Berkeley: Teance - Handmade pomegranate walnut mochi decorated with matcha
On the weekends there is handmade mochi available at the tea bar. The walnut bits mixed into the red mochi center were very nice. White mochi enrobed the center and a pretty green leaf made out of matcha decorated the top. These are made for the shop by a lady called Yuri and can be special ordered. Teance will give you her number for anyone interested.
I haven't been to Teance in way over a year. Until Chocoletier Blue moved to 4th St, it wasn't an area I frequented except for rare visits to Betty's, Cafe Rouge's meat counter, or the Pasta Shop.
The tasting bar has changed significantly. The tea is still top-notch and the knowledge and service are exceptional.
However, the prices have sky-rocketed. To taste one tea now costs $7 ... $15 for those marked as special teas. There is a tea flight of three teas available for $15. The fee for tasting is no longer waived if you purchase the tea.
This makes me sad. When the shop was in Albany, the reasonable tasting prices along with the waiver allowed me to gain some in-depth knowledge of fine teas. As a result, I spent a few hundred dollars over that time buying the teas that I liked along with lots of teaware and such.
At $7 - $15 a pop that never would have happened.
It wasn't unusual for me to try all the pu-erhs and select one or two I liked to take home. There are currently six pu-erhs on the menu. So just to taste them all would cost a minimum of $42. If even one was marked as 'special' that would add an additional $8 giving me a $50 tab just for tasting. The least expensive pu-erh is $23. 50 for 2 ounces ... so a minimum of $73.50 to make up my mind to buy 2 ounces of tea. Ain't going to happen.
I didn't like the tea I tried. There was another one I really would have liked to try, but at another $7 ... nope. A lost potential sale.
To their credit, I was looking for a specific tea. The tea I tried wasn't it and when I paid I was given a card for a future tasting. So I guess I'll try the tea that interested me next time I'm there. Hopefully it will be the one I'm looking for.
Also,a woman came in after me. She was unfamiliar with the teas ... and I had a feeling she was unfamiliar with fine tea in general. When she heard about the $7 tasting fee for one tea, she just left. That is a shame. That could have been a potential future customer.
To tell you the truth, I really, really wanted this tea I'm searching for, otherwise I probably would have walked out too without doing any tasting.
The bar was totally occupied for the time I was in the shop, so I guess others don't have problems with the tasting fee.
One aside, it turns out Auberge de Soleil in Napa carries all the Teance teas and from what I was told, they serve them properly.
Teance Fine Teas
1780 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710
If you haven't been to Teance, it is worth the $7 just to see what is involved. The bar itself is beautifully designed. They talk about the tea ... where it was grown and a lot of background about it ... water temperature is discussed and brewing method.
The cup is warmed, water discarded/ The dry tea is presented to smell. Then the tea is placed in a gawain and hot water is added and then discared to wet the leaves. The wet tea is presented to smell. Water at the correct temperature is added to the gawain while the tea is steeped.. Then the first brew is poured into a small pitcher so the tea isn't over brewed and bitter.
Then the process starts all over for the second infusuion. The tea leaves have relaxed and ofthen the second pouring happens. They will keep doing the infusions until you or the tea wants to quit.
Which is all very nic, Hwever, the point of all of this is TASTING. I wish there was less going on so I could just try a tea and see if I am interested.
Here is my first experience (I changed my posting name since then). Teance also changed names. It was originally Celadon ... some sort of conflict with another business so the name changed. It also was my first experience at Imperial Tea.
Tea tasting back then ran from $2 - $5, topping out at $8 for the rarer teas. If you bought the tea, the tasting fee was waived.
This was a tasting soon after by 10 Chowhounds
Back then you had the option of a less expensive tasting or a pot of tea which was $5. That seems to be the problem here as there is no longer the pot option.
Maybe it is the location and customers. Albany was out of the way. The people at the tasting seemed to be taking a load off from their Fourth Street shopping. One group exchanged Christmas presesnts. Others ... lingered.
So maybe at the lower prices they couldn't get people to budge.
Still ... they have a upstairs area they don't use except for tea classes and private events ... and some sort of Sunday writing thing. It would be nice to open that up so that people who just want to chat could go up there and buy a pot of tea and leave the bar just for tasting so you can decide what tea you would like to buy via the tasting.
Don't know if you've been to Imperial Tea or not. If not, it would be interesting to try both to see how each differs. My first impression in the above link, is pretty much the same way I feel about both places to this day.
Actually if you haven't been to Teance the best way to start is one of the classes such as this one in January
"Jan. 8th Weird, fascinating, unusual teas
You may never get to experience some of these fascinatingly esoteric teas made by some very remote, indigenous cultures, here showcased all at once to help us appreciate the range of what tea producers can make. Tea from Yunnan to Laos to the Hakka tribes in Taiwan!"
I'll always be grateful to Teance because they made Chinese tea acessible to me. It was intimidating at some places. I just wish they would separate the tasting process from buying a pot of tea and relaxing with it. I'd be happy to pay $10 - $15 for a pot of their basic teas. However, $7 and $15 for tasting is just too much, IMO.
Hmmm ... it seems they will be having 6 course Kaiseki in January. The thought of doing that in an Asian restaurant sort of intimidates me. It might be interesting to have Teance guide me through the first one. I think they said Yuri made the food for events like this. If it is as good as that mochi, it will be something.
The old pricing system for tasting sounds a lot more reasonable to me.
I don't mind paying $15-$20 or higher p/p for a fine tea experience, but then I'd want to make an afternoon of it and have it be more of a social thing. I haven't been in the Teance shop so I don't know if it doubles as a sort of "cafe" also, but like you said, it doesn't make sense to have it be an expensive, drawn out process for someone who is just trying to decide on a tea to buy.
Like you, if I was going to taste any teas at all before buying, I'd probably want to taste at least two or three...and spending $20+ on top of the cost of the tea itself is just crazy to me. But clearly many people don't think so if the tasting bar is crowded all the time.
On the other hand, it is nice to have the tasting option at all. When I bought teas in the past (for gifts and such) from other shops (not in the Bay Area), a good whiff of the leaves had to suffice.
I just had a great pot of oolong from Teance, served at Epicenter Cafe south of Market for $3. They served me the leaves with my cup, so I could brew them more than once.
"The walnut bits mixed into the red mochi center were very nice. White mochi enrobed the center and a pretty green leaf made out of matcha decorated the top."
So it was mochi-covered mochi?
IDK about having kaiseki at Teance, personally, I'd prefer a restaurant setting. A traditional place may seat parties in separate, partitioned rooms, which is much more private, less intimidating, and more worthy of the level of cuisine IMO.