THE WHOLE LEAF
You can’t take it with you: The not-to-go teahouse model
By Nadine Goff
Below is an excerpt from Nadine Goff’s article, which features Samovar Tea Lounge. Goff writes about tea houses that encourage customers to sit and stay awhile rather than take tea to go. which featured Samovar Tea Lounge.
“… When Jesse Jacobs, owner of San Francisco’s Samovar Tea Lounge, opened his first location in 2001, he thought of teahouses as the tea equivalent of the local coffeehouse, so he offered takeaway service. But he says he soon learned that in order to survive, he needed to change his business model—including eliminating takeaway service. ‘The average person doesn’t know much about tea and needs more knowledge,” he says. “We needed to educate people about tea and value.’
Jacobs notes that it was difficult to persuade customers to pay $3 to $10 for loose-leaf brewed tea in a paper cup when they were comparing the price to a $1.50 tea bag in a paper cup filled with hot water. ‘We needed to create a rich, robust experience to justify the price and bring people back to Samovar,’ he says. One way to do this was to serve tea in an authentic form (loose leaf, properly brewed) to customers who were sitting down. Another way was to educate them about the possibilities for multiple infusions.
In the past three years, Jacobs has opened two more Samovar Tea Lounges in the San Francisco area. Although each location features a different physical structure, they share a similar design aesthetic that Jacobs describes as ‘slightly Asian with modern functionality.’…”
Samovar is excited to announce that the founder of Digg.com, Kevin Rose selected our new Hayes Valley location as one of his “Favorite Places” as part of Google Maps latest initiative.
This month, Google Maps launched a new international campaign pinpointing local celebrities’ favorite haunts, highlighting venues such as restaurants and clubs recommended by luminaries based in each chosen city (i.e. New York, London, SF, etc).
San Francisco features locations selected by such celebs as Gavin Newsom, Alice Waters, Grant Washburn, Tiffany Shlain and several others.
“Tea and sympathy: A San Francisco business column would not be complete without taking note of the fact that the Samovar Tea Lounge is hosting a Tea Salon Series entitled “Coping With the New Economy.”
The series, the first of which takes place Tuesday, will be blessedly free of hard-core, know-it-all CEOs and VCs. Instead, you’ll be imbibing the wisdom of Rabbi Sydney Mintz from Congregation Emanu-El, S.F. Zen Center President Robert Thomas and Will Rosenzweig, founder of The Republic of Tea. Plus others drawn from the “finest Bay Area minds in finance, spirituality, technology, entrepreneurialism, self help and the environment,” we’re told.”
Exquisitely prepared exotic teas (there are dozens to choose from) and clever collations to accompany them are the raison d’être of this charming corner establishment. You can enjoy coconut-almond waffles in the morning, bento boxes and grilled duck sandwiches at lunch, tea sandwiches and a Russian plate featuring caviar if you’re feeling peckish in the afternoon.
Social media offer many ways to optimize your Web site’s marketing potential.
You have a Web site with your tea business’s basic information and maybe a shopping cart. You know you’re not making the most of your online presence, but don’t know where to begin expanding.
In part one of this two-part series, Lindsey Goodwin looks at moving beyond the basics and using virtual marketing tactics like online storefronts and social networking to drive sales, brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Most people by now would agree with the opinion of Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar, that having a Web site is “as important as paying rent every month.”
Amy Lawrence, owner of An Afternoon to Remember and upcoming speaker and exhibitor at the World Tea Expo, said her Web site acts as a worldwide, 24-hour advertisement and customer service rep. Since increasing her site’s e-commerce usability through simple additions – like “pay now” buttons for classes and events, clear credit card and shipping policies, and a security symbol – her online sales have skyrocketed. In the first three months after Lawrence’s new site launched, she matched online sales for the previous year.
While the cost to enter online retailing is low, Jacobs warned, you shouldn’t set up an online storefront blindly. He said you must consider hidden costs, such as accounting, storage and marketing, and standardize your processes to ensure customer satisfaction.
An e-commerce site may not be for everyone, but Web technology offers many benefits beyond sales. Bliss Dake, Mighty Leaf’s vice president of e-commerce and operations, said that although e-commerce is gaining popularity every year, other online approaches have additional perks – Twitter is immediate and viral, video and photos are visual, and blogs allow for detail.
