San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

A San Francisco, Tea post written by on July 12, 2014

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
― A.A. Milne

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

Mission Samovar
7am-7pm Daily
411 Valencia Street
San Francisco, 94103

Is there a thing as comforting or soothing as tea? A bowl of soup, perhaps. Or, a warm blanket fresh from the dryer in mid-January after you’ve just walked a mile in cold shoes. Even then, I would still want a cup of tea.

You can make me tea in summer sun –  I’ll take it with ice and peaches, or, you can brew me a cup of tea when I’m feeling a bit sad and dejected after reading those tear-stained pages where JK Rowling killed off Dumbledore. Yes, bring me a cup of chamomile tea for tears but also iced mint tea for cheers or lemony tea with whisky for coughs. In return, I’ll bring you tea and honey for dessert, a meal’s closer, or for no reason whatsoever, whenever, because tea is a conversation starter… which is why each time a friend of mine comes to visit, I drag them to Samovar, the old location, a few steps from my home, perched on top of the Yerba Buena waterfall – it is one of the rare sunny places in this town where you can watch hummingbirds hovering above your head. Even without the company of hummingbirds, there are plenty of other birds, most of whom congregate in the pool, bathing or bird-talking, while others, the black ones, will come begging for food, and if you don’t hand it over, they will steal it while you’re off to the bathroom. It’s a pleasure to watch.  On one of those rare days when the sun is strong enough to burn off the fog, you can sit and tan your shoulders against a cloudless sky with the comfort of tea talks or just a nice paper-book. There are plenty of things you can do at a cafe  – but with tea, surely it is better?

Now I also have this new Samovar – it is especially crisp, minimal in an airy, even convivial way. From the bare wall to the other wall that’s lined with custom ceramics, I think I can stare all day with my thoughts and a cup of tea in hand with my book and my pen writing all the volumes to my imaginary memoir. In late evening, the western window faces the setting sun so the natural light cuts a line of sharp shadows against the various provisions on the shelves, just like a sundial, steadily moving, always roaming and shifting downwards like falling hours. Periodically, you can watch the tea crucibles boiling various immersions of green and red hues. They are a mark of high-tech modernity in an otherwise analog space; they are precise machines, but the beverage they create go into imprecise cups, hand forged by a ceramic artist who lives across the bay. It’s hard to leave, even with a belly full of tea, but if you do want an escape from such precise interiors, just walk outside where you can sit on the long bench and watch as tea-less walkers walk past scavenging pigeons.

I must have spent at least three hours on my last visit, taking these photos, talking to miss alanna, the tea baristas (?), encountering an old friend, drinking two beverages and tasting two others, and of course, enjoying their beautiful bathroom, which, I must add is not-to-be-missed. It’s perfect, really, go there now.


San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission SamovarSan Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission SamovarSan Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar

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18 Responses to “San Francisco Guide #3: Mission Samovar”

  1. Joyti says:

    Ooo, the new location on Valencia! I haven’t been YET. But I love the Hayes Valley Samovar so much that the employees recognize me when we bump into each other on random San Francisco streets.
    This new spot looks so different from the first three, darker decor, more Asian influences locations 🙂

    • phi says:

      yes! they are all thoughtful and beautiful – i love how they all have a unique sense of identity. it helps to create that sense of space that doesn’t make you feel so lame frequenting a “chain” tea-house. 🙂

  2. Kimberly says:

    These pictures are STUNNING! So jealous you’ve got this wonderful looking place on your doorstep. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Pang says:

    Adding to my list to visit 🙂
    Thank youuuuu

  4. Alanna says:

    Ahhh! I love these photos, Phi. You’ve captured all the lovely little details so perfectly. The light was so beautiful that day. Thanks for inviting me along! Tea!

  5. What you do with your camera is out of this world.

    And I love tea so much, I so wish I could visit this place! Into my to-do’s it goes <3

  6. wow.. another beautiful post Phi. love the photography and really enjoyed the read. thanks for sharing!

  7. Josh says:

    What lovely photos! Thanks for coming and for sharing. In case you or your readers are interested, we’re running a special this week (7/14-20): Bring a friend to Samovar (Mission, Castro, Hayes) and we’ll serve your friend a tea, on us. Just be sure to mention the “Tea for Two” promotion!

  8. Jennifer says:

    these are lovely shots! love the moodiness

  9. I can’t get over how beautiful your photos are, seriously. I saw you speak at the panel by Feastly and was so inspired! A couple years back, I had my birthday dinner at Samovar with my family and got to try nearly all the different tea platters. Which one is your favorite?

  10. Elenore says:

    Beautiful, you’ve created yet another amazingly inspiring post! I love reading your thoughts and visiting your life through this space! My friend Sarah from Mynewroots directed me to you and I must say I’m hooked! You are so incredibly talented and so very inspiring! I’m a frequent visitor now:) Much love, Elenore

  11. Jessica M says:

    Absolutely in love with this place for my daily chai fix (it’s dangerously too close to me to resist). These photos are stunning,, and I couldn’t agree with your sentiments on tea more =)

  12. […] Princess Tofu imbibes a lightness of humor with a love of tea in San Francisco’s minimalistic Meccas. It’s easy to sip with her at Samovar while musing over the site’s poetic intros. […]

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