Take a break in your busy day with a perfect cup of tea. San Francisco has many marvelous tea places, but we worked hard to find the very best ones for you to try. Whether you are visiting the City By The Bay as a tourist or are a local, plan an afternoon for an excellent tea ceremony.
These Are The Best Places to Get Afternoon Tea in San Francisco
1. Katia’s Russian Tea Room, Geary District
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Ever wanted to try authentic Russian afternoon tea? Make a reservation for afternoon tea (or dinner!) at Katia’s, a Zagat-rated destination for blini, vareniki, napoleons and, naturally, traditional Russian black tea heated in a samovar and served in glasses with silver holders (podstakanniki). If you are unfamiliar with this type of regional dining, you will be blown away by the abundance of appetizers and desserts that come with tea, such as multiple kinds of caviar and dumplings, or to finish off, pavlova, fruit tarts and chocolate walnut meringue torte. The intimate vibe and personal touch can be credited to Katia herself, who is always at the other end of the line to make sure reservations go smoothly and prepares the food herself.
2. Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park
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Next to the de Young Museum, this charming and old garden-within-a-park dates back to 1894, when the Hagiwara family successfully turned a World’s Fair exhibit into a permanent park and ceremonial hub. Patriarch Makoto Hagiwara lives on in history for reportedly inventing the fortune cookie, despite its popularity today in American Chinese restaurants. Over the years, the five-acre Tea Garden encountered difficulties like Japanese internment and xenophobia, briefly bearing the vague name of “Oriental Tea Garden”, yet today honors its original intent with pagodas, a moon bridge, koi ponds, cherry blossom trees and serene areas for meditation. Right in the middle of all this is the Tea House, where guests can observe the garden from a spacious deck while drinking various ceremonial teas and snacking on rice cakes, tea sandwiches, miso soup and edamame—and of course, the original fortune cookie.
3. Lovejoy’s Tea Room, Noe Valley
Image credit: Lovejoy's Tea Room/Facebook
Lovejoy’s is a tried-and-true SF favorite among tea lovers who seek something traditional, but not stuffy; open Wednesday through Sunday, the tea room serves drinks and food on “mismatched china” in a cozy atmosphere that children find welcoming. Their tea menu is generously long, with decaf options abound, and the bottomless pots come in an array of bright and cheerful designs. If you call ahead (this is recommended), a reserved table might have a placard announcing that your seats are “reserved for royalty”, and with food options like crumpets, shepherd’s pie and sausage rolls served on tiered trays, it’s not hard to feel positively British at Lovejoy’s. The menu is quite accommodating to vegetarians, with a list of tea sandwiches that include meat-free options, and many dishes can be made gluten-free by request. After finishing up, consider walking across the street to peruse Lovejoy’s Attic, the restaurant’s vintage retailer and seller of tea “accoutrements”, in case you’re interested in replicating the look and feel of Lovejoy’s at home.
4. The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus, Union Square
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Whether or not you’re shopping at the luxury chain store in Union Square, a fancy tea at its Rotunda will surely be the highlight of your day—nay, your week. Underneath a lovely and historically important stained glass dome, enjoy the swanky fittings of an afternoon tea (beginning at 2:30 p.m. every day of the week): the Rotunda offers, starting at $45 per person, Dammann Frères loose leaf teas with tiered trays of scones, small sandwiches and pastries galore with jams and cream for spreading. For fifteen dollars more, guests receive all this and a bottle of Brut Rosé. It’s a delightful choice for a business meeting or a romantic afternoon, with stunning things to eat and drink and a stupendous setting in a local treasure of a building.
5. Dartealing Lounge, SoMa
Image credit: Dartealing
Cutesy and ornately decorated, Dartealing Lounge tends to be less booked than its local competitors, but don’t let that fool you—at $34 a person (for two; dining alone puts you at $37), this tea shoppe boasts seasonally-appropriate tea blends along with delicious scones and finger foods both savory and sweet. Their list of tea sandwiches (included) is impressive, including options like smoked salmon mousse capers, creamy Danish blue arugula fig and Brie apple sweet pepper jelly. On top of that, the presentation of these dishes is immaculate, plated on vibrant china and atop porcelain tiered trays. Even though its storefront on 3rd Street is more nondescript than most upscale tea parlors in San Francisco, what’s inside is truly magical.
6. Samovar Tea Lounge, SoMa
Image credit: Samovar
Unlike other tea emporiums in town that tend to focus on one culture or cuisine’s tea service, Samovar doesn’t just stick to the Russian fare for which it’s named: here, you can order Japanese, English, Moorish, Chinese and “Paleolithic” (after the popular protein-rich diet) tea and food couplings. While the Moorish offering serves up kebabs and kale, both the Japanese and Chinese arrangements have brown rice, cooked vegetables and the option to add on tempeh, smoked duck and/or smoked salmon (Japanese only). There are also sides on the menu like bacon, avocado and poached egg; indeed, guests are not required to get the “tea service” at Samovar, as there is a full menu with deli classics and fusion plates from around the world. Come somewhat early for their brunch specials, like corned beef potato hash, their duck scallion waffle or simply an eggs Benedict.
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.