HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Restaurants with good tea service

Since serious tea drinkers are a neglected minority, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of full-service restaurants (not tea shops or places that otherwise specialize in drinks), that have good tea service. And no, I don't mean bagged tea, no matter how fancy either the tea or the presentation box, I mean loose tea. Of course virtually all Chinese restaurants serve loose tea, so I'm also excluding the basic Chinese restaurant, but if you know of one that offers a good selection of teas, that would be worth a mention.

I'll start with a few:

Town Hall (a choice of loose teas served in iron pots)
Absinthe (I don't remember the pots, but they offered a selection of loose teas)
Lalime's (served in those glass pots with the plunger)

Town Hall Restaurant
342 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
398 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Koi Palace has the best tea service of any Chinese restaurant I've seen, with a choice of 8 complimentary teas or 10 premium teas.


    1. Bar Tartine serves tea in the glass pots with plungers, IIRC.

      Bar Tartine
      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      1. Funny you should mention--I was despairing this morning because most of the brunch places in my neighborhood serve bagged tea, a lot of which is Mighty Leaf (way too perfumey for my taste).

        Modern Tea in Hayes Valley specializes in loose leaf teas and has a full menu. I like the waffles for brunch.

        Modern Tea
        602 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA

        5 Replies
        1. re: pane

          I agree with pane's Modern Tea recommendation. Solid food. Their buttermilk cake (or was it pudding?) with a pot of tea is a great dessert. Gets busy with the pre-Opera/Symphony crowd at dinner.

          1. re: Philip

            I suspect, though, that Ruth was thinking of restaurants that happen to have good tea service, not tea rooms that serve food. Personally I would love a tea house specializing in Chinese teas with complementary (not necessarily complimentary) food, something like Imperial Tea but less precious and less formal. Chatea, the Taiwanese chain comes to mind.

            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Despite its name, Modern Tea is primarily a restaurant. Tea may be their inspiration, but their food is not precious or tea room like.

              Oh, and you might check out the new tea room at Teance in Berkeley, which has just opened on the weekends. They're serving snacks to complement their teas.

              1. re: Windy

                I bet Alice Cravens would tell you she's a tea proselytizer first and foremost.

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  I'm not disputing that. But Modern Tea meets Ruth's definition of a full-service restaurant.

        2. I think the teas served at Slanted Door are loose leaf. I've enjoyed the pueh erh (when available) and the Hong Kong milk teas there. The waiters who served the teas seemed knowledgeable about steeping times and food (at least dessert) complements.

          Does anyone know of restaurants in the South Bay which have good tea service?

          1 Reply
          1. re: sairuh

            Slanted Door has the best tea service of any restaurant I've been to in San Francisco. There's a good selection, it is all loose leaf, and the implements are top notch. Sadly, as the OP noted, good tea service in a restaurant is a rare thing.

          2. It's been a while since I've eaten there, but as I recall, Aziza had a really nice tea selection.

            5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

            1. Manresa. The teas are presented in a wooden box (at least 10 selections) of wonderful flowers and leaves. Watching some of the flowers unfold is quite remarkable.

              Manresa Restaurant
              320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                1. Good idea for a thread. Slanted Door, as mentioned, has a fine tea selection, as does Hong Kong Flower Lounge.

                  Even modest Arab restaurants often have good tea service. For example a pot of Tajine's Moroccan mint (just mint leaves and sugar, no green or black tea as at other places) is served on a decorative tray with glasses.

                  I have to admit though, I would prefer a restaurant that served a reliable pot of properly brewed tea (like at John Campbell's Irish Bakery) with no more than three choices versus the trendy offerings of many upscale spots. It's become an excuse to offer 7 flowery options in odd pottery to increase the dessert check rather than a thoughtful extension of the beverage choices.

                  I have nothing against blood orange rooibos, but when I'm in the mood for black tea, I don't usually want vanilla cornflower grapefruit blend. At that point, I'd rather have a bag of Twining's Earl Grey in a mug for $1.50.

                  Also too many tea markups are approaching wine by the glass. A pot of tea shouldn't cost $7-9 unless it is something very rare and fresh. Genmaicha and jasmine pearls are both good with food, but that's no excuse for overcharging. For those prices, I also expect servers who understand water temperatures and steeping times being different for white teas than for oolongs. Small steps...

                  Hong Kong Flower Lounge
                  51 Millbrae Ave, Millbrae, CA 94030

                  Tajine Moroccan Restaurant
                  1653 Polk St, San Francisco, CA

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Windy

                    Too true. However, since I never drink caffeinated tea after dinner (I'm very caffiene sensitive -- any significant amount of caffeine after 5 pm keeps me up), I appreciate the various herbal offerings (I hate rooibos, though -- I think it tastes like dirt).

                    I don't think I will ever get over the shock of being offered Stash tea bags (in a fancy box) and one of those little china pots of "hot" water to dunk it in at Fleur de Lys. When the waitress at Town Hall overheard me telling that story to my table mates at our recent office luncheon, she described that kind of tea service as "insulting" and I could only agree. Somehow, I don't think Fleur de Lys charged anything in the neighborhood of $1.50 for that ten-cent teabag! To be fair, that was several years ago, and they may have upgraded their tea service since then.

                    It's the attitude more than the actual tea I object to. Restaurants that wouldn't dream of serving cheap supermarket coffee are more than happy to charge you top dollar for cheap supermarket bagged tea.

                    Thanks for bringing Modern Tea to my attention! Next time someone suggests dinner in that area, I'll try to convince them to check it out.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Stash at Fleur de Lys! We should write to Michelin.

                      Not surprisingly the best tea offerings come from actual tea drinkers. Ritual recently upgraded its tea selections, but no one there knows how to steep them.

                      Will put Town Hall on my dessert list.

                      1. re: Windy

                        Once at Ritual I ordered tea and the clerk said, "This is a coffee shop. Why are you ordering tea?" Haven't been back.

                  2. Oliveto's http://www.oliveto.com/teaservice.html

                    Oliveto Cafe
                    5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                    1. For a while my rule of thumb was that you had a better chance of getting a good cup of tea in an East Bay restaurant than a similar quality SF restaurant. But that may not be true any more, if it ever was.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jlafler

                        Great topic! I usually have given up on tea service in the Bay area, so it's good to know about the exceptions. Just this weekend I was very pleasantly surprised with the tea service at Hayes Street Grill. It's a small but well chosen selection, brewed right. My order of Russian Caravan was the best tea I've had in a local restaurant in quite a while!

                        Hayes Street Grill
                        324 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                      2. If I recall correctly, Sea Thai Bistro in Santa Rosa has a very nice selection of loose leaf teas on their menu (as well as some more unusual drinks such as herbal infused "soda"). The food there is quite delicious. (: Being a tea lover myself, I too bemoan the fact that it is very difficult to find a restaurant with decent tea service. It doesn't make much sense either, seeing as how tea seems to be growing in popularity, and it seems easier to find high quality loose leaf tea these days.

                        Sea Thai Bistro
                        2323 Sonoma Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95405

                        1. Resurrecting this thread in response to Pei's comments about the poor tea service at Cyrus. Any places to add to the list? I happily ran across one on my birthday: Jack Falstaff.

                          Jack Falstaff Restaurant - CLOSING May 9
                          598 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107