Tea (rec.drink.tea) Discussion relating to tea, the world's second most consumed beverage (after water), made by infusing or boiling the leaves of the tea plant (C. sinensis or close relatives) in water.

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Old 30-01-2007, 04:28 AM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options

(cross-posted from chadao.blogspot.com/)

I happened to find myself in the SF area for a photonics conference (as
one so often does), and managed to drop into a few tea spots between
wavicles. There seems to be a proliferation of such, similar in style
but very different in atmosphere. In case it's useful to anyone, here
are a few sententious comments:

- Imperial Tea Court, Chinatown and the Ferry Building.
I prefer the original location for dimmer, quieter, more retreat-like
atmosphere. The new location is separated from the (rather classy) Ferry
Building mall by not much more than a partial lattice, and on this nasty
January day was reasonably quiet but frigid. Have yet to meet Roy Fong,
who seems ever to be in the warehouse or out buying; but Grace is a
charming presence. They have a bunch of above-average pots and other
useful teaware, though the best pots are NFS. Plenty of tea on offer in
both locations, at high prices - generally, however, commensurate with
quality. Tastings are a bargain by comparison. Service by elegant young
men. (Why so rarely women in this business?)

The Ferry Building ITC location has a fair amount of food on offer; most
people there seemed to be more dining than drinking. Combined with
admittedly pleasant aromas from the center's other food and
personal-care vendors, I found this to be somewhat distracting.
Personally, were I in that neighborhood, I'd save my caloric quota for
Yank Sing, an upscale dim sum house in the heart of the Rincon Center
complex. Beyond the HK-class food, there's a kind of waterfall from the
atrium ceiling that adds good feng shui or something. I can't speak for
their tea, since I'd brought a very nice (code for "wanted it back right
away") new Yixing pot and a bag of SRT's cheapest but IMO best-tasting
fenghuang dan cong for my host.

I was somewhat uncomfortable with the instructional style, which I did
not experience directly (being a take-charge kinda guy) but repeatedly
witnessed. My impression was that both server/teachers and customers
were getting lost in mannered ritual at the expense of the tea. Watching
people awkwardly slurp from gaiwans instead of decanting was vicariously
embarrassing - nothing wrong with the act, but it was clearly out of
character for those partaking. Worse, they seem to use near-boiling
water indiscriminately. When I asked for something much cooler for our
long jing (a delicate green), I was politely asked what temperature I'd
like - a good response, but the wrong place to start. (I just asked for
a pot of cold water to mix ad lib.) I'm wondering how many people who
start the cha dao here (or in many other places) ever learn that green
tea does not taste like spinach? Even many oolongs can't take this
treatment. As long as I'm ranting, I'll also complain about the gaiwan
we were given, much too large for the amount of leaf it contained. I
dropped a broad hint, and was offered another a good 10% smaller.

- Red Blossom Tea Company, Chinatown.
This tiny, deep shop has just a couple of tasting tables between rows of
paraphernalia, with most tea in the back. Pots and gaiwans fairly
priced, though most a bit fancy to my taste. Not exactly a secluded
experience, right on Grant St., but pleasant and informed service. And
the staff seemed able to establish a quiet zone around each table.

- Vital T-leaf, two Chinatown locations (head office in Seattle).
The main store is a magnet for extroverts, open to Grant St. and with a
riotous agglomeration of 20-something passersby enjoying free rounds at
the bar with the friendly energy of a post- (winning) game beer crowd.
Staff young as well, with Benihana-type cheerful showmanship blending
with as much serious information as people seemed able to absorb. A very
large range of teas, many flavored (not my cuppa) and flowers/herbs
(even a couple types of kuding) in tins and open trays, which may be OK
if turnover is high. Many Pu-erhs also on display, including
presentation bing and zhuanchas of at least two kg and a 30-yo shu cake
for $380. (Latter was plastic-wrapped, so the aroma was inaccessible.
Looked authentic, though.) Many pots at fair prices, though again only a
couple I'd want. My sense was that the staff was entirely prepared for a
much more serious tasting experience during times quieter than a
Saturday afternoon.

