Pinkies Up! The 15 Top Tea Spots In S.F.

Just thinking about how packed to the brim S.F. restaurants will be come Valentine's Day is enough to make our heads explode. And then attempting to land a reservation? Talk about a dining-induced anxiety attack. So, in an effort to preserve our sanity, this year we're proposing an alternate route, and holing up with a hot cup of tea.
No, we're not playing the homebody card, guys — we've rounded up 15 perfect venues to grab some soothing sips for two — from tranquil, zen-like, garden-set establishments to fancy-pants high-tea parlors with luxe views. Whether you're taking your honey on a sun-soaked daytime outing or catching up with an old pal over scones and petit fours, these must-try tea spots are not just tasty, but also have the unique factor going for them, too. The only question, now: To dunk or not to dunk?
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Tal-Y-Tara Tea Shoppe
Price: $28 for tea service for two
The unique thing about this Outer Richmond haven is that it isn’t strictly tea and bites. Nope, it’s a full-blown equestrian shop, too. So, in case you like your high tea with a side of saddles and riding boots, you’ve met your match. The classic, prep-tastic setting permeates through the décor and delicacies, even down to the horse-embellished teapot cover. The high-tea service features an extensive list of options — 50 kinds to be exact. But, don’t let the menu scare you, the staff is super helpful and can guide you right to the perfect cup. We opted for the signature Motorloaf service, with a fruity, floral tea and sammies that also features a unique, bread-basket-like case that holds the snacks perfectly in place.
Tal-Y-Tara Tea Shopper, 6439 California Street (at 27th avenue); 415-751-9275.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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Craftsman & Wolves
Price: $22 for tea service for one; $40 for tea service for two
A modern tea service if there ever was one, this Valencia Street hot spot — stocked to the brim with William Werner's storied baked goods — serves up its version of the traditional service Monday through Friday (from 1 to 5 p.m.) with a reservation. Once you secure your spot, expect a sleek three-tier wooden platter to be delivered to your table, stacked high with seasonal goods (we're talking Thai mango scones and lime curd, tiny duck-confit sandwiches, and savory ginger-scallion madeleines), along with your choice of tea, poured into pretty Heath Ceramics cups. Trust, this is not your granny's high tea.
Craftsman & Wolves, 746 Valencia Street (between 18th and 19th streets); 415-913-7713.

Photo: Courtesy of Craftsman & Wolves/William Werner
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Japanese Tea Gardens
Price: $7 for entrance; $3 to $8 for tea
One of the most tranquil settings to sip traditional Japanese tea in S.F. has got to be the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park. Surrounded by lush foliage, bubbling creeks (filled with Koi), and colorful, exotic architecture, you’ll forget you're anywhere near a city. If green tea is your jam, then this tucked-away sanctuary has your name all over it. Dreamy and romantic don’t even begin to describe it. Oh, and bring a piece of mail or an ID and get a slight discount if you’re a city resident. And if you stroll in on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday before 10 a.m., it’s free to enter.
Japanese Tea Gardens, Golden Gate Park, 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive; 415-668-0909.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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Palace Hotel
Price: $45 to $108 for tea service
If you’re on the hunt for a little mid-afternoon opulence, Palace Hotel oozes it out of every nook. The expansive, romantic Garden Court offers a royal tea service that takes place every Saturday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The tea will not only knock your socks off, but the tiny sandwiches and desserts pack a tasty punch. Everything is so flavorful, down to the last crumb. Another plus? You can get your Downton Abbey on for a bit, relaxing as a live piano serenades you. Feeling like getting a bit boozy, too? Not to worry, two of the services offered include champagne and sparkling wine!
Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery Street (between Stevenson and Market streets); 415-512-1111.

