Nestled among the Victorians of San Francisco’s Lower Pacific Heights stands an unassuming tea shop. The delicate white typography on the window is enough to draw a passerby to peek inside. But it’s the warm welcome and the shop’s peaceful ambiance that makes you want to spend an afternoon tea tasting.
Before opening Song Tea & Ceramics, Peter Luong worked in the family business, Red Blossom Tea, a business in SF’s Chinatown that Luong’s parents opened 30 years ago. Today, the company supplies many of the city’s restaurants and cafes, and the success of Red Blossom Tea led Luong to recognize a need for refinement in the industry. Much like the best wine-tasting room in Napa, Song Tea’s mission is to create an elegant environment for sampling and purchasing what Luong describes as “vibrant, high-quality teas that are hand-picked and crafted, and sourced in small batches.”
Photographs by Dalilah Arja.
Above: A credenza designed by Luong and his team serves as the shop’s checkout counter; it was built by local woodworker Blair Haffly.
Above: Luong has “always been a fan of clean-lined, simple design: midcentury modern and Japanese and minimalist design–Song Tea & Ceramics is an amalgamation of these influences.” Shown here, a Fukushu kumquat sits on a wood frame alongside handmade ceramics.
Above: The teapots are made from Zisha (which means purple sand in Chinese), a clay found in the city of Yixing in China’s Jiangsu province. The process of making these pots is labor intensive: the clay isn’t easily molded and the ceramicist has to hammer it by hand. And because Zisha wares are unglazed, they retain trace amounts of tea from each use, creating a more complex flavor over time. Because of this layering, it’s important to limit the use of each teapot to one kind of tea.
Above: Loose-leaf tea is stored in porcelain canisters lied up on custom-built shelves. Luong often takes buying trips to Taiwan and China to visit tea farms, and all of the shop’s teas are sourced in limited batches from small operations. An online store is in the works; click here to view Song’s tea menu.
Above: Although Song Tea is not a tea room or restaurant, you can expect complimentary tastings with delicious pairings.
Above: Luong’s arrangements were inspired by his visits to tea rooms and restaurants in Japan.
Above: A vintage Marantz amplifier from Luong’s own collection sits on a shelving unit that separates the retail space from the office.
Above: The tasting table was also custom built by local woodworker Blair Haffly.
Above: Graphic designer Kristen Penn is responsible for all of the shop’s signage and packaging.
Song Tea & Ceramics will be launching an online shop soon; until then, you can find its teas at a variety of cafes in San Francisco, including St. Frank, Ritual, and Jane. Go Get ‘Em Tiger and G&B Coffee in Los Angeles carry Song Tea, as does Bartavelle in Berkeley.