A couple of blocks uphill is a more intimate satellite shop, with a
representative stock (including the $380 shu bing) and less riotous
atmosphere.

- Teance, Berkeley. Best for last.
This was supposed to be the penultimate scene of a day's nostalgia tour
of Berkeley, following a walk around the Vine St. Gourmet Ghetto-as-was
(where I used to buy coffee in his one shop from Mr. Peet) and before
trooping up Grizzly Peak for a characteristically stunning sunset. A
careful drive along Solano failed to produce this establishment, even as
an emergency call to Joe K. confirmed the location. Fortunately, my
friend's Blackberry was web-enabled, so we were able to discover that
they had just moved down to the Flats. The unprepossessing neighborhood
prompted speculation about marketing mistakes, but their new (of two
months) home proved to be in the middle of a cluster of assorted shops
and restaurants fine enough to qualify the whole as a Destination.

Teance offers a stylishly sparse ambience reminiscent of, but more
elegant than, the late Wild Lily Tea Room. (In fact, it has much the
pleasant ambiance of NYC's Tea Gallery.) The front is an open shop, with
an appropriate number of teas and some nice teaware of diverse styles -
the celadon (per former establishment name) perhaps the best on offer;
three exceptional Yixings were unfortunately NFS.

The tasting area is a single circle of about a dozen seats in several
nicely designed stations, so as to be serviceable by one or several
people. Tasting are again a bargain for the quality. Our server, one
Darius (I forbore the bibulous pun about one man's Mede being another's
Persian) seemed quite well informed about the qualities of his stock,
and helped us to a selection of interesting oolongs. Aware that we were
not ignorant of technique, he also offered a broad range of pots and
gaiwans, as well as mixing and serving gear.

I was concerned at how empty the place was, given a sunny-Sunday mob in
the environs. Perhaps they do mostly a take-out business. At least until
it's (re-)discovered, though, I'd make it a top choice for area visitors
with transportation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On a final note, I stopped into a number of Asian grocery stores,
apothecaries and tchachke shops in the ongoing quest for
cheap'n'cheerful shu Pu-erh to bring to Chinese restaurants. Every such
place I looked had one, and only one, cheap bing on display: a 340g
"black tea" from Hung Chong Tai in HK, of which maker Samarkand has
written on RFDT:
groups.google.com/group/rec.food.drink.tea/msg/3a2c4b18381e83ac. Is this
a conspiracy? I did finally do the experiment of asking a back-alley TCM
outfit for something better, but that's another story.

DM

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Old 30-01-2007, 05:41 AM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options