Physical to digital
Between printing and mailing, Lawrence used to spend $1,500 each time she sent a newsletter to her customers. Given the cost, she did it infrequently. Now, she emails short “e-zines” biweekly and more in-depth “e-newsletters” four to six times a year at a drastically reduced cost. She said every time she sends out an e-zine, her site traffic increases as much as five-fold and remains high for about a week.
“When I know I need revenue fast, I send out an e-zine and I see results,” she said.
Here are her tips for success:
Use Constant Contact or a similar program.
Update your Web site to reflect your newsletters.
Consider timing and upcoming events.
Include valuable content, such as recipes or coupons.
Lawrence spends about 30 minutes writing each e-zine and two to eight hours a week working with Internet technologies to promote her tea room. Other publications, such as e-books and blogs, increase search engine optimization, or SEO, she added.
Blogging and microblogging
Chris Cason, co-founder of Tavalon, agreed that blogging increases SEO. He has been posting on his tea blog regularly for more than a year. Now, he said, “the blog gets just as much traffic as the site does, and anytime someone goes on the blog, there’s more of a chance they’ll go on the site.”
His advice for successful blogging follows:
Maintain objectivity to build trust.
Focus on information first and sales second.
Write with the voice of the company.
Create stories that encourage a loyal followingCover tea news and topical events.
Dake also uses blogs to increase brand awareness by sending samples to other bloggers. He said they often review the products and increase word-of-mouth publicity.
Twitter is sometimes referred to as “micro-blogging” because it has informal, blog-like content and a 140-character maximum. For each tweet (Twitter message), Jacobs said, he averages less than 10 minutes of writing and more than $500 in revenue.
Cason launched a Twitter campaign in March to reach 10,000 followers (readers) by April 1. Although he failed in the goal, he did generate publicity and reached 1,100 followers – enough to temporarily crash his site when he tweeted a 40 percent off sale.
“The best thing about Twitter is you get to follow who you want,” Cason said, “so you know that everyone who is receiving your tweets wants to know what you have to say. All you have to worry about is telling them what they want to hear.”
Dake recommended Twitter over other social media, video and blogging, explaining that it’s efficient, easy, free and effective for immediate connections with people. At the recent SXSW festival in Austin, TX, he used Twitter for a Tweet Up (get-together) where he gave away Mighty Leaf. He said it generated word-of-mouth publicity that lasted weeks after the event.
Sources gave these tips for using Twitter:
Put content before sales.
Keep posts educational, casual, unique and personable.
Give it a face, but don’t make it overly personal.
Follow Twitterers in related areas.
Offer valuable content, such as interesting facts, quizzes, links and current happenings.
The potential for viral marketing is high with Twitter, they added, as followers often “re-tweet” posts to their followers, exposing information to hundreds of people at a time in an amplified form of word-of-mouth advertising.
Editor’s note: In Part Two of our series, WTN will address social networking, photography, video, other Internet marketing and web culture. Look for it April 27.
Get your Zen on at the new Samovar Tea Lounge location in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.
The third Bay Area location opened across from the Buddhism center, which means there could be some deep conversation and possibly a yoga mat or two.
You can choose from more than 50 kinds of tea, most of which I’ll bet you’ve never heard of, and healthy food such as a ginger quinoa waffle, jook, or a raw honeycomb, blue cheese and fruit platter. I was sent some of Samovar’s Ocean of Wisdom tea, and, while I’m still waiting for the promise of the name to kick in, it was indeed delicious.
The drink of choice for Web 2.0 zillionaires isn’t a quad espresso anymore. It’s a soothingly steeped tea harvested from a shaded mountainside half a world away.
Captains of the internet like Digg’s Kevin Rose and business guru Tim Ferriss (pictured above) are gravitating to the ancient drink, and enterprising retailers are stepping up to fill their every need.
“We’ve had the Red Bulls, coffee and everything else,” Rose says of Digg, which spends about $1,000 a month just on specialty tea for employees. Rose himself favors a cup of Pu-erh imported from China’s Yunnan province after a tough day at the office.
