“At its three locations around the city, Samovar Tea Lounge has mastered what many restaurants aspire to but which few achieve. More than just a business, it’s a lifestyle. Denizens here aren’t just cooks, waiters, baristas, and regulars — they’re ‘Ambassadors’ on a ‘mission to create peace through tea.’
“Samovar’s approach involves sourcing small batch, organic teas at fair trade prices from artisan family farmers, educating the public on the benefits of tea, and promoting traditional tea culture through the restaurants, events, and extensive Web site, Samovarlife.com. While the globally-inspired menu offers choices from dinner to brunch, small plates to dessert, the star is the tea, which Samovar implores you “sip slowly, filling you with calm and vitality.”
Bon Teavant, Photographer, and Way To Tea Author, Jennifer Sauer writes about tea, community, and leadership in these economically challenging times. Sauer looks to Samovar founder, Jesse Jacobs for his insight into tea…beyond the leaves.
“Our communities look to us for sanctuary, community, compassion, and the opportunity for sharing ideas, dreams, and sorrows during these trying times. Tea culture is the perfect vehicle for meeting the deeper needs of our friends, family, colleagues, and customers.
Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, is exactly this kind of community leader. As a testament to his success in this role, he just gathered the investment capital to open his third tea room. I wondered, “How is this guy so incredibly successful in such a frightening and dismal economy?” I had to find out for myself, so I interviewed Jesse. What I found is that Jesse has a very strong grasp of what tea can provide our community beyond water and leaves. His special understanding of what tea can do for people draws crowds magnetically to his charming and serene tearooms. His depth and integrity are worth noting, and in fact, are the driving force behind his great success.
Tea culture is the antidote to solitary striving. It is a vehicle to community and sanctuary, to the kindness and compassion that help us survive and moreover, to thrive, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. As leaders of our community, it is our job to provide a safe haven for those needing solace, a good place to laugh or to cry, and to brainstorm new solutions to triumph over fear and difficulty. This is a part of our path and destiny as tea people. In this era, we can shine.”
by Cynthia Fazekas
While at the recent Winter Fancy Food show in San Francisco, I was to meet a tea friend for a lunch meeting during one of the show days. My friend Elisabeth, proprietor of the recently expanded Teacup in Seattle, brought her smiling self into our booth where we exchanged hugs and how-are-you’s and walked out of the Moscone Center in search of lunch. Our original intention was to go to the museum but as we crossed the walkway to Yerba Buena Gardens we noticed a much better option for two tea aficionados: Samovar Tea Lounge.
We looked at each other with a happy gleam and immediately decide this was our place. As it was my first time in San Francisco, I hadn’t realized Samovar was so close!
Inside boasts a warm contemporary feel with lots of wood and earth tones. We took a table by the window from which I could see the esplanade and a greenery covered walkway. Our server brought menus affixed to lovely bamboo boards. Nice touch! Elisabeth chose the English style tea service and I asked our server for his recommendation for a dairy-free choice. He suggested the Chinese tea service, which I happily accepted.
Our teas came out first, and we welcomed them with appreciation. Elisabeth’s selection came in a small modern style ceramic teapot. She kindly shared it with me and we discerned smooth but rich malty notes and later learned it was their Samovar Breakfast Blend. The three-tiered English tea service it perfectly accompanied a mushroom quiche, green salad, fruit and scone with jam and clotted cream. Elisabeth declared all to be delicious! I secretly coveted her scone.
My Chinese tea service began with a tea tray beset with a cast iron kettle, tiny black Yixing filled with dark fragrant leaves and a handle-less earthenware cup. Our soft-spoken server suggested a 45 second steep and expertly poured the first infusion for me. Sipping the brew revealed an earthy-fruity pu erh with a hint of ginger – Samovar’s lovely Blood Orange Pu Erh. I relished each sip and subsequent infusions. It paired well with my meal, which was a Chinese duck and veggie stir-fry with squash dumplings. The dumplings, by the way, were tender with a sweet and savory appeal that really hit the spot for me.