Hi, DM,
I actually live in Berkeley and I guess I have to disagree with you
about Teance and also, Vital-tea. It was most likely a fluke that you
actually got someone knowegable to work with you in Teance. I've been
in a dozen times since they moved from their previous shop in Albany
and have never once had a question answered harvest, source, or
even the ability to actually see or smell the tea that is in all those
very over-priced bags. Their selection is so limited and the teaware,
although lovely is outrageously high.
While searching locally for a Big Red Robe or Oriental Beauty, they
carried neither. They had one Dan Cong that was stale and as of last
week, it was impossible to buy any one part of a Gong Fu service
separately. And, well, the place is empty because there are better tea
establishments in the area.
ITC has a lovely tasting room in Berkeley ( all women staff BTW) with
a wonderful selection of very fine teas on Shattuck and Far Leaves on
College, a much better selection than Teance at more reasonable
prices, although they, too, are primarily pre-packaged.
You are right about the lack of pu-erh. One shop does carry pu-erh in
limited selection in Oakland Chinatown on the corner of 9th and
Broadway. However, it's hit or miss. They do have a broad selection of
oolongs and there is a new little shop "Golden Teahouse" across the
street.
Vital-teas in SF Chinatown keeps all their teas in glass jars exposed
to a lot of florescent light.They are expensive beyond compare in the
Bay Area and like much else on Grant Avenue are really in the business
of hustling tourists.
Red Blossom is owned by a brother and sister team who are third
generation in the tea and herb business. Their father owned the shop
in previous incarnation and I bought my Chinese patent medicines and
herbs there for many years.Their teas are kept very well, purchased
from specialized farms and top notch. They really never charge for a
tasting and are very accomodating in explaining teas to the novice.
As for the boiling water, it seems to be the going thing in Chinatown,
particularly. But, there is hardly a moment when "just looking"
tourists are not asking for lychee or jasmine and really don't want to
buy much else when you can get 3 tee shirts for $10.00 or your name on
a chop.
Red Blossom, ITC and Samovar (Castro and downtown -Yerba Buena) all
over scheduled poresentations and classes for the more than curious.
Everything in the Bay Area is costly, no doubt about it. But, some of
these shops really work at keeping their quality up and their teas
accessible.
Email me next time you're in town and perhaps we can go tasting or
have a really great dim sum in a less fancy, but more authentic
Oakland Chinatown restaurant where the Bo-Lay is pretty good.
Shen


On Jan 29, 8:28 pm, DogMa wrote:
(cross-posted from chadao.blogspot.com/)

I happened to find myself in the SF area for a photonics conference (as
one so often does), and managed to drop into a few tea spots between
wavicles. There seems to be a proliferation of such, similar in style
but very different in atmosphere. In case it's useful to anyone, here
are a few sententious comments:

- Imperial Tea Court, Chinatown and the Ferry Building.
I prefer the original location for dimmer, quieter, more retreat-like
atmosphere. The new location is separated from the (rather classy) Ferry
Building mall by not much more than a partial lattice, and on this nasty
January day was reasonably quiet but frigid. Have yet to meet Roy Fong,
who seems ever to be in the warehouse or out buying; but Grace is a
charming presence. They have a bunch of above-average pots and other
useful teaware, though the best pots are NFS. Plenty of tea on offer in
both locations, at high prices - generally, however, commensurate with
quality. Tastings are a bargain by comparison. Service by elegant young
men. (Why so rarely women in this business?)

The Ferry Building ITC location has a fair amount of food on offer; most
people there seemed to be more dining than drinking. Combined with
admittedly pleasant aromas from the center's other food and
personal-care vendors, I found this to be somewhat distracting.
Personally, were I in that neighborhood, I'd save my caloric quota for
Yank Sing, an upscale dim sum house in the heart of the Rincon Center
complex. Beyond the HK-class food, there's a kind of waterfall from the
atrium ceiling that adds good feng shui or something. I can't speak for
their tea, since I'd brought a very nice (code for "wanted it back right
away") new Yixing pot and a bag of SRT's cheapest but IMO best-tasting
fenghuang dan cong for my host.

I was somewhat uncomfortable with the instructional style, which I did
not experience directly (being a take-charge kinda guy) but repeatedly
witnessed. My impression was that both server/teachers and customers
were getting lost in mannered ritual at the expense of the tea. Watching
people awkwardly slurp from gaiwans instead of decanting was vicariously
embarrassing - nothing wrong with the act, but it was clearly out of
character for those partaking. Worse, they seem to use near-boiling
water indiscriminately. When I asked for something much cooler for our
long jing (a delicate green), I was politely asked what temperature I'd
like - a good response, but the wrong place to start. (I just asked for
a pot of cold water to mix ad lib.) I'm wondering how many people who
start the cha dao here (or in many other places) ever learn that green
tea does not taste like spinach? Even many oolongs can't take this
treatment. As long as I'm ranting, I'll also complain about the gaiwan
we were given, much too large for the amount of leaf it contained. I
dropped a broad hint, and was offered another a good 10% smaller.

