Tea has been making a "comeback" for years but it finally seems like it's on the verge of breaking out.
You've heard of so-called "third-wave coffee" -- the single-origin, pour-over, absurdly tasting-noted brew that you find at places like Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Sightglass, and just about every coffee shop in town. Well, it's finally tea's turn to get the fancy treatment. We received a sample of Samovar's new "3rd wave" tea that it will be debuting at its new "handcrafted tea experience" (aka cafe) opening in May at 411 Valencia. The press release, which came in an envelope with a faux-wax seal, had phrases like "meticulously sourced craft tea" and "Samovar turns brewing tea into performance art while serving a few select teas from its carefully curated collection."
We stopped rolling our eyes long enough to try some, though, and damn if the Earl Grey they sent wasn't some of the best tea we've ever had, even when brewed in the newsroom in a mug with permanent coffee stains. The tea was light and delicate, perfumed without being overwhelming, with hints of citrusy bergamot and the dusky flavor of black tea leaves. It was a very impressive cup. There will no doubt be many trend pieces written about this place when it opens.
Samovar's new spot will only feature a handful of teas, specially picked by owner Jesse Jacobs, and it will likely become as much of a shrine to the stuff as Four Barrel Coffee, on the same stretch of Valencia, is to coffee. But it's not just Samover -- tea in general is having a moment. David's Tea has now stretched to five Bay Area locations, and Starbucks' recent acquisition, Teavana, is poised for heavy expansion.
Even the supermarket brands are upping their game. The Republic of Tea recently introduced a line of biodynamic teas; on the canister for a biodynamic Darjeelng claims that it was "grown on a self-sustaining, ecological tea garden in India" -- language that's starting to sound a lot like coffee tasting notes.
Like all things, be careful what you wish for. Once you get stuck on fancy tea, it's hard to go back to Lipton. That is, until the inevitable third-wave tea backlash.