The recent thread on tea in Chinatown motivated me to take a walk today and check a few places out. Here are my favorites and a few comments about each (they are ordered from south to north as you might visit them when entering Chinatown through the Grant Street Gate):
Red Blossom Tea Company
831 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, California 94108
Phone: (415) 395-0868
Open 9:30am to 6:00pm, Daily
This is an upscale looking place with free tasting and a sophisticated website. Has a wide variety of exotic teas. Although I didn't spend any time here, it seems well worth a visit, and I'll be going back to try it out.
TenRen San Francisco
949 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone: 415/362-0656 Fax: 415/362-0657
Hours: 7 days a week, 9AM-9PM
TenRen is a big world-wide company based in Taiwan. The Chinatown store is just one of the many TenRen stores you will find around the world. All teas are from Taiwan, nothing from mainland China. They do have a good selection of black, oolong, and green teas. They have special spring teas, which are pretty expensive, but they ARE good, and they are packed in foil, which will make some people happy! Not a lot of english-speaking expertise here. Save your questions for the other places. If you are not into serious tea you can try the Pearl, Tapioca, and Bubble tea here. (I'll bet this is going to get me in trouble)!
Ital Tea-Leaf Company
1044 Grant Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Open ?? am to ?? pm ??
(no website yet)
This is a new store, only open since June, 2005. It well appointed inside, and has a free tasting bar with ten seats. Has a good selection of exotic tea, most from mainland China. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly with good English skills. Seems to have the best prices on tea pots and cups. They spin the health benefits of tea a little bit too strongly for me, but I enjoyed my tasting here. I got the impression they would have brewed every tea in the store if I had just sat there long enough. Was told that the newest tea fad in China is to mix Dragon Well green tea with scrambled eggs. I'm wary of that bit of news, but it was fun tasting tea here, and I bought some oolong with an amazingly long and sweet aftertaste.
Imperial Tea Court Chinatown Teahouse
1411 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone: 800-567-5898, 415-788-6080
Open 11am to 6:30pm daily
This is the granddaddy of sophisticated tea places in San Franciso. All of the rest are tea shops, this is a tea house. Their website is the best tea website I have ever seen. It is full of information. They have tables and do a tea service which can be simple, or can be complex including lessons in "Gongfu" and "Gaiwan" tea preparation. You can order flights of teas and snacks to nibble on. Nowhere else will you find canary cages and elderly Chinese gentlemen. Seems quite authentic to me. However, nothing here is free.