- Red Blossom Tea Company, Chinatown.
This tiny, deep shop has just a couple of tasting tables between rows of
paraphernalia, with most tea in the back. Pots and gaiwans fairly
priced, though most a bit fancy to my taste. Not exactly a secluded
experience, right on Grant St., but pleasant and informed service. And
the staff seemed able to establish a quiet zone around each table.

- Vital T-leaf, two Chinatown locations (head office in Seattle).
The main store is a magnet for extroverts, open to Grant St. and with a
riotous agglomeration of 20-something passersby enjoying free rounds at
the bar with the friendly energy of a post- (winning) game beer crowd.
Staff young as well, with Benihana-type cheerful showmanship blending
with as much serious information as people seemed able to absorb. A very
large range of teas, many flavored (not my cuppa) and flowers/herbs
(even a couple types of kuding) in tins and open trays, which may be OK
if turnover is high. Many Pu-erhs also on display, including
presentation bing and zhuanchas of at least two kg and a 30-yo shu cake
for $380. (Latter was plastic-wrapped, so the aroma was inaccessible.
Looked authentic, though.) Many pots at fair prices, though again only a
couple I'd want. My sense was that the staff was entirely prepared for a
much more serious tasting experience during times quieter than a
Saturday afternoon.

A couple of blocks uphill is a more intimate satellite shop, with a
representative stock (including the $380 shu bing) and less riotous
atmosphere.

- Teance, Berkeley. Best for last.
This was supposed to be the penultimate scene of a day's nostalgia tour
of Berkeley, following a walk around the Vine St. Gourmet Ghetto-as-was
(where I used to buy coffee in his one shop from Mr. Peet) and before
trooping up Grizzly Peak for a characteristically stunning sunset. A
careful drive along Solano failed to produce this establishment, even as
an emergency call to Joe K. confirmed the location. Fortunately, my
friend's Blackberry was web-enabled, so we were able to discover that
they had just moved down to the Flats. The unprepossessing neighborhood
prompted speculation about marketing mistakes, but their new (of two
months) home proved to be in the middle of a cluster of assorted shops
and restaurants fine enough to qualify the whole as a Destination.

Teance offers a stylishly sparse ambience reminiscent of, but more
elegant than, the late Wild Lily Tea Room. (In fact, it has much the
pleasant ambiance of NYC's Tea Gallery.) The front is an open shop, with
an appropriate number of teas and some nice teaware of diverse styles -
the celadon (per former establishment name) perhaps the best on offer;
three exceptional Yixings were unfortunately NFS.

The tasting area is a single circle of about a dozen seats in several
nicely designed stations, so as to be serviceable by one or several
people. Tasting are again a bargain for the quality. Our server, one
Darius (I forbore the bibulous pun about one man's Mede being another's
Persian) seemed quite well informed about the qualities of his stock,
and helped us to a selection of interesting oolongs. Aware that we were
not ignorant of technique, he also offered a broad range of pots and
gaiwans, as well as mixing and serving gear.

I was concerned at how empty the place was, given a sunny-Sunday mob in
the environs. Perhaps they do mostly a take-out business. At least until
it's (re-)discovered, though, I'd make it a top choice for area visitors
with transportation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On a final note, I stopped into a number of Asian grocery stores,
apothecaries and tchachke shops in the ongoing quest for
cheap'n'cheerful shu Pu-erh to bring to Chinese restaurants. Every such
place I looked had one, and only one, cheap bing on display: a 340g
"black tea" from Hung Chong Tai in HK, of which maker Samarkand has
written on RFDT:
groups.google.com/group/rec.food.drink.tea/msg/3a2c4b18381e83ac. Is this
a conspiracy? I did finally do the experiment of asking a back-alley TCM
outfit for something better, but that's another story.

DM



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Old 30-01-2007, 02:30 PM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options

My local tea shoppe holds tea tastings after hours on occasions.
People simply compare notes. If you really like something you come
back the next day during business hours. Nothing worse than a dog and
pony followed by which one you buy? I don't attend the tastings at my
tea shoppe. It's not important anymore I like or dislike the taste.
Sooner or later I'll end up changing my mind over the long haul. I
rather have it on my shelf than not. Today I'll be adding Java
Batavia and South Korea King Green and get a cup of the new Emperor
Green Sencha to go.

Jim

PS Great post DogMa. You made me feel your pain ;-). I axed it just
to make my point on tea tastings. I enjoy tea in public but just to
relax in the moment. I'm surprised you couldn't find CNNP shu bing
somewhere. The Hung Chong Tai taste different than the Yunnan. Danny
suggested it might be from Vietnam but factory unknown.



On Jan 29, 9:28 pm, DogMa wrote:
(cross-posted from chadao.blogspot.com/)
I was somewhat uncomfortable with the instructional style, which I did
not experience directly (being a take-charge kinda guy) but repeatedly
witnessed. My impression was that both server/teachers and customers
were getting lost in mannered ritual at the expense of the tea. Watching
people awkwardly slurp from gaiwans instead of decanting was vicariously
embarrassing - nothing wrong with the act, but it was clearly out of
character for those partaking.


On a final note, I stopped into a number of Asian grocery stores,
apothecaries and tchachke shops in the ongoing quest for
cheap'n'cheerful shu Pu-erh to bring to Chinese restaurants. Every such
place I looked had one, and only one, cheap bing on display: a 340g
"black tea" from Hung Chong Tai in HK, of which maker Samarkand has
written on RFDT:
groups.google.com/group/rec.food.drink.tea/msg/3a2c4b18381e83ac. Is this
a conspiracy? I did finally do the experiment of asking a back-alley TCM
outfit for something better, but that's another story.

DM



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Old 30-01-2007, 04:59 PM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Posts: 144
Default Some Bay Area tea options


"Shen" wrote in message
ups.com...
ITC has a lovely tasting room in Berkeley ( all women staff BTW) with
a wonderful selection of very fine teas on Shattuck and Far Leaves on
College,


I still prefer the old Chinatown location, but I have to agree with Shen -
Shattuck location is very nice.

Sasha.


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Old 31-01-2007, 10:02 AM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options

Great posts both, thank you.

Shen wrote:
or your name on a chop.


You can't just leave it like that without providing more details. I
have visions of pork products with custom copperplate lettering.
Please illuminate me.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes



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Old 31-01-2007, 04:29 PM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options

On Jan 31, 2:02 am, "HobbesOxon" wrote:
Great posts both, thank you.

Shen wrote:
or your name on a chop.


You can't just leave it like that without providing more details. I
have visions of pork products with custom copperplate lettering.
Please illuminate me.

Toodlepip,

Hobbes


Forgive me if I have used the incorrect, generic word for the stone,
engraved block with which you can stamp you name or, in this case,
"football" team (tourists - this time of the year), in Chinese
characters. The tourist shops on Grant Avenue in Chinatown San
Francisco sell them.
The notion of custom plated bacon, though is quite intertesting and
may be a good idea for marketing the stuff in Nieman Marcus's
Christmas catalog!
Shen


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Old 31-01-2007, 04:34 PM posted to rec.food.drink.tea
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Default Some Bay Area tea options


"HobbesOxon" wrote in message
oups.com...
Great posts both, thank you.

Shen wrote:
or your name on a chop.


You can't just leave it like that without providing more details. I
have visions of pork products with custom copperplate lettering.
Please illuminate me.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes


All over the world in Chinatowns you can have your name in Chinese carved on
a stone or bone "chop" to be used as a personal seal.
See
http://www.char4u.com/index.php?ref=...Mkggo dFTyBQQ
for example.

Sasha.




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