In addition to being a feng shui consultant, food and wine connoisseur, and writer, I also hold a BFA in Theater Performance. A few years back, I was in a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya when I first heard of an intriguing item called a samovar. For those unacquainted with the term, a samovar is a large metal or brass urn with a spigot, used to boil water or tea. Of Russian origin, they first hit households around the 1820’s, gaining quickly in popularity, Nearly every Victorian home in Russia possessed one. Although the originals used coal to heat the water, modern-day versions are electric. In Uncle Vanya, it is mentioned directly by the playwright in Act I, and in most productions used as a set piece during the scenes that take place in colder months. (The production I was in sadly did not have one.) Having only seen pictures online of this vintage kitchen appliance, I was surprised to find a tea house in San Francisco named for this very illusive item.
Samovar has three different tea lounges located throughout San Francisco. I frequent the one bordering the Castro (pictured above). My best friend Wendy and I came here for an incredible brunch. One can order items individually, or one can do a tea service, We both went with the British Tea Service, which was the most “brunchy” of the options.
We each received a small tray with a steaming pot of their Breakfast Blend Black Tea, a stimulating and robust brew that was incredibly delicious. This also included honey, cream, and coconut nectar. The evaporated coconut palm nectar is the brown granules that look like brown or unrefined sugar, but it’s actually healthier for you. Imported from farmers in Bali, Indonesia, coconut palm nectar is the sap of the coconut plant dehydrated into crystals. The result is coconut palm sugar which is low on the glycemic index, and full of potassium and micro-nutrients. It can be substituted for table sugar and in baking. I found it to be just as sweet as sugar, and went perfectly with the Breakfast Blend.
The food for the tea service was presented on a three-tiered tray. (I think I need to invest in one of these for my own home use.)
A savory and mouthwatering vegetable quiche was presented alongside a salad with mixed greens. Their quiche selection changes somewhat depending on the season. I loved every bite. The salad had a pleasing vinaigrette with complimented the quiche perfectly.
Cherry Oat Scone – A decadent scone with oats throughout, served with preserves and clotted cream. I could consume one of these every day. It was fluffy and not overly dry as scones can sometimes be. Samovar uses only the evaporated coconut nectar for their baking (there is no refined sugar in any of their baked items). The amount of cream-to-scone was the ideal ratio, and really made the whole meal truly British.
An offering of fresh fruit concluded the feast, and accompanied the aristocratic scone ideally.
The environment of Samovar is one of peace and contentment. Choice pieces of art, like the elegant statue above, grace the room, providing a sense of beauty and culture. The statue is also a brilliant example of the earth element, due to its earthen material.
Billowy curtains shield patrons from the sun’s rays, and help to foster a more intimate atmosphere between seating arrangements. I also love the lantern in the window, and the high ceilings that allow chi to move freely throughout the space.
I really like how Samovar has concealed the bathroom with bamboo. One knows it’s a bathroom, but it doesn’t feel like one is sitting near a bathroom. I also like the further use of curtains to conceal unsightly storage.
The elements of fire, earth, and metal are in perfect harmony here. The red of the walls, the brick and the smaller, metal samovar coexist in a beneficial manner because each of these elements feed into one another.
There are many health benefits to drinking black tea. Of the three main caffeinated tea categories, black tea has far less caffeine that its green or white counterparts. The low amounts of caffeine found in tea can help stimulate blood flow to the brain without overcompensating the heart, which helps to increase energy levels. And, unlike coffee, tea releases it’s caffeine slowly over time rather than all at once. Black tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps one to focus and relax. Polyphenols in black tea, which contain antioxidants, help oral and heart health, and may aid in the prevention of certain cancers when consumed on a regular basis.
Samovar also has a highly impressive website and blog. In addition to having vast amounts of tea information, they also have a terrific online store where one may purchase any of their teas, as well as tea accessories (the teapot, tray, teacup and coconut nectar crystals pictured in the tea service can all be purchased). They also have “tea gurus” who offer private tea classes. The lounge has limited seating; I suggest making reservations beforehand (but walk-ins are also welcome). On my next visit to San Francisco, I plan on trying some of their medjool dates stuffed with chevre cheese (Wendy swears by them), and one of their tantalizing rice bowls. Until then, I will drink tea here in Los Angeles, read some Chekhov, and long for that delicious oat scone.
Samovar Tea Lounge: Mission/Castro
498 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Hours: Daily 10:00 am – 10:00 pm