Sometimes you just want to feel like a sophisticated adult, and for some reason nothing feels more sophisticated than sitting on a tufted couch while sipping tea from a gaudy china cup. San Francisco is full of tea houses to help you fulfill this fantasy, but which ones are the best?
Based on affordability, looks, and most importantly the quality of the tea, David Rio’s Chai Bar, Dartealing Lounge, and the Japanese Tea Garden are some of the best teahouses in the area.
David Rio’s Chai Bar is a sleek café decorated with wood paneling, minimalist furniture, and huge white lanterns hanging from the high ceilings. The chai bar serves tea, coffee, and house-made fare like pastries, onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, and salads. This tea house is the most relaxed and casual of the tea houses, and is also the most affordable.
Aside from being affordable, the chai bar is also the most vegan-friendly, as it serves soy, almond, hazelnut, and macadamia milk. While there I ordered the Ti Kwan Yin Oolong latte, which the barista decorated with an elaborate foam leaf, and a muffin. The tea latte was perfectly frothy and smooth, although the muffin was a little dry. All in all it was well worth the price; the drinks range from $2.75 to $5.75, and the food retails from $1.50 to $9.50.
If you’re looking for a fancier afternoon tea experience Dartealing Lounge may be the place for you. Dartealing is, as the adorable name suggests, a kitschy teahouse anyone would love. The walls are papered in a blue-green Victorian pattern, the tables are dressed in floral tablecloths with fringe trim, the seats are mismatched couches and comfortable two-tone chairs, and the tableware is printed with soft pastel flowers.
Dartealing requires reservations for parties larger than two, and the ordering process can be a little complicated for someone who hasn’t gone to an afternoon tea house before. The tea house requires you to select a tea service, the most affordable one is the “Convent Garden Tea” service, which comes with tea sandwiches, scones, petit fours, tea cake, cookies and tea, and will set you back $29.
The best part of the entire tea service are the petit fours (mini cheesecakes, cream puffs, macarons,” served on adorable tiered trays, and the “dartealing curried chicken” tea sandwiches, which has just the right amount of spice. As for the tea, they have all that you could want. My personal favorite: the “Last Mango in Paris” blend, made of red tea and pieces of mango, has a very strong tropical smell and a slightly sweet taste.
But out of all of San Francisco’s tea houses the best one is located in Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful small section of the park covered in pagodas, Buddhas, cherry blossoms, and a pond full of koi fish. In the center of the park there is a small Zen-style café serving tea and pastries. Going to this tea garden is relatively affordable; there is a $6 entrance fee, and getting a pot of tea and a snack costs about $10.
The teas are nicely blended and strong, but come in less variety than the other tea stores. But this is made up for by their amazing green tea cheesecake, which is pleasantly sweet, has a great crumbly crust, and pairs well with the jasmine tea. While you wait for your tea you can decide whether to eat in the simple café, or have a small picnic in the park.
Each of these tea houses is unique and has a strength. The Chai Bar is affordable, easily customizable, and good for when you crave tea on the go, the Dartealing Lounge is perfect for when you want to have proper tea or brunch and have money to spare. The Japanese Tea Garden combines both affordability and a breathtaking location to give you an unforgettable tea house experience.
David Rio Chai Bar
1019 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
470 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Japanese Tea Garden
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Photo courtesy of Nichole Rosanova/Foghorn