As previously noted by Stanley Stephan, Celadon on Solano is a charming place to enjoy a cup of tea or indulge in an extensive tasting. 10 of us crowded around the tasting station and worked our way through a selection of premium teas, accompanied by tea snacks and a Dream of Cream cake from Neldam's to celebrate Melanie Wong's birthday. Live music and enormous twig and rice paper lamps in the shape of inverted mushrooms give the salon a distinctive aesthetic that's both formal and warm.
The woman who helped us was extremely precise about every aspect of the service but also low key. She was equally willing to describe and evangelize each tea, encouraging us to examine and smell the leaves, or just allow us to sit back and enjoy the aromas and flavors. The teas are primarily Chinese teas with a few Indian teas available; don't expect scones and clotted cream with your oolong unless you stop at Neldam's first.
-white peony. A light floral tea, it had trouble competing with the rich cream cake. I think Imperial Tea's version of this is more distinctive.
-premium dragonwell. This is one of the finest dragonwell's I've tasted. Grassy but not overpowering.
-bi luo chun or green snail, Spring version. A delicate green tea, the flavor on each pour was quite different.
-white dragon pearls. Dragon pearls is an exceptional jasmine tea; Arlene agreed and took home two containers of it.
-tai ping hu kui premium. I wasn't familiar with this tea from Fujian province--Celadon may be the only local purveyor of it. Fragrant, complex, and delicate.
-monkey picked ti kuan yin. Golden and aromatic.
-Baochong Premium. This was an excellent oolong from Taiwan. The second steeping was flavorful and bright.
-Yunnan gold, a very smooth blend; I prefer a longer steeping, but this is a pleasant tea and a good example of why black teas are referred to as "red"
-25 year old Pu-erh, a musky, peaty, fermented brew with a brilliant color, Pu erh is like a vintage Port, or perhaps an aged cheese: smelly, forceful, quite unlike anything else we tried.
An hour later, in the midst of a Sichuanese feast, the pu erh would have been a welcome relief from the grease and chilis. Most of the green teas and oolongs would have been a good complement with food.
The first tasting for each person is free--this includes two steeps in a small cup. Subsequent tastings cost $2 each; if you were not doing such a large sampling, you would be better off ordering individual pots for ~$5 each and sharing. However you would not have the same level of attention (to water temperatures, steeping times, etc) or the progression we enjoyed.
Their tea snacks are excellent--melon seeds, a thinly sliced biscotti, and a scrumptious tea-pickled plum. Other sources for the pickled plums (Yimster?) would be most welcome.
We spent $200 for 10 including a generous tip and service charge for bringing our own cake. For two hours of tea bliss, this was well spent.
Celadon Fine Teas
1111 Solano Avenue
510 524 1696
open until 10 p.m. on the weekends