff and the way they treat me now, in comparison to the first week I came here.

I have learned how truly the way you feel and think affects those around you; especially a team in which you are leading. I have learned to separate myself from situations where I felt I could act on emotion, and really learned to put the well-being of a team ahead of my own “thoughts and misconceptions.” I have learned that “what you think is really happening, is not always an accurate reality of your truth.” By this I mean….remembering not to make assumptions. I still have a tough time w/ this one.

I have learned that the way others feel or behave is not a direct reflection of who you are—that doing your best, is your best. No more, no less. I obviously don’t need reassurance in my skills—not anymore to say the least. I know I do well. It shows through the effort I have put out.

I remember when I first started managing, I wanted so much to be reassured that I was doing well. I constantly felt that others actions and problems were always my fault. I felt insecure, fearful that I would not do well, that the staff would not “favor me,” and that I was not cut out for the job. Slowly……very slowly, but surely, things changed. I stopped thinking negative, and starting bringing in the positive.

With confidence, and time, thank God for TIME, I have truly learned that I am not the center of my own universe. I have learned what is truly important in life. Listening. Trusting. Letting go. Believing. Acting w/ intention and integrity. Being effective w/ words. Engaging. Inspiring. Smiling. Paying attention to detail. Being aware. Being kind. Being compassionate. And being open to everyone and everything around me.

Managing a business like Samovar is like a puzzle—every single piece counts; from the team, to pouring tea, to tea inventory, to the food, to COGS, to payroll, to customer feedback, to employee retention. The list goes on. Its endless.

And that’s only half of what I have learned at Samovar Tea Lounge. To be continued….next year.

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The Most Important Question in Your Life

Teresa Making a Difference at Samovar
Teresa Making a Difference at Samovar

Did I Make a Difference?

When it’s all said and done, will you consider whether your presence on this planet made one iota of difference? We believe everyone wants to know their lives made a difference. Why?

Because nothing else really matters. So what if you made a lot of money, traveled the world, or bought a lot of stuff. Did you make a difference? Let’s live our lives every single second of every single day knowing without hesitation that our lives made a difference for the better. And let’s live with an easygoing elegance that is contagious to everyone we touch. Below are six really simple ways you can make a huge difference.

1. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
If every household in America used just one bulb, this would equate to taking 1.3 million automobiles off the roads.

2. Shop at a farmer’s market once a month (or more) to eat healthy, seasonal, organic food produced by local farmers. It’s good for your taste buds, your health, local business, and the environment.

3. Help everyone get health care. We live in a great country, and it would be even greater if everyone had health care. Support initiative
H.R. 676 that supports universal health care.

4. Make peace by drinking tea. No, this is not blatant self promotion for Samovar. It’s just blatant truth. Tea is about connecting to the moment, whether alone or with others. If everyone were to have tea with a friend at least once a week, a lot of our problems would just go away.

5. Shorten your shower by just 10 seconds and conserve water and energy.

6. Reduce your environmental Toothprint.
By the time you die, most will have gone through at least 1,000 toothbrushes. That’s 100 million pounds of plastic toothbrushes in landfills in this country alone. Buy a toothbrush with a disposable head and you’ll have made a big difference.

For more information, check out these movies and resources:
Feature films: An Inconvenient Truth , by Al Gore and, Sicko by Michael Moore

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Slow Down 2008

A Slow Evening at Samovar Mission-Castro
A Slow Evening at Samovar Mission-Castro

Living in 2008, we sometimes get caught up in all our obligations and to-do lists., forgetting about the little things in life. At Samovar, we intentionally try to slow you down. Sometimes that can be painful, so please be patient. Through your pot of tea, and the experience of brewing, it, serving it, and sipping it, you will come to actually enjoy beauty of slowness.

As you wait for your pot of tea at Samovar, smell the fresh baked cherry-oat scones coming out of the oven. Or the cardamom and cinnamon and cloves simmering in a pot of chai on our stove. Watch those around you witnessing the same, savoring their time to sit still and absorbing the colors, people, and activity around them.

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.

How slow is slow enough? We are addicted to the speed, and the faster we go, the faster we want to go. But if you can slow down you will experience magic. There is no 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? Sip some tea and you’ll find out…

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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 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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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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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.