Finally tried both of these tea rooms in the past week.
I have a new answer when a visitor asks what to take home from SF or someone wants to know about the perfect hostess gift. It is a tea sampler.
My perfect sample would have:
- From Imperial Tea: Orchid Oolong, Rose Garden, Jade Fire Green, Imperial Breakfast Black, Lapsang Souchong Black and Herbal Hibiscus Prosperity Blend. Maybe some Red Peony if I was being extravagant.
- From Celadon: White Dragon Pearls Green Jasmine and 25 year old Puerh.
Add two lovely tea cups or a stunning silver-ish or lacquered tea tin and you have the perfect gift. Mmm, if I had time, Id run over to Yank Sing for a little of their Jasmine, which I still like the best of all Jasmines.
Theres more on my list from Imperial Tea because I tasted 14 there and only 5 teas at Celadon.
This was my first tea tasting. In the link below to a Chowhound tasting at Imperial Tea there was a mention of a tasting menu. My impression was that the menus made suggestions, sort of like those family Chinese dinners where menu 1 has specific items and menu 2 has specific items. In reality, the menu just is a list of all the available teas by category with brief descriptions and its up to you to select what sounds good.
Prices run from $2 - $5 for each tea tasted. My first tip try the expensive teas. If you have the choice to pay five bucks for a pot of tea that sells for three dollars an ounce or one that goes for $25 an ounce, well, you can always buy an ounce of the cheap tea to take home.
Tip number two: Give yourself time. Tea tasting is slow and relaxing (other than the post caffeine rush). I spent an hour at Celadon and over two hours at Imperial Tea (I took 8 home, only tried 6 at the tasting).
I am wildly enthusiastic about Celadon in Albany on Solano Avenue. Im fairly new to tea and this was an outstanding place for tea tasting. The staff is super knowledgeable and friendly, the shop is lovely and relaxing, the tasting prices more reasonable than Imperial Tea and it is not a tourist stop. Also parking is easier. Enough said.
Imperial Tea didnt help much with the tasting. I was pretty much on my own, I was happy I tried Celadon first.
Imperial Tea is having two , as they advertise intensive hands on classes on The Connoisseurship of Tea. They are being taught by the owner, Ray Fong and take place February 22nd and March 22nd. Both are on Saturday. Cost is $35. I signed up for one and will let you know if it was worth it.
When doing a tasting, start with light teas and work your way up to the stronger teas. The order would be white, green, yellow, oolong, herbal, puerh and black (IMO). I put the puerh before the black because it has an earthy taste that I suspect many people wont like and you might not want this as your last taste of the session.
Both shops serve brewed tea to go. I dont know why this didnt occur to me before. Dont know how much a cup of tea to go was at Imperial (but 2 guys stopped by and ordered take-out cups). At Celadon it is about $2 - $4 dollars, with one competition grade tea going for $8 a cup. I do have to say, being new to tea, the prices stunned me. I also referring to the price per ounce of dried tea . As to if Id ever spend $8 for a cuppa tea to go, I dont know. Will have to try that particular tea at the next tasting for $2.
While tasting is less expensive at Celadon, I have the impression that the tea itself is less costly at Imperial Tea. The minimum amount that Celadon will sell is 2 oz. while Imperial will sell you a single ounce. The prices for 2 oz at Celadon range from $4 - $24 with half of the list in double digits.
I know both places sell quality tea, but as a first time buyer the sticker shock is getting to me.
As this is getting longer than I expected, Im going to split the post to discuss Celadon and Imperial separately. So if you are interested specifically in one or the other, its easier to respond.
If you look on the general board, I found a tea site that lists over 1,900 tea shops and merchants world wide. There are tea shops listed in California that Ive never heard of. Anyone tried English Tea at the Webster House in Alameda. Besides many new tea locations in SF, there are listings for Benecia, Berkeley, Burlingame, Campbell, Carmel, Costa Mesa, etc, etc, etc. The grand salon in the Blue Violet Mansion at Napa sounds wonderful. It also has special teas events like a chocolate lovers tea in February, an Easter tea, a mothers day tea, etc)
Im thinking it is time for Starbucks to move over. Its tea time.