Most delightful – and filling! Once satiated and tea-filled, we were slightly sad to leave the peaceful ambiance of Samovar Tea Lounge and return to the noise and hustle of the trade show floor. A tea-oasis in a beautiful setting, this is just one of the three Samovar Tea Lounge locations. The newest is 297 Page Street at Laguna in the San Francisco Hayes Valley neighborhood.
“Entrepreneur of the Month (September 2008)”: Jesse Jacobs CEO Samovar Tea Lounge –SF Business Times
“Best Tea of the Bay 2008” –San Francisco Magazine
Award-Winning San Francisco Tea House Opens Third Bay Area Location
In an opening that only great enlightenment and exceptional tea could create, two leading Bay Area havens of tranquility- Samovar Tea Lounge and SF Zen Center- come together to
open the welcoming gates to a third Samovar location this April 2009 in the serene Hayes Valley neighborhood dubbed appropriately, Hayes Valley. The latest locale at 297 Page (at Laguna Street) just across from the metropolitan Buddhism center, brings members of the mediation and yoga communities together in an upbeat, urban environment to eat, be merry, and drink, pondering the Way of the great elixir: Tea. With over 50 of some of the world’s finest teas (i.e. many of which are organic and fair trade certified) along with funky-fine internationally traditional food pairings, Samovar continues its mission of creating peace through drinking tea, one soulful, savory cup at a time. Samovar teas are available at their Castro District (498 Sanchez Street) and Yerba Buena (730 Howard Street) locations, at many distinguished restaurants and museums, and online at http://shop.samovartea.com.
Like a Monk on a Mission, Samovar Owner Jesse Jacobs bounds around the Hayes Valley locale’s current building construction, evangelizing on his Lounge’s beliefs that through drinking tea, everyone can renew a personal relationship to peace and commitment to attaining inner tranquility. Taking time for social intimacy, relaxation, and improved health fosters rewarding and peaceful interactions, in turn influencing one’s surrounding community, the city they live in, their country and the world. “When you Practice peace through drinking tea you promote the universal needs of humanity: community, vitality, and equanimity” says Jacobs. And so Samovar inspires the eternal Zen koan question: here, now, would you like milk with that?
As Samovar directly partners with tea experts and suppliers from small family farms across the globe, they have a unique opportunity to bring the freshest, highest quality, and most consistent teas to their consumers. Samovar helps sustain the livelihoods of diverse tea artisans hand-selecting each tealeaf for the best seasonal offerings. Since 2002, Samovar has steadily grown into a multi-million dollar business with a staff of 75 employees. They operate with an open book management policy, and maintain an education budget supporting international travel for their standout employees to attain firsthand experience tasting new teas overseas.
Samovar’s commitment to the environment and use of local reclaimed and renewable resources is distilled in their design and building practices. The Hayes Valley location will feature an 800 year-old, 20-foot naturally fallen redwood tree from Marin, CA serving as the tea bar. The FSC certified wood flooring comes from sustainably managed US forests where biodiversity and forest ecology are carefully balanced with selective harvest. The glues and adhesives used to make the flooring all meet the highest standards of healthy indoor air quality. All the metal work utilizes materials from turn of the century food processing facilities, and all equipment and appliances are low-energy consumption. Samovar proudly embraces its eco-friendly sustainability practices as a pioneering Bay Area green business.
Excerpt from Bruce Richardson’s Article in Fresh Cup Magazine, “San Francisco, America’s Gateway to Tea”
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.”
For those of you who may not have had the chance to visit us in person, to experience what life is like in the tea lounge, you might not really understand our mission. So, we decided to put it down on paper, or screen in this case. It’s a starting point, and likely to change as time goes on. But, it will give you an idea of who we are, and what we do and why we do it, so enjoy!
Let’s face it People: Oneness is where it’s at. That’s why Samovar Tea Lounge upholds the Mission, the raison d’etre, the work that the almighty Universe has put before us all, as a charge to change Planet Earth, one happier, more fulfilled resident at a time. Uplifting our patrons with the human touch of love and light fosters a tribal sense of community, a healthy sense of vitality, and a Buddha-like sense of equanimity, which…in time…helps transform our world from the inside out. Imagine all that… with a few leaves, some water, and the sweet, sweet passing of time. Believe in Life.