I recently returned from a week-long trip to San Francisco, and here's the report (sorry, didn't take any pictures). Maybe someone will find it helpful
-this has long been a favorite of mine. This time I had a chance to stop by on a weekday morning, avoiding the crowds. Tasted several teas, including the new charcoal roasted Dong Ding and aged DD, as well as traditional roasted TGY (by far my favorite). Ended up buying them all, along with Golden Buddha. Stopped by again on a Sat afternoon to pick up some teaware, the place was very very crowded...
Imperial Tea Court
(Ferry Bldg)- I hear a lot about this place, but hadn't ever visited. This time we stopped by around 11am on Saturday for Gaiwan tea service. The tea selection on the tea service menu is good, but nothing overly exciting. I do like the option to choose gaiwan or gong fu service. But I found that they put way too little leaf into gaiwans: my yancha barely covered the bottom. Btw, you'll be drinking grandfather style: they don't provide cups with gaiwans. Overall, a great tea stop if you're in the ferry building. Although we didn't order any food, it looked pretty good.
(Japantown)-this will be hard to hear for Japanese tea fans, but apparently, the B&M location is closing. I made a special trip here during the week, but the store was closed. Upon inquiring at a nearby incense store, I was informed that the proprietor is moving his business online. You might want to call if you're planning a visit.
(Westfield Shopping Center)-I signed up for Taiwanese oolong tasting a few weeks back when I was in SF for business. To tell the truth, I didn't expect much, given that this is Japanese tea store. But I was impressed. The tea tasting was hosted by Lupicia's very knowledgeable educator, and while most teas were average, we did taste a very good traditional roasted Dong Ding. The big surprise came when we were offered to taste $800/lb competition winner oolong (very tasty, in case you're wondering). Will definitely try to catch '09 Darjeeling tasting here.
Samovar Tea Lounge
(Yerba Buena) - I went here on a nice sunny weekday morning, and spent an hour enjoying the views and Golden Yunnan Tea. Overall, the quality of the tea was not very impressive. The menu is somewhat unbalanced: there is a number of inexpensive teas, and very expensive teas, but not a lot in between. I didn't want to take any chances, and went with a Western-style brewed tea. They have a good selection of Korean travel sets (that could be hard to find outside of SoCal). I liked the ambiance, and will probably come back here, perhaps, after a visit to SFMOMA.
- I did pay a visit to the local Ten Ren (in Chinatown). As most often is the case, nothing special. I also found Pure Pu Erh retail kiosk at the farmer's market in the Metereon (?) building. They had a selection of raw and cooked puerhs, and I picked up a cake of the former, and 4 oz of the latter. The owners (husband and wife) seem very helpful and passionate about their tea.
The big challenge now is drinking all the tea and finding room for all the new teaware