A Visit to Imperial Tea Court

The Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco charms both locals and tourists alike. Located in the renovated Ferry Building, originally designed by Architect A. Page Brown and completed in 1898, this popular local landmark re-opened in 2003 after undergoing a major renovation. The architectural style falls into the French Beaux Arts school; several other Beaux Arts buildings in our fair town include the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Legion of Honor, the Asian Art Museum (formerly the San Francisco Public Library) San Francisco City Hall and the renovated Emporium Building (now the Westfield Center).

For those of you unfamiliar with the history and renovation of this beautiful building, look for photos and information here. Shown below is one old historical photo of the original building.

The modern Ferry Building is now a popular attraction for foodies due to a prominent emphasis on all things gastronomic. Inside the building you will find shops selling mushrooms, gelato, cookware, local meat and seafood as well as vegetables, fruit, coffee, chocolate and practically anything food related you can think of. If you happen to feel hungry and parched after your shopping, several restaurants and a local wine merchant are within the building’s perimeter. On Sundays and Tuesdays, farmers and food carts from all over the region fill the front and back of the building with an abundance of items appropriate for any gourmand.

I’m a bit far behind in blog posts, but decided to meet a handsome stranger here one Saturday afternoon, hoping I wouldn’t bore him with my fascinating (ahem) tea hobby and my camera.

Definitely a fun place for tea lovers to peruse, at the Imperial Tea Court you’ll find teapots of many varieties, especially lots of yixing in different shapes and colors. Shown in this photo below — the counter — where you can buy loose leaf tea and your assorted Camellia Sinensis chotskies.

What goes better with Chinese food than Chinese tea? Offerings include dim sum, noodles, stews and some light snacks as shown in the menu here.  I opted for the vegetarian teahouse spicy noodles, which have plenty of hot chiles and veggies. They were very tasty — but perhaps not the best choice of a dish when you’re trying to impress — slurping noodles is not exactly the essence of savoir-faire in many parts of the world.

Being the self-proclaimed aficionado, I chose the tea that accompanied our lunch. I went with a shu pu-erh, which was the Imperial Pu-erh, I think. I know… I am a terrible tea blogger because I didn’t take notes but whatever it was, I thought it was excellent. I found no strange aromas or weird fishy tastes that you sometimes notice in pu-erh. Loose leaf shus seem to be better in that regard than the cakes. I wonder if that has to do with the fermentation process?

One thing I noticed about Imperial Tea Court is they expect you to drink the tea out of the gaiwan they give you, which now strikes me as odd. I had to ask for cups as a matter of protocol, indeed, I like to precisely control the amount of steeping time and not let the poor leaves languish around getting tired in some overbrewed stew. At all of the tea tastings I’ve been to in San Francisco, tea is brewed in the gaiwan and then poured into cups. If anyone has a strong opinion, please weigh in on the matter in the Comments section.

Above is a photo of some pu-erh cakes I did not buy, showing a bit of self-restraint for once. After our lunch, I excused myself to take more snapshots and my date began furiously sending out a barrage of text messages, the content of which was likely S.O.S. or Help Me. All joking aside, Cupid’s arrow did not strike me in the heart but to all of my faithful readers: the Imperial Tea Court will make you a mighty fine cuppa.

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Comments (3)

    Avatar of jackie
    jackieDecember 8th, 2012 at 5:07 pm      

    What an interesting place you visited Amy. Even without a handsome stranger it sounds much worth a visit ;) San Francisco seems to have a near endless supply of great places to sip tea. As to your question, I’ll ask around, see what others say. I’d prefer a separate cup too.

      Avatar of amyoh
      amyohDecember 9th, 2012 at 8:58 am      

      we do have a lot! there are a bunch of places I haven’t gotten around to blogging about yet.

    Avatar of bram
    bramDecember 9th, 2012 at 2:39 am      

    It seems to be quite normal in China and Taiwan to drink from the pot (chawan, small Yixing). Guess you need to drink it all at once and hot. Too hot for me, so a cup it is.

    Furthermore if I’m not mistaken a lot of Chinese like their teas to be what we would call overbrewed/oversteeped. Very good teas don’t really go wrong when oversteeped.

    And that’s more Puerh than I have seen in the Netherlands, all shops combined.