Taste takes up a quiet corner alley in Hayes Valley

This tiny neighborhood in San Francisco always has something new happening, but it retains a calm that probably makes it so attractive to tea lovers.

How else can you explain that Hayes Valley was once the home of the experimental tea restaurant Modern Tea (now closed) and an outlet of Salmovar Tea? And now it’s home to the relatively new Taste tea room, a block off the main drag on a quiet section of Octavia.

Taste is a tea lounge whose owners have put a lot of detail both in the décor and the serving of the tea (all from China). On a wall near the counter, small bottles contain tea leaves, which you can smell to make your choice of drink.

The slotted tray allows you to pour excess water into it

Then at your table, the tea is brought out on a slotted tray with what’s called a gaiwan, or covered tea bowl. The use of the traditional gaiwan lets you steep each individual cup of tea to your pace. The Taste servers are great at explaining each step done to prep your tea, from the rinsing of the gaiwan to the steeping of the tea. Like any experience with tea, drinking it is a ceremony – steps toward a higher level of reflection.

What I enjoy about new tea lounges is the chance to discover new teas, and Taste accomplishes that with its unique inventory of white, green, yellow, oolong, red, black and herbal teas. I sipped on a red tea called “Golden Eyebrow” from Fujian that was smooth and mellow with hints of smoke. My friend went for a highly caffeinated black tea called “Six Castle” that includes dark tea that’s good for the digestion.

Selection of small bites to enjoy with your tea

Speaking of digesting, Taste also serves up several types of steamed buns and French macarons. I enjoyed the sweet custard bun ($2.75) that was fluffy and flavorful, and a delicate rose flavored macaron ($1.75).

In this early stage, I do feel the service is a bit unstructured. Unless the owners are manning the counter, the other support staff can be called “slacker hip” – young servers who are laid back on the verge of being inattentive to customers. (For example, when I entered, I was confused about whether to order at the counter or to sit down, and no one offered any suggestions. Later when I wanted to try a pork bun, my server forgot to bring it to the table.)

Despite the somewhat casual service, Taste tea room puts quality tea in the spotlight in a calm environment that’s a step above a café and more like a meditation space.

Taste Tea Room, 535 Octavia St., San Francisco. PH: 415.552.5668, open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. www.tasteteasf.com

The decor is like a high-end cafe with Chinese and tea influences

Servers show the steps in preparing the tea cup and gaiwan

Custard buns with a brilliant yellow filling

Cup of Golden Eyebrow red tea

Tea pots for sale (left) and a corner cushion area that's very lounge-like

Tiny containers of tea act like snuff bottles

Taste is a welcome addition to the neighborhood

4 Responses to Hayes Valley Attracts a New Tea House

  1. hungry dog says:

    I’d like to check this out for sure. The custard buns and macarons seem like a funny combination, but what do I know? Thanks for tipping me off to this new spot in one of my favorite neighborhoods!

    • Ben Ben says:

      People probably don’t eat the buns and macarons at the same time. They probably go with one or the other. It’s just me that’s crazy and eat them all at once. 😉

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    What a lovely place to forget all your troubles. A cup of soothing tea always the ticket for pure relaxation. Great pics!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks. Funny how something so caffeinated is so relaxing. Again, I think it’s all the experience of drinking tea that’s relaxing than the tea itself.