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.
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.
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
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