Photo: Courtesy of Palace Hotel
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Lovejoy's Tea Room
Price: $14.95 to $26.95 for tea service
An S.F. staple for over two decades, this girly Noe Valley spot is popular with bachelorettes and birthday girls on the weekends, and everyone else Wednesday through Friday (it's closed Monday and Tuesday). What was once an antique shop that just happened to serve tea has now morphed into a venue offering eight types of tea service — from the Wee Tea (for children under 10) to, our fave, the Queen's Tea, which includes two sandwiches, cabbage salad, organic spring greens, a scone with Devon cream, a crumpet with Meyer lemon curd, fresh fruit, a petit four, and a shortbread tea biscuit, plus a bottomless pot of tea. Oh, and gluten-free folks can get in on the fun, too, with a small additional charge.
Lovejoy's Tea Room, 1351 Church Street (at Clipper Street); 415-648-5895.

Photographed by Chris Jennings
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The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus
Price: $35 for tea service
Like your tea with an opulent view? Then look no further than The Rotunda restaurant, nestled on the third floor of Neiman Marcus. This in-between-shopping destination offers an expansive perch on the edge of Union Square, plus a gorgeous stained-glass, domed ceiling which you could gaze at for hours. It's the perfect backdrop for an extra-classy afternoon tea, which includes a hearty offering of popovers, opera cake, petit fours, finger sammies, scones with preserves and cream, tea (duh), and more!
The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus, 150 Stockton Street (at Geary Street); 415-249-2720.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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Rose Tea
Price: $5 to $12 for tea service
A nondescript spot in the Inner Sunset, Rose Tea doesn’t just function as a tea house, but it is also a blooming floral shop. Tea and flowers? Such an excellent combination. You’ll find a plethora of flora and little jars of tea sprinkled on the shelves, making you feel right at ease. The tea for two is definitely on the budget-friendly side and will only set you back about $6. The truffles, small plates of fruit and cheese, and sandwiches are also worth the trek over. And while you’re not going to find any crazy, tiered offerings of snacks, you will find a simple, welcoming place to indulge.
Rose Tea, 549 Irving Street (at 7th Avenue); 415-592-8174.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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Taste Tea
Price: $5.80 for a cup, $21.50 for a tea pairing for one
Discover the simple art of Chinese tea traditions at this modern and serene Hayes Valley venue. The brainchild of former Hong Kong residents Vincent and Rebecca Fong, this places is truly an urban refuge, complete with mellow lighting, cushioned group seating nestled in the windows, and large, airy nets that fall from the ceiling. Although you can just grab a cup of tea and have at it, you can also ask for the Gong Fu Cha service, which translates to "tea with effort." If you go this route, a server will set you up with a kettle, tiny tea cups, and a variety of utensils, along with instructions on how to brew your leaves to ultimate effect. If you're hungry, opt for a tea paired with steamed buns, scones, macarons, sesame balls, and an exotic fruit plate.
Taste Tea, 535 Octavia Street (between Grove and Hayes streets); 415-552-5668.

Photographed by Maria del Rio
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Samovar Tea Lounge
Price: $19 to $24 for tea service
Overlooking the lush, peaceful greenery in the Yerba Buena Gardens is this little gem of a tea house. It’s a prime nook to just relax and get your zen on while sipping some delicious steamy beverages and soaking in the sun-drenched views (the patio is perfection). While there are a few other Samovar Tea Lounge locations in S.F., hightailing it to this one in particular is equal parts scenic and satisfying. Here you’ll find sweet treats and light, brunch-appropriate bites in addition to the rare Eastern teas (there is an English tea service, too), spanning a bevy of varieties. The décor is elegant, and it is a quaint yet luxe respite away from the busy Downtown area.
Samovar Tea Lounge, Yerba Buena Gardens, 730 Howard Street (between 3rd and 5th streets); 415-227-9400.

