A Visit to Imperial Tea Court

The Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco is a charming spot which is located in the renovated Ferry Building. This popular local landmark was designed by Architect A. Page Brown and completed in 1898. The architectural style is of the French Beaux Arts school; several other prominent landmarks in our fair town are also Beaux Arts buildings including 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, photos and information can be found here. Here’s an old historical photo I found of how the building looked back in the day.

The modern renovation of the Ferry Building was completed in 2003 and is now a popular attraction for foodies and tourists alike. Inside the building you can find shops selling mushrooms, gelato, cook ware, local meat and seafood as well as vegetables, fruit, coffee, chocolate and practically anything you can think of. You can also find several restaurants and a local wine merchant here if you should you feel hungry and parched after your shopping. 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 food items for any gourmand.

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

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

This is a good place for sampling Chinese food along with your 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 got to choose the tea that would accompany our lunch. I decided to go with a shu pu-erh, which was the Imperial Pu-erh, I think. I know, I am a terrible tea blogger because I did not take notes but whatever it was, I thought it was excellent. No strange aromas or weird fishy tastes that you sometimes find in pu-erh. I find loose leaf shus seem to be better in that regard than the cakes. I wonder if it has to do with the fermentation process?

One thing I have noticed about Imperial Tea Court is they expect you to actually drink the tea out of the gaiwan they give you, which has always struck me as odd. I had to ask for cups as a matter of protocol, since 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 have been to in San Francisco, they brew the tea in the gaiwan and then pour it into cups. If anyone has a strong opinion, please do weigh in on the matter.

Above is a photo of some pu-erh cakes which I did not buy, showing a bit of self-restraint for once. After our lunch, I had to excuse myself to take more snapshots and my date began furiously sending out a barrage of text messages, the content of which was most 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.

  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr

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.