Sublime Spartan Space Elevates the Humble Tea Leaf


In the comings and goings of Bay Area cafés and restaurants, Samovar Tea Lounge is stalwart in San Francisco. And just when it seems everything innovative has been done, we’re surprised (and pleased!) once again. Samovar’s new concept space on Valencia likens tea time to grabbing a cappucino in Rome — grab a cup, stand and socialize (or not), and sup really, really good tea.

samovar tea lounge

Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar Tea Lounge, in the open kitchen

 The artisan coffee movement has dominated the city over the past several years with Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Sightglass, Ritual, and a slew more all vying for most delicious slow roasted, slow steeping, and slow dripping beans. But the same has never been done for tea. Seems obvious, and Jesse Jacobs, Samovar’s founder, thought so too. “After visiting the top coffee spots around the country,” he says, “I realized that exceptional artisan tea is not accessible to beverage aficionados in the same way as coffee.”

Jacobs is highlighting ten of the top teas from his international network of small family farms. It’s the best of the best English Breakfast, Masala Chai, Matcha, and more on display (and truly, they are on display). Samovar sourced signature stainless steel and glass Crucible brewing vessels so patrons witness the brewing of their finest cup (the Chai simmers separately like a potion in a huge copper urn). The exposed kitchen also showcases its proprietary collection of stark and beautiful mugs. These were designed in collaboration with Atelier Dion in Oakland and handcrafted in ceramic. The cups are unique in that they’re rough and tactile on the outside for comfortable and secure handling, and glossy and white on the inside to accentuate the color of the brew.

Designed by Bay Area-based Arcanum Architecture, Japanese influence is apparent in the room’s design through its calming natural colors and minimalist style. A 250-million-year-old limestone slab acts as a divider and table, and the massive block stretches three feet equally underground and above. A shelf along the wall is a piece of reclaimed wood from a barn in Sonoma County from the 1800’s. Smooth, cool stone offers a seat if you need one. Definitely make an effort to use the bathroom. The sink is the first of its kind in the United States, a state-of-the-art Dyson sensor-operated Airblade that washes and dries your hands with one device. Look up while on the loo and take a minute to register the ceiling wallpaper. 

A massive limestone slab reaches three feet deep

 Whereas Samovar’s three current locations are ideal for a business meeting, a catch up with friends, or simply solo chilling, the fourth storefront on the Valencia corridor adds a new dimension to the local chain. The menu is streamlined with a selection of black and green teas (hot and iced, try the Rosie Palmer, it’s delish) all reasonably priced between $3-5, and the only food items are sweet and savory scones. If you’re fortunate enough to swing by en route to work, try a Matcha Shot. It may be the catalyst for your breakup with espresso. 

Samovar sourced signature stainless steel and glass Crucible brewing vessels

Visit: 411 Valencia St., San Francisco. Open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.  

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