“It’s one of those things where you want to turn to something really natural and from the Earth — and from something that isn’t going to give you a big crash,” Rose told Wired.com. “Once you start consuming tea it makes sense: This is the best of all worlds.”
In Silicon Valley, specialty tea is quickly becoming a phenomenon. Specialty shops, stores and tearooms devoted to the leaf are sprouting up all over the Bay Area. In San Francisco, tea businesses have gone beyond Chinatown and Japantown, spreading to Hayes Valley, the Castro and SOMA.
Tea is the new coffee — the tipple of choice for the Twitteratti. The culture that brought us pizza as a food group and $20,000 coffeemakers has now discovered tea. And its internet-savvy boosters like Rose and Ferriss are leading a movement in the United States to promote the leafy beverage as a trendy drink for new-age geeks who are as obsessed with having energetic bodies as they are with fast computers.
“It’s the new social lubricant,” said Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, a popular mini-chain of high-end tea rooms in San Francisco. “You’re never hung over and you can never drink too much.”
Rose, Ferriss and Jacobs are hoping to see specialty tea hit the mainstream just like coffee. And it’s certainly possible: Many credit Alfred Peet for single-handedly spearheading the specialty-coffee movement when he opened the first Peet’s Coffee & Tea store in Berkeley in 1966. Starbucks soon followed, and today their coffee shops are omnipresent.
Tea is so ancient that its exact origins are impossible to trace. In one popular Chinese legend, emperor Shen Nung, who drank only boiling water for hygienic precaution, discovered tea by accident 5,000 years ago. According to the tale, some dry leaves fell from a bush into the emperor’s boiling water, and the first cup of tea was created.
Today, fine teas are taking their place in the center of the digital universe. Specialty shops like the Samovar Tea Lounge are virtual emporiums of the beverage, carrying teas from cities, villages and gardens all over the world for guys like Rose and Ferriss, who use it to find respite from their endlessly busy, overly connected lives.
Jacobs, owner of Samovar, which opened three locations in the past year, explained that technology and the internet have changed everything for the tea industry.
“Technology, commerce, shipping methods, storing methods — all these things come together so that today we have access to the best tea ever,” Jacobs said, who has a background in technology himself as a former user interface designer.
He added that the emergence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter are bringing exquisite, obscure teas to the tech-driven world.
Digg founder Rose, for example, who is hailed as one of the most influential people on the web, is playing a large role in bringing obscure teas to the mainstream. He said he quit drinking soda as a New Year’s resolution in 2000, and he turned over a new leaf for tea.
Rose often tweets about new teas he’s trying out to his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers and even created a separate Twitter account — @goodtea — devoted to tea. He also started a Facebook page about the ancient beverage, where he posts videos and information. To top it off, Rose links to Samovar Lounge’s web site on his personal blog, and he plans to make videos with Jacobs showing geeks how to brew loose tea.
Another active member of the tea resurgence is Ferriss, the owner of a supplements company who became a Silicon Valley star with his bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.
In the book, Ferriss plays the role of motivator-in-chief, instructing businesses to adhere to one rule of thumb: Cut out all excess information, such as e-mail, Twitter, Flickr and so on. And when something crops up that could potentially stifle productivity, such as a work crisis, hire someone else to deal with it.
So it comes as no surprise that Ferriss, a man who preaches paying more while dealing with less, prefers tea over coffee. He doesn’t want the jitters, the increased anxiety or the bouncy high. He just wants the energy. And he admits that being a tea connoisseur requires spending a bit more than the stuff you’d get in bags. At Samovar, patrons spend anywhere from $10 to $50 each to enjoy a small cup of exquisite tea — such as Mu Za Tie Quan Yin, if they’re feeling extra fancy, which runs for $140 per ounce.
“Tea shots of gyokuro for $50 a thimble full?” Ferriss used as an example. “It ain’t cheap, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but that’s the key: It’s affordably indulgent. A way to show off your insider knowledge instead of distasteful displays of wealth, much of which has been lost.”
How long will it be until you can stroll down a block just about anywhere, sit down and enjoy a cup of Ryokucha imported straight from Japan? Rose is optimistic that the tea renaissance is just five years away.
“There’s a reason tea has been popular for thousands of years,” Rose said. “I have a feeling we’re getting closer and closer to the tipping point.”
