Sunday, October 19, 2014

Flashback with Samovar's 50s Vintage Sheng

About ten years ago, I took my husband for his birthday to Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco to try their 50s aged puerh.  Their menu confidently proclaimed:
"1950 Vintage- Ancient and amazing. Complex for each of the 7 infusions you will enjoy. This is the end, as we purchased the last existing 10 pounds of this unparalleled brew. Green processed, this is the old stuff, the good stuff. Not for beginners"
We were dubious but curious.  They also listed a puerh from the 30's:
"1930 Vintage- Truly archaic. Camphor, minerals, molasses. Taste Mother Earth. Sip, and time-travel to 1930 China. Where were your grandparents? Where were you?"
Probably their menu wins the cake for cringe-worthy copywriting. ( I'll include more highlights at the end just for late night humor. ) The owner Jesse Jacobs most likely handcrafted those very words and if you have ever seen him speak, you will not be surprised by such flashy confrontational descriptions.   Samovar Tea Lounge is a brick and mortar SF tea cafe serving a wide spectrum of teas- oolongs, sencha, lucha, assams, ceylons, rooibos, yerba mate, herbal tisanes, and puerh alongside light fare.   They used to list 8 puerh selections on their teahouse menu back then compared to the 3 loose shu Imperial Tea Court served.  Now Samovar Teas has pared down their puerh selections to serve three loose shus with two of them being blended with cacao, yerba mate, essential oils and such. They call their unadulterated loose shu "Maiden's Ecstasy"; I wonder what Hong Kong grandpa would think about that.  I don't know any maidens that would go into ecstasy over a cuppa of loose shu.

I had asked my husband if we should try the tea from the 30's but he stoically insisted the 50's tea was good enough for him.  I vaguely remember the price was something like $23 vs $38.  The waitress brought out a yixing teapot crammed full of tea leaves.  It was aged loose leaf sheng and the brew out-lasted more than a gallon of water despite the specific "7 infusions" listed on the menu.  My husband asked the waitress to put the spent leaves in a to-go cup and brewed it continuously the next day as well.

50's vintage it certainly was not but it was a good robust tea- very mineral tasting like licking a limestone cave.   Of course I knew squat about puerh 10 years ago so I can only guess that it was a twenty year old if that.  The tea was clean and bright tasting- no traditional storage mustiness at all and it was probably a sheng.  Shus normally don't possess that kind of endurance but I didn't know the leaf rub test back then.

I have always wondered what the supposed 30's tea was about but they removed it from the menu shortly after my visit so I never got the opportunity.  If you per chance did try this tea back then- please fill us in!

As promised, some over the top tea Samovar menu descriptions just for late night giggles:

Creamy Oolong- Velvet and warm milk. Downy, seraphic caresses for your tongue. A most memorable gustatory journey with each unfurling leaf
Oriental Beauty- Ambrosial, sweet, dark, and so complete. This brew will assuage your worries and float you to the elysian ether. A haunting flavor with an evolving complexity

(I really should hold a contest for the most ridiculous tea advertisement.)


  1. A gram (one gram) of 50's puerh costs $20-$200, depending on quality. You got a whole serving for $28, including markup. Seems legit.

    1. Dear Tuo Cha Tea,

      I hope you and your tea are doing well in Slovakia. I've only had one other sheng from the 50s and I cannot say this tea felt so old. And even if it wasn't, a quite merry time was had by my party.


  2. you can definitely buy loose sheng for less than $20/g. if 60's loose stuff is like $5/g MAX nowadays, then less than that would be viable for aged loose sheng 10 years ago, especially if they had private sources. Also, note that $28 in 2004 is $35.

    While it's pretty obvious that the tea must have been mislabeled/fake, it's definitely not TOO out there. Still, wouldn't really trust that place.

    1. Dear Jake,

      Samovar caters to a different type of tea drinker than you or me. We would simply never buy a yerba mate, cacao, vanilla shu blend for $92 a pