The Tea Squirrel's Holiday Gift Guide for Tea Lovers – The San Francisco Edition
Welcome to my tea-centric holiday gift guide! Here’s what to expect:
- Plenty of holiday spirit.
- The perfect gift for the tea lovers in your life (yourself included!)
- Intriguing ideas that will help your tea skeptic / hardcore coffee lover friends or family members see tea from a totally different perspective. You might even be able to “convert” them. (Remember: coffee and tea are not mutually exclusive! It’s a win-win for everyone).
The products I’ve chosen embody my city, San Francisco. They are hand-crafted with great passion and creativity by local artisans whose stories and values inspire me deeply.
Alana Rivera has a warm smile. Her laughter is contagious. “What I appreciate about tea is that it is a whole process and that each type of tea has its own ritual around how it is steeped. I love the time and intention that I have to put into it. That’s what I love about tea.”
Alana started experimenting with soap making as a creative outlet to distract herself from a job that was making her unhappy. “My first batch of soap was a very frustrating and scary experience. It was a very long process, I was not using any machine and I was stirring by hand. My husband, who was then my boyfriend, helped me with that first batch. But the day we uncovered it, it was beautiful and I was hooked from that moment on”. She got a certificate in herbalism and in 2009 she launched her business on Etsy. Alana named her company, which is a certified green business, after her grandmothers. “They were both inspirational women, who bucked the trend of their time. I am thankful for their guidance and their energy”. I loved hearing about them and I found their stories heartwarming. My grandmothers are my role models too.
"My tea-based products are inspired by scents that I find comforting or remind me of a story or an experience that I’ve had. I love chai in the wintertime, I love all those different spicy notes. They are the same spicy elements of many Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes. Earl Grey is another favorite because it is scented with bergamot, a unique citrus fruit that you don’t see anywhere else".
I first discovered Etta + Billie last year when I was in San Francisco on a short Christmas shopping trip. I’ve been a big fan ever since. Now that I live here, I was thrilled to meet Alana. Her tea-infused organic soaps and body products are straight out of my dreams! Their scents are addictive (says the tea blogger who – while writing this post – can’t stop smelling her hands, generously slathered in chai tea skin balm)!
"A lot of what inspires me is food, I have Italian roots, but I think food is an important part of all cultures. It’s what nourishes us and keeps us alive and it’s the way people express their culture and it’s the way people connect with each other. It’s the biggest common denominator we all have, when we come together around meals, we have this really beautiful shared experiences where we can connect with people, we can connect with our food, we can reconnect to ourselves and I want to bring those things, that comfort element and those joyful feelings into other places".
Tea-infused chocolate? Yes, please! Mindy Fong is the talented chocolatier and owner of Jade Chocolates, a hidden gem in the Inner Richmond district. The scents in her chocolate shop are sweet, fragrant and enticing. It’s like stepping into another world. These two sophisticated chocolate bars have unique flavor combinations. Dragon's Breath is a bittersweet chocolate bar with roasted sesame seeds, lapsang souchong tea and chili pepper. Genmai is a milk chocolate bar with roasted brown rice, green and jasmine tea.
"The whole premise of creating Jade Chocolates was to incorporate ingredients that I grew up with. I've been drinking tea for a long time and I absolutely love it. I don't drink coffee or soda or alcoholic beverages, but I do drink tea and lots of it. It's only natural that tea would be in the first two chocolate bars that I created - Dragon's Breath and Genmai. I get my inspiration from various sources. For instance, I saw the bright red lokta paper and immediately thought dragons. I thought of the name 'Dragon's Breath' and came up with the ingredients for this name. Other avenues that inspires me are inspiration from savory foods and translating that into chocolate".
Oh, did I mention Mindy's tea- and tisane-infused chocolate truffles? I've tried her Jasmine Pearl and Coconut Paradise Green Tea truffles but the list is long and it includes some pretty exciting and super sophisticated tea-based and non-tea-based flavor combinations.
Mindy’s earliest memory with tea dates back to her childhood. “Once a week or so, my family would go to a Chinese restaurant and I would drink the tea served there. I guess my parents didn't mind that it had caffeine in it. My favorite go-to tea is hojicha. It's a great everyday tea that I won't get tired of".
Yerba Buena Tea Co. Golden Gate Green Tea
I officially met Grace and Chad Smith at the San Francisco International Tea Festival last month but I had seen their stand before at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Their beautiful selection of organic loose-leaf artisan teas and tisanes, elegantly packaged in pretty black tins, had caught my eye. To my amazement, they knew me too! My dear friend Louise, who is one of their customers (which I didn’t know), had told them about The Tea Squirrel!
Grace and Chad are on a mission, encouraging their customers to ditch the tea bag. “The ‘slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of life’ is a motto we can relate to. We have people that want our teas in bags and we try to convince them on the experience of making loose leaf tea instead of just throwing the bag in their thermos on the way out the door. When using tea bags, you’re losing out on the experience of brewing a fresh pot of tea”.
Their Golden Gate Green tea is a tribute to the most iconic landmark in San Francisco. It’s delicious and very warming. It has that nice flavor kick from the ginger and a subtle lingering smokiness from the Gunpowder green tea. “We chose those ingredients by experimenting with different flavors that we think pair well together. We wanted the Golden Gate to have a fusion of different flavors to represent the diversity in San Francisco.”
Also, if you are an herbal tea fan, then look no further! Their blends are created with a wholesome lifestyle in mind, are herbalist-approved and their flavor combinations are incredible. Turmeric Lemon Ginger herbal tea, anyone?
A heartfelt thank you to Alana Rivera, Grace and Chad Smith and Mindy Fong!
Disclaimer: This is my honest opinion. I was not asked nor paid to mention or review products, services or businesses that appear in this blog post.