Today I was going up to City Discount to buy a pizza stone and missed my bus stop because I fell asleep. On my backtrack down to City Discount (at Polk and Sacramento) I walked past a liquor store on the northeast corner of Polk at Clay and noticed a curious sign in the window for tea tastings. Why not? Makes at least as much sense as tacos in that car wash out by Alemany.
In the corner of the shop they've set up a little tea tasting bar with four stools and a water always on the boil. The man pouring tea said he was from Guangzhou; there were probably 30 canisters of tea in the shop, and some only had labels in Chinese.
I tried three types: jasmine, ginseng and rose. Each time the man would pour a cup, he would tell me and the other taster about the health benefits of the tea we sampled. "This good for skin," he said at the rose (I think?), tapping the skin on his hand. Ginseng for the health, jasmine for the heart.
In the end I bought a quarter pound of ginseng; I liked the slightly sweet, toasted flavor. It cost about $20, and I said thank you to the man in my limited traveler's Chinese, which spurred him to toss a few paragraphs back at me in Mandarin, which could have been "Oh, you try to speak Chinese, how sweet." or "Do you speak to your mother in that crummy accent? For shame!"
I didn't get a chance to check out all of the labels, but some I remember are Golden Dragon Pearl, West Lake Dragon, and Hai Nam bitter green. There were at least three types of ginseng tea.
On the way home my Chinese cab driver looked at the brand and said it was a good type, one he'd tried before, though he thought the price was steep.