Unbeknownst to those whose primary haunt is dingy dive bars and the bottom of a margarita glass, there are as many kinds of tea houses in San Francisco as one-night stands.
There are the futsy Anglo types: all frill, pastel snack-treats, and delicate china. The hippie tea shacks, where you can order “half of an avocado” without going off the menu. There are borscht-and-herring Russian places, like Katia’s in the Richmond (600 Fifth Ave., SF. (415) 668-9292, www.katias.com). Of course, the real-deal knowledgeable Chinatown shops with blends to spare and free tastings like Red Blossom Tea Company (831 Grant, SF. (415) 395-0868, www.redblossomtea.com).
But none will leave you with a hangover, or linger awkwardly as you get ready for work — and most provide a slow-paced, table service setting perfect for making sober-eyes at the hottie you may be lugging home afterwards.
OM SHAN TEA
This cozy Mission room may just have the healthiest meal options in the neighborhood — salads to rice bowls and the aforementioned avo half. If you come on Mondays from 7 to 10pm you’ll find yourself in the womb of Open Heart Poetry night, a soul-searching open mic with featured poets that draws a packed house (there’s also weekly temple dancer and live music evenings.) Like the other shops on in this roundup, the menu of teas here can be a little intimidating to a newbie, but in this hand-holding environment an ask for guidance to your server will go a long way.
233 14th St., SF. (415) 747-8327, www.omshantea.com
Nuzzled into the bosom of Noe Valley, Lovejoy’s can at first be overwhelming — my god, the doilies! Just embrace the chintz, you’ll be glad you did. This is the most perfect pinky-up spot in town, and it stocks the traditional menu of sweets and scones in addition to heartier fare like shepard’s pies and the Ploughman’s Lunch — a platter of artichoke hummus, fruit, greens, and vinegar crisps. Suggestion: go for afternoon tea and order the tallest multi-tier tray of petit fours you can manage. And don’t mind the flocks of MILFs.
1351 Church, SF. (415) 648-5895, www.lovejoystearoom.com
Had a rough weekend? Taste awaits to aide in your detoxification and mental clarification. A serene spot in Hayes Valley where one orders at the counter, Taste prides itself on serving tea the traditional Chinese way. That means a tableside lesson on how to drink your brew, pouring out the first cup onto the slotted platform provided before decanting and then tipping the hot liquid into your teeny-tiny cup. Side dishes to all the Zen-like ceremony include dim sum-style buns filled with red bean paste and vegetable curry. Like many tea rooms, you’re also welcome to buy your favorite blend to take home.
535 Octavia, SF. (415) 552-5668, www.tasteteasf.com
TAL Y TARA
It is testament to the misty wonder of the Richmond District that such a place as Tal Y Tara is not overrun with fashionistas seeking authentic British ridingwear and a picturesque place to Instagram themselves drinking a cup of PG Tips. Actually a clothing store hawking everything from longer-in-the-back pastel polo shirts to horse bridles, the back of Tal Y Tara houses a handful of tables with polo-patterned coverings. Snack on a Picadilly (a toasted crumpet with a slice of tomato and Dubliner cheese) while you sip your cuppa and stare at the vintage show pony photos on the walls.
6430 California, SF. (415) 751-9275, www.talytara.com
SECRET GARDEN TEA HOUSE
There are so many bric-a-brac shelves in Secret Garden that some of them are brac-less: they exist only to be shelves. Such is the décor reasoning at this parkside parlor, where pastel-colored church hats hang from the walls for insta in-house cred. Upon my visit to Secret Garden I sipped lemon chiffon tea and consumed the Sweet Surrender plate: an ungodly amount of lady fingers, French macaroons, petit fours, and powdered sugar-dusted fruit slices. I also heard the next table over in raptures over glimpsing the royal family on a recent London vacation. Bring your grandma, or a small royal-watcher: there is an ample kid’s menu here.
721 Lincoln, SF. (415) 702-0398, www.secretgardenteahouse.com
You will undoubtedly be distracted by the fetching jars of pink malt balls and rooster-decorated Sriracha truffles that greet you upon entry into this hideout from the bustling tech world of SoMa. But push on past the retail space: rewards await in the form of comfy sofas be-pillowed with intricately embroidered soft things. Once settled in the space, choose a tea service (blends include cheekily named flavors like “Cabana Boy,” with a sweet tropical fruit taste) that includes options from the sandwich menu: Dartealing has a vast array of crustless wonders, the tofu-and-citrus ginger-soy glazed option being a favorite. Just make sure you leave room for dessert — the lavender-dusted scones that arrive with a ramekin of clotted cream are the dreamiest.
470 Third St., SF. (415) 644-0142, www.dartealing.com