Story by Tracy Howard
Photos by Stuart Mullenberg
Issue 18 MARCH/APRIL 2009
Wake up your tastebuds with homemade masala chai
IF THE WORD “CHAI” MAKES YOU THINK MORE OF A SYRUPY CONCENTRATE than of a decadently spiced and creamy tea, it may be time to trace this age-old beverage back to its roots. Masala chai, which literally translates to “spice tea,” is a blend of Indian black tea, Indian spices and milk. With ingredients thought to possess healing porperties, many of the masala chai spices have been used as a part of the Hindu ayurvedic tradition for over 5,000 years. It was the British colonists’ addition of milk and sugar that finessed masala chai into the bold yet silky tea we drink today. This recipe, from Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea in San Francisco, fuses the pugency of cardamom and ginger with unexpected spices, like saffron and licorice root, for a delicate, yet vibrant, chai. According to Jacobs, no two chai recipes are alike, and he encourages customizing the blend to suit your personal tatses. “Every Indian grandmother will give you a different authentic recipe,” Jacobs says. “If you like your chai with more caffeine, add more Darjeeling tea. If you want more spice, grate in extra ginger and add a few additional peppercorns. With chai, the options are truly limitless.”
1 Tbsp. Assam tea
1 tsp. Darjeeling tea
1 two-inch-long cinnamon stick
1 tsp. dried, shredded ginger root*
5 whole cloves
5 peppercorns, whole
2 cardamom pods, whole
¼ tsp. shredded licorice root*
5 saffron threads
2 cups water
3 Tbsp. raw cane sugar
2 cups whole milk
*Jacobs recommends checking your local health-food store for hard-to-find ingredients.
Saucepan with lid
1. Combine all dry ingredients, except raw cane sugar, in a large bowl and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups of water with 3 Tbsp. of raw cane sugar; stir to dissolve sugar.
3. Add dry chai blend, stir to blend, and boil for 10 minutes.
4. Add 2 cups of whole milk and watch closely as you barely bring it to a boil. Turn off heat when chai reaches a boil. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Strain tea into a teapot and serve.
Tea is Hot
By Susan Steade
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.
Any 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.
The Samovar Tea Lounge’s Hayes Valley edition has been up and running since the end of 2008, but there’s still no sign on the door to mark the establishment. With its dim lighting, the lounge easily blends into the rows of Victorians on Page Street — an unobtrusive, almost organic piece of the neighborhood to the casual eye. Which is exactly what owner Jesse Jacobs had in mind….
Green tea is currently one of the biggest trends in food today, loaded with antioxidants and other essential health benefits. Unlike coffee, it’s “gently stimulating,” allowing you to feel energized without feeling jittery. Ryokucha Green Tea from San Francisco’s Samovar Tea Lounge raises the bar for how a green tea should taste. One of their featured teas, it includes toasted brown rice imported from Japan. When infused with wok-fired green tea leaves, the result is a rich, earthy flavor that is irresistible when paired with sushi, other Japanese cuisine, or even a morning bagel. It’s made in-house at the Samovar Tea Lounge, which also sells and serves organic, fair trade tea and tea service. In addition, they also offer breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea and dinner.
According to Samovar, Ryokucha is a converter, meant to convert non-tea drinkers into devoted followers, and it definitely delivers. As opposed to the overwhelming grass flavor of many green teas, the roasted brown rice provides a nutty flavor, making it a cut above the rest. As the St Patrick’s Day season approaches, celebrate with a tea in keeping with the theme and color of the holiday season.
Meditators at the San Francisco Zen Center now have a place to socialize after they sit. A new Samovar Tea Lounge has opened up in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley (now affectionately dubbed “Hayes Valley”) with a full array of artisan teas to satisfy any spiritual practitioner. The YJ Staff Favorite? Ocean of Wisdom, which is a Samovar blend created for the Dalai Lama himself.
If you’re not local to the SF Bay Area, you can recreate the post-meditation tea tradition at home by ordering from Samovar’s online store.
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).
This 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
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
At 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.”
Fine Teas Flower in the Bay Area
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.
My 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.
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
Business: 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.
Loree 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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
By Jane Meredith Adams, Special to the Tribune
Published January 8, 2007
SAN 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.”
