For years now, news outlets have run stories suggesting that tea is healthier to drink than water--touting such benefits as tea's known antioxidants, and its various protective effects on heart health. This is all an added boon for those of us in San Francisco, since we have dedicated tea rooms where we can indulge our oolong impulses. Whether it's a proper afternoon tea at a luxe hotel like the Ritz, or a less formal drop-in at one of SF's local tea houses, get ready for a bonafide treat.
Samovar has several San Francisco locations, including the original in SF's Mission District, another at SOMA's Yerba Buena Gardens, overlooking the Esplanade, and even one at SFO International Airport. Their tea menu is deliciously satisfying, with white, green, oolong, black, Jingmai, and daily chilled varieties available; and the decor features comfy cushions and wicker furnishings, and an array of Buddha statues. Food pairings run the gamut from avocado toast to warm greens in a jar.
Don't miss the opportunity to take afternoon tea at least once in the elegant Rotunda at San Francisco's Neiman Marcus, an upscale department store in Union Square. The original beaux-arts building on this site, the City of Paris (California Landmark 876), was a late 19th century repository for fine goods traveling to San Francisco from Europe. When Neiman Marcus demolished the structure in the 1970s, amid significant local controversy, the [fortunate] compromise was a mandate to save the stunning glass dome under which you can now take your tea. Sip gourmet varietals while snacking on popovers or the Rotunda's signature lobster club.
For the full tea garden experience, head to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. It's home to the oldest Japanese gardens in the country and houses a stunning tea studio right in the middle. Order some loose leaf Jasmine to sip while watching cherry blossoms bloom.
With one location in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace and another in Berkeley, the Imperial Tea Court draws fans with its wide range of tea experiences. Choose from something as simple as engaging a pot of Jasmine pearls as the leaves unfurl . . . or as involved as learning about premium Pu-erh, or gaiwan tea preparation. Snacks are also available.
Lovejoy's began as an antique shop serving tea, and has since morphed into a tea room flourishing with antique detail. If you've spent any time in England and miss your Devon cream, this cozy space along Church Street has your number. There's Cream Tea service, High Tea, Queen's Tea, and even Wee Tea for young tea drinkers. The concept behind Lovejoy's is traditional, but the ambiance is quirky and eclectic.
Crown and Crumpet fist opened in San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square in 2008, but rising rents caused this husband-and-wife owned business to relocate to the lobby of Japantown's New People Building in 2013, and it's here they continue to thrive. Owners Amy and Christopher Dean have fused their San Francisco and UK histories into this lively and beloved English-style venue, which offers teas ranging from classic black to fruit & herbal, and a selection of soups & salads, hot-pressed sandwiches, and mouthwatering cakes. Their afternoon tea for one is a bounty of freshly-made finger sandwiches, bite-sized sweets and treats, both a scone and a crumpet, and a large, oh-so-satisfying pot of loose leaf tea.
Tal-Y-Tara wins the award for most unusual tea spot on this list. The space is both an English equestrian supply store as well as a tea room--one known for its unique "motorloaf" bread and nested sandwiches (designed for easy travel while motoring). Tal-Y-Tara also serves a selection of English teas, crumpets, scones and trifle, and is notably the only place in town where you can steep a pot of Fortnum & Mason tea while trying on paddock boots.
As of spring 2019, Tal-Y-Tara is temporarily closed for renovations.
You probably know what to expect in terms of ambiance when you take tea (served Friday through Sunday) in the elegant enclave of the Ritz. Selections range from a Traditional Tea service to a Royal Tea -- and a Vegetarian Tea and Children's Tea in between. The Ritz Carlton also serves a Sunday jazz brunch in the Terrace, which offers both indoor and outdoor seating.
The historic stained-glass atrium is the core attraction of the Garden Court restaurant in San Francisco's 1909 Palace Hotel, and its where high tea takes place each Saturday. Tea at the Garden Court shows off some of San Francisco's best architectural heritage. The setting does resemble a garden, with daylight streaming in over the Austrian crystal chandeliers and planted greenery.
Choices include a basic Garden Court Tea, Sparkling Wine Tea, Royal Tea and a Prince & Princess Tea (for kids).
The Garden Court also serves Sunday jazz brunch.
Enjoy a modern take on traditional afternoon tea at this cozy Inner Sunset space, just south of Golden Gate Park, where the menu includes loose-leaf teas and housemade sweet and savory eats. Choose among freshly-baked scones, vegetable-filled pastries, and the day's quiche and soup offerings. The weekend menu features a slightly larger selection, and Thursday evenings often have live music, along with beer, wine, and champagne.