Photo: Courtesy of Samovar Tea Lounge
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The Ritz-Carlton
Price: $65 to $85 for tea service
Stationed in The Ritz's luxe, newly renovated lounge, overlooking the Financial District, this tea service features a live pianist playing everything from jazz to classics, plus a choice of twelve yummy teas (organic peppermint, vanilla rooibos, chocolate, English Breakfast), a host of sandwiches, and lots of yummy pastries. We're talking chocolate-raspberry mousse cups, brown-butter madeleines, butternut squash, apple, and sage bruschetta (off of the vegetarian menu), and bay shrimp and Maine lobster salad on brioche bread (off of the regular menu). For an additional charge, you can add a glass of sparkling wine or champers. Now that's what we call, puttin' on the ritz.
The Ritz-Carlton, 600 Stockton Street (between California and Pine streets); 415-296-7465.

Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton
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David's Tea
Price: $3 for a cup
If you haven't spotted one already, expect to see branches of this Canadian import pop up all over our fine town in the very near future. A tea lover's dream, this spot has over a hundred brews to its name — from classics like Earl Grey to super-fun versions like "root beer float" (a black tea with vanilla, cinnamon, white chocolate, and safflower) and "jumpy monkey" (a roasted yerba mate with cocoa nibs, cloves, red clover, oat straw, almonds, and more). You can either have a cup made for you on the spot or ask for the loose leaves to be stuffed into a bag or canister. Word to the wise: Sample everything the shop girls are offering. You might just find a new favorite.
David's Tea, 2123 Polk Street (at Broadway); 415-567-8373 and 3870 24th Street (between Sanchez and Church streets); 415-285-0515.

Photo: Courtesy of David's Tea
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Secret Garden Tea House
Price: $15.95 to $21.95 for tea service for two
If you’re in the mood for an over-the-top, all-frills sip session, making your way to Secret Garden Tea House in Inner Sunset is a must. Sammies sans crust, pastries, hot English tea, and scones are all part of the Brit-themed shebang. We’re game for a side of flair with our tea any day. Choose from afternoon tea services like The Bedford’s Delight, which boasts a bit of it all, or smaller-scale settings like The Afternoon Delight.
Secret Garden Tea House, 721 Lincoln Way (between 8th and 9th avenue); 415-702-0398.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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The InterContinental Mark Hopkins
Price: Starting at $40 for tea service
Although you can't just mosey on up to the top of this skyscraper and demand tea, it's definitely something to take note of. Currently available only for private parties (bachelorette shindigs, baby showers, etc.) and over the Christmas holidays, this service takes the word "high tea" literally, offering guests sweeping 360-degree views of San Francisco while they nibble on three tiers of mini sandwiches. fruit tartlets, mini pumpkin cheesecakes, housemade scones, and decadent jams by local Robert Lambert.
The InterContinental Mark Hopkins, 999 California Street (at Mason Street); 415-392-3434.

Photo: Courtesy of The InterContinental Mark Hopkins
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Leland Tea Company
Price: $25 for tea service for two
Okay, so we consider Leland Tea the Cheers of the S.F. tea scene. Seriously, pop in here and it’s like the staff already knows your name — or at least seems to. Walk in with the sniffles and out with handfuls of helpful and healthy beverages. The attentive service and kind-hearted staff are just a few traits that make Leland Tea Company so special — along with its homey decor and welcoming atmosphere. So, holing up, sipping, and chowing here is like kicking it at a friend's place, only with unlimited amounts of tea and lots and lots of tasty nibbles.
Leland Tea Company, 1416 Bush Street (at Polk Street); 415-346-4832.

Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
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St. Regis
Price: $4 to $22
After strolling around Downtown, the light tea service at the St. Regis is just about the most therapeutic offering you’ll find. The daily tea ritual housed in the sleek lobby is definitely one to pencil in on your to-do list. Sip on fine, loose-leaf teas from breakfast to Chamomile in this swanky setting, plus the hotel has plenty of tasty pairings to go along with it all. You’ll never want to leave this ultra-luxurious setting — trust us, we didn’t. The perk? Once you’re all caffeinated up, head on over to the nearby SFMOMA for some solid art gazing.
St. Regis Lobby, 125 3rd Street (at Mission Street); 415-284-4000.

Photo: Via Tea Service at St. Regis