Friday, September 12, 2008 Entrepreneur profile
Founder and CEO, Samovar Tea Lounge
HQ: San Francisco. 2007 revenue: $1.8 million. Number of employees: 40. Year founded: 2001. Source of startup capital: $300,000 in loans from the SBA, family and friends.
Background: Born in Brookline, Mass., raised in a commune and graduated with a bachelor’s in international relations from University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Taught English in Denmark and Japan. Founded a web startup in Boston before driving to California for the tech boom. After the dot-com bust in 2001, founded Samovar.
Age: 37. Residence: San Francisco.
Web site: www.samovartea.com. What it does: Tea shop
Reason for starting business: I wanted to create peace. Tea is the perfect vehicle for creating peace.
Most difficult part of decision: Risking everything — money, family, friends and free time.
Biggest plus of ownership: Doing exactly what you love. Watching an idea turn into physical reality.
Biggest drawback: There is no “clocking out” and going home for the weekend. Ever.
Biggest misconception: Getting rich quick and defining your own schedule.
Biggest business strength: Our model is a tea experience to make people feel good, like going to China or visiting a spa.
Biggest business weakness: Trying to be a sustainable business in San Francisco is really expensive.
Biggest risk: Putting more money and time into the business. We finally turned a profit last year.
Biggest mistake: We were undercapitalized and didn’t do things professionally at the start.
Smartest move: Hiring staff looking to grow with the company and having “open-book” accounting, where the dishwashers knew the gross profit and understood how breaking a dish impacted the bottom line.
Biggest worry: Growing too fast, and not delivering the same Samovar experience, mission and culture.
Except sometimes. Like the time you told your boyfriend’s mom aboutyour penchant for prescription pills. Or when you hit on your boss at theholiday party.
But it was the night you publicly peed on yourself that really caused a stir.
In your case, you’d best hightail it to Samovar Tea Lounge for some mood-boosting, booze-free libations.
Owner Jesse Jacobs promises a warm, happy glow afteran hour or so of sipping and yapping over fine artisanal
teas at the new Tuesday tastings. And he won’t turn his nose up when you can’t tell the difference betweenOolong and green.
What he will do is introduce you to the mind-expandingworld of tea varietals (Maiden’s Ecstasy Pu-erh,anyone?). The experience includes an informative doseof Tea 101 along with the tea tender’s choice of threedifferent teas, selected for their uniqueness, taste, and
seasonality — all for just ten dollars.
And to keep the good feeling flowing, Samovar’s tea comes from small family farms across the world. Sorelax, drink, and be merry.
Just not too merry.
Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez Street, at 18th Street (415-626-4700 or samovartea.com); Tuesday tea tastings are by appointment only.
“…Named for the Russian contraption that boils water—honors the traditions of all the world’s tea capitals (Moroccan, Indian, Japanese, and Russian meals are paired with complementary teas from each region), but the three-tiered British service is the shop’s specialty. And there’s no need to guess your tea’s pedigree—Samovar serves primarily organic and Fair Trade goods…”
“Some tea rooms are all about the scones and crumpets; others embrace the more tranquil practices of the East. Still others go the Moorish route and serve up dolmas and dates with the brewed mint leaves. Samovar, an inclusive sort of place in a quiet corner of the Castro (and now in a second location in Yerba Buena Gardens), honors all of these traditions and more…”
“About Samovar Tea Lounge
Quick quiz: What do the Dalai Lama and tea have in common? The Samovar Tea Lounge, of course! A great place to meet and have a conversation, this teahouse unites the world’s best teas under one roof. They also offer organic meals paired with the perfectly selected tea. USA Today even rated the Samovar Tea Lounge as one of the top ten great places to be seeped in tea, tradition and comfort.”
Click on this link to watch the Crocs video of Samovar Yerba Buena:
As San Francisco’s oldest tea loung,e we have expanded into a new, third Samovar location. And we are really, really excited about it.
What’s old is new and what’s new becomes old.That seems to be the cycle of life. And now, after six years in business, we have opened in SF’s newest neighborhood, “Hayes Valley,” across the street from America’s oldest Zen institution, the San Francisco Zen Center. This oasis of a ‘hood is the perfect blend of zen and tea are now available for anyone near Hayes Valley, Japan Town, Civic Center, and Upper Market to enjoy. Shining in a bright red coat of paint, you can’t miss the spot: 297 Page St. @ Laguna St.
