Tea in San Francisco - by neighborhood. Hayes Valley
Hayes Valley is one of the most charming neighborhoods in San Francisco and a fine dining destination, full of independently owned shops and boutiques. I decided to explore it by taking a look at the tea it has to offer. Despite not having many tea houses or tea shops, there’s plenty of high quality, loose leaf tea in Hayes Valley! I have a few gems in store for you, are you excited?
20th Century Cafe (198 Gough St)
This is hands down one of my most favorite spots in San Francisco, one of those places that excite you, no matter how many times you’ve been there. It’s a bakery and cafe inspired by Austrian and Eastern European cafes. Vintage mirrors, marble table tops and velvet banquette benches, a vintage copper espresso machine, domed cake stands, where do I even begin? This place is gorgeous. If you’re lucky, you might witness firsthand the making of a strudel (and wonder whether that is a table cloth or an incredibly large and thin dough) or the assembly of New York Times acclaimed Russian honey cake. Guess what? There’s tea at 20th Century Cafe, but not just any tea, Song Tea and Ceramics tea. You can choose between Shan Lin Xi winter sprout oolong and Old Tree Yunnan red. How is it brewed and served? In a Hario coffee server (a lidded glass pitcher), which means that you can’t remove the tea leaves, but it has never been an issue because it’s not so large that you have to hurry and drink fast to prevent over steeping. And you can get hot water refills and re-steep your tea leaves. I even came up with my personal tea and cake pairings. The Shan Lin Xi winter sprout oolong pairs beautifully with the Russian honey cake, which is (allow me to quote the NYT) an “exquisite, gravity-defying cake” made of “airy, lightly spiced cake layers and glossy whipped-cream frosting, both tinged with burned honey” or, to say it in my words, a dream. The Old Tree Yunnan red is the perfect companion to the Esterhazy Schnitten, an Austro-Hungarian layer cake with hazelnuts and almonds. (website)
Little Gem (400 Grove St)
Looking for a cool restaurant serving top-notch tea? Look no further than Little Gem, with its modern Californian cuisine and an exciting, delicious menu that is naturally gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free. I love that it has a lovely neighborhood vibe and it’s sophisticated without being pretentious. Their tea menu (once again by Song Tea and Ceramics) is noteworthy; Fragrant Leaf (green tea from Fujian, China), Old Tree Yunnan (red tea from Yunnan, China), Nantou Dark (oolong tea from Taiwan) and a herbal blend, Holy Basil (basil, rose, lemon balm). Additionally, there’s an iced tea made with Golden Needle (red tea from Fujian, China). The tea is brewed to perfection at the bar and served (sans tea leaves) in a glass pitcher and cup. The only minor downside is that you can’t re-steep the same leaves. It’s such a rare treat to enjoy a lovely meal at a restaurant accompanied by top-notch tea. If I had to develop a tea and food pairing menu for a restaurant, I would do it here at Little Gem. How incredible would it be? (website)
KitTea (96 Gough Street)
KitTea is a cat cafe or rather a “cat tea house” focusing on Japanese tea. Your admission ticket for an hour of cuddling with felines comes with bottomless tea, but you can also drop in anytime just for tea and snacks in the space adjacent to the cat room and sip the afternoon away while enjoying a view of the cats. On their menu: Hojicha, Kukicha, Genmaicha, Sencha, Ceremonial Matcha from Kyoto, Assam Black Tea, Earl Grey Ceylon black tea, Oolong from Fujian and 3 herbal blends. The tea is good but the cats will steal the spotlight! (website)
Tea People Tea Bar (inside Boba Guys Hayes Valley, 8 Octavia #308)
Inside this Boba Guys location there’s a hidden gem. Don’t be scared by the lines that wrap around the block, those are people in line for boba milk tea. You can walk right in and head to the back where there’s a separate counter, Tea People. Expect lab-like equipment, flavored and unflavored loose-leaf blends and single origin teas, with exciting options like Golden Monkey Jin Hou black tea, an impressive selection of oolongs including Zhangping Water Nymph oolong cakes and more. Oh, did I mention that they direct source? Your tea is brewed by the expert hands of one of their tea geeks in a Hario globe and is served in graduated beakers. They offer tea tasting flights with chocolate pairing (don’t expect a different chocolate for each tea, it’s one square of chocolate at the beginning). Before leaving, don’t forget to take some Instagram photos with their neon sign. (website)
Cafe Réveille (201 Steiner St)
The newest addition to the Hayes Valley cafe scene, Cafe Réveille is located on a lovely corner on a residential tree-lined street. There’s even outdoor seating (and heaters, should it get chilly). They serve tea by Berkeley-based tea company Leaves and Flowers, known for their handcrafted herbal infusions and small batch teas. Here’s what you can choose from: Sencha No. 60 from Fukuoka Prefecture (Japan), Earl Grey black tea from the Nilgiris Highlands (India) and 2 herbal blends, Ajna (anise hyssop, tulsi, lavender) and Rosella Mint (hibiscus flower, peppermint, stevia leaf). It is served in a sleek glass teapot with stainless steel lid that comes on a wooden serving tray. When you pour, the tea leaves are kept inside by a mesh ring on the teapot lid. I haven’t had any over steeping problems and you can get refills of water and re-steep. Their sencha is divine! (website)
The Center SF (548 Fillmore St)
In San Francisco, it’s hard to find a place to drink tea at night. Luckily, there’s The Center SF, with their tea house open 7 days a week until 10 PM. They have a yoga, workshops and event space and you can get a membership, but the tea house is open to members and non-members alike. They serve loose-leaf tea by Rishi by the cup of pot. If you’re not sharing the pot with someone, I’d recommend going for the cup, because there’s no way to take the tea leaves out and it’s easy to over steep your tea. It’s a thoughtfully decorated space, very conducive to creativity. (website)
Have you ever been to any of these spots for tea?
Disclaimer: I was not paid to mention or review businesses, products or services. This is my honest opinion.