Worth Whispering About

By Jarrod Shappell

I’ve never been very good at whispering. Any environment that asks me to lower my voice, I tend to avoid. Odd then that I have fallen in love with a tea lounge.

Upon entering Taste Tea, owner Rebecca leaned over the ornate counter, past the case full of colorful pastries and in a gentle tone said, “Welcome. May I help you find a tea that you will enjoy?” Her warm personality and interest in my personal taste exemplifies the heart of this new Hayes Valley tea lounge.

On the wall hang an assortment of teas. All of their tea selection is imported from China. Like other tea lounges here in the city, they have oolong, green, red, black, and herbal teas. While teas like the chilled Chrysanthemum and their fully fermented black tea are unique, what sets Taste apart is their service and ambiance.

After you select your tea you can have it served Gaiwan style ($8) or Gong fu style ($18). Gong fu translates as “tea with effort” and the assortment of mahogany tools allow it to be just that. The tea is served on a bamboo tray that makes for a beautiful and classic presentation. As the tray arrives a staff member takes you through the intricacies of the process. Rebecca was helpful in describing the tools and techniques for my tea of choice. My tea, the Big Red Robe, was full bodied with almost no bitterness. A perfect match for my palate.

As I continued to prepare and pour my tea, I quickly lost track of time. The music is peaceful and the attention paid to the brewing process allows you to come in and out of conversation or meditation. One of the few things that interrupted my zen-like state was Rebecca’s kind delivery of more hot water.

All of the art work, decor, and branding shows that the owners have an eye for detail. One of my favorite details is the large window seats.

These couch covered window seats can easily fit four people. A small sign invites you to remove your shoes, and so if you were not comfortable enough already, you begin to feel at home.

Settled in, the glass case calls to you with homemade mini green tea macaroons, an assortment of steamed buns, and exotic fruits such as mangosteen and lychee. They plan to keep the treats both affordable and seasonal. My favorite so far is the Red Bean Bun. The simple wheat dough is light and warm and the sweet red bean paste brings a great balance to this affordable tea accompaniment.

On Octavia Boulevard (535), one block north of Hayes Street, Taste Tea is open from 11am to 7pm, Monday through Sunday.

I have no doubt that news of Taste Tea will travel fast, even if it has to be whispered.