Given the current economic and political climate, we felt especially excited at the prospect of broadening the tea business in challenging times because of the goodness that the tea brings in especially difficult times: community, relaxation, health, social intimacy. There is perhaps more of a need for tea today than other time in recent history. And we are really thrilled to be here, alongside the Zen Center and all that that organization brings to SF.
What make this latest Samovar Tea Lounge special?
Being across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center, connecting the tradition of tea directly to the practice of sitting meditation makes for some really good chemistry. Of course you don’t have to be a meditater or a Buddhist to enjoy Samovar, but, as the mission the Zen Center is to cross all demographic boundaries to “…make accessible the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha…” just sitting across the street in the lounge sipping a Masala Chai, you can’t help but to feel a sense of peace from their strong neighborhood presence. And, the constant flow of zen students and teachers in and out of Samovar give you the chance to connect to some amazing people, doing really good things.
This space is situated in quiet, quintessential residential neighborhood outside the main commercial drag of Hayes Valley – giving you the perfect excuse to go shopping, and people watching, and then to escape…to a blissful cup of tea. Also, although it is tucked away, it is also incredibly central to the rail and bus Muni systems, the Bart, and, to walking from Market Street, Japan Town, the Fillmore, Hayes Valley, and Civic Center.
The Building Materials
Having the opportunity to operate two successful Samovar Tea Lounges over the past 6 years, we have had the luxury to see what works and what doesn’t in a tea lounge. This third location was the perfect chance to put into practice all the best elements. Here’s a partial list of what we were able to incorporate into the building of this location:
– Forest Stewardship Council certified wood flooring. All of our wood floors come from biodiverse, sustainably harvested timber, and than literally hand finished by artisans to create the functional, and beautiful aesthetic they embody.
– Tables and Bar – For all of our tables and bars, we went really, really, really local. Up in Marin a friend of ours salvaged some wind fallen redwood trees, 1200 year old trees to be exact. After getting seasoned for many years at his home, he finished them, and installed them – here at this location. Beautiful, natural, and from only 20 minutes away! We were especially excited about the tea bar. It’s the perfect place to taste tea, hang out and chat with us about he nuances of oolongs, or to bring a date. It’s a real bar, and yet only for tea!
– Electrical and equipment usage is all low energy consumption. Even the bathroom uses state of the art water faucet, hand drier, and lights!
– Metalwork is reclaimed metal from an old vinegar factory up in Northern California. The factory and vinegar is gone, but, the metal has remained and found a new home in beautifying and supporting this new space
Our staff has been hired from a very large pool of applicants. We have a 4″ stack of resumes of people looking to work at Samovar, and this new staff at the Hayes Valley location made the cut. They are passionate about tea, live really interesting lives, love customer service, and are excited to be calling this new location their home away from home. How many other jobs out there have staff lingering around for three hours after the shift is done? Not many. Our folk love working here, and even when the work is done, they linger, sipping tea, talking about tastings, and crops and seasons, and hanging out with our customers. Thank you Samovarians for making our space so special.
First we opened during the peak of the Dot-Com bust, in a classic San Francisco coffee shop just outside the Castro, to serve the neighborhood with the salve tea offers. Then came the be-jeweled dome in Yerba Buena Gardens beneath this city’s skyscrapers, satisfying downtown workers, tourists, and convention-goers with an escape from the city’s frenzy.
And now, tucked in a quiet residential neighborhood across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center, comes this most exciting location yet. Please visit us and find out for yourself!
Creamy, full bodied, matcha infused, malty, smooth & sweet, and with a mildly grassy finish. That’s Ryokucha, our special house-blended staple, and the ingredients are fresh from Japan.
This tea has a very complex taste, but a very simple effect: It feels good!
Ryokucha green tea is so popular because it’s easy to brew, tastes so pleasing, and is perfect for drinking all day long. Like a meal for breakfast, a pick-me-up midday, and a cozy soother for the evening, this tea has been a staff and customer favorite since we opened.
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.
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.