Guide to Good Tea in the Bay Area

by Tony Gebely 11

You may not be aware, but the Bay Area is a hotbed of tea culture, nowhere else in the states can seem to support such a slew of high-end tea shops. What set the stage for such a great tea-scene? Well nearly a quarter of people in the Bay Area are of Asian descent and in the 1990s, David Lee Hoffman and Roy Fong began importing Chinese teas, the likes of which Americans hadn’t seen. Since then, specialty tea has spread across the United States but the Bay Area still has the largest collection of high-end tea shops. Let’s dig into the list. If I’ve omitted any that you believe should be in the list, please let me know.

San Francisco

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Red Blossom

One of the most well-known tea shops in the Bay Area, Red Blossom sources all of their tea and tea ware directly from a community of growers and artisans in China and Taiwan. There is no formal sit-down area in this shop, but they will do gongfu samples for you of their teas before you buy them. 831 Grant Avenue San Francisco, California 94108 Website.

the center sf tea, san francisco, ca

The Center SF

Another attempt at providing a membership-based tea spot in San Francisco, The Center SF features many direct-source  organic teas served Gong-Fu style by the staff on duty.  548 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, California 94117 Website.

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Song Tea and Ceramics

Song Tea and Ceramics was started by Peter Luong who used to source teas for Red Blossom. Song Tea and Ceramics takes the Red Blossom concept to the next level with higher quality tea and a larger selection of artisan tea ware. There is no formal sit-down area in this shop, but they will pour samples for you of their teas before you buy them. 2120 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California. Website.

imperial-tea-court

Imperial Tea Court

Imperial Tea Court was started by one of the pioneers in the US tea industry, Roy Fong. His first shop opened in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1993. His flagship is now located in the Ferry Building and serves food (try the hand-pulled noodles) as well as his fantastic Chinese teas. In The San Francisco Ferry Building 1 Embarcadero, San Francisco, California. Website.

 

Asha Teahouse

A contemporary bustling tea house with fantastic directly sourced teas, as well as a full menu of tisanes, boba teas, and purees that include teas. 17 Kearny St., San Francisco, California 94108. Website.

samovar

Samovar

Samovar was founded by Jesse Jacobs and quickly expanded around the San Francisco area. Each shop is a bit different, but each one serves tea and light meals. There are now four locations in San Francisco including their new concept shop in the Mission featuring a row of Alpha Dominche Steampunk Brew Machines. Website.

North Bay

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Western Gate / Phoenix Collection

The Western Gate is a non-profit, community-centered Teahouse and Book Commons located in the San Geronimo Valley of West Marin County, California. The teahouse features a small sit-down area where you can enjoy gongfu style tea. In 2016, Western Gate merged with David Lee Hoffman’s The Phoenix Collection. Lagunitas Station 7282 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Lagunitas, California. Website.

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Desta Tea

This tea and art gallery features the many teas both single-origin and flavored as well as art from artisans around the world. 417 San Anselmo Avenue, San Anselmo California. Website.

taste of tea healdsburg, california

Taste of Tea

This tea lounge and tasting bar offers food, tea and sweets, in the heart of downtown Healdsburg. 109 North St, Healdsburg, California 95448. Website.

breakaway matcha, san anselmo ca

Breakaway Matcha

This popular matcha brand offers classes at this location in San Anselmo and tastings by appointment only. Contact via website.

East Bay

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Far Leaves Tea

This Chinese style tea house in Berkeley has a comfortable urban vibe. There is a large sit-down cafe serving tea (mostly gongfu style) and light snacks. Far Leaves also has an area for musical performances so if you are lucky, you’ll catch one. 2626 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702. Website.

 

Asha Teahouse

A modern bustling tea house with fantastic directly sourced teas, as well as a full menu of tisanes, boba teas, and purees that include teas. Definitely worth stopping in if you are in the Berkeley area. 2086 University Ave., Berkeley, California 94704. Website.

teance-tea-bar

Teance

Founded in 2002 by Winnie Yu, Teance is known for their beautiful tea bar in the back of the shop where you can sit and enjoy a gongfu service with many of the teas in the shop. This shop is definitely a must-visit if you are in the Berkeley area. 1780 4th Street, Berkeley, California 94710. Website.

imperial-tea-court-berkeley

Imperial Tea Court

Imperial Tea Court was started by one of the pioneers in the US tea industry, Roy Fong. His first shop opened in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1993. He now has two shops, one in San Francisco’s Ferry Building and this one in Berkeley that serves food (try the hand-pulled noodles) as well as his fantastic Chinese teas. 1511 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709. Website.

Tony Gebely

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.

Comments (11)

  1. Wow! Nice list. I’ve been a coffee drinker for a long time now I started to switch over to tea. I go to Western Gate. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Highwire Coffee in the east bay has a great new tea line, 4Track, that is really excellent and thoughtful.

    SF’s tea culture is also largely due to the fact that it’s a port city! Clipper ships first brought tea to the US via San Francisco more than 100 years before the 90s and ‘specialty tea,’ and a handful of bigger importers still operate in the bay.

  3. Here’s a couple that aren’t “best” but are solid:
    Asha in Berkeley
    Taste of Tea in Healdsburg
    Breakaway Matcha (by appointment) in San Anselmo
    The Center in San Francisco

    1. Thanks, I’ll add these when I get a chance.

  4. Yes I second Sophie’s in Oakland!

  5. You haven’t added the South Bay yet and of course, Steepers in Campbell is #1!

  6. How about Aroma Tea Shop in San Francisco? Their selection is both fresh and amazing, especially their High Mountain Anxi Tie Guan Yins and Pu Erhs.

  7. SF Tea Oasis is no more. Thete is another one in Oakland. There will be a *new* tea place opening in the SF space that closed…soon. Thanx for sharing with all of us, TonyG

  8. Living on the Bay Area my entire life, I have noticed a rich tea culture indeed. One tea shop that I would consider adding is Sophie’s Cuppa Tea located in the Montclair District of Oakland. Great list! 🙂

  9. Thanks for putting this together, Tony.
    I’m planning a trip to San Fran in a month, any updates to the list I should keep in mind?
    Going to hit as many locations as I can, time permitting.

  10. This is cool! I wish you have a similar list curated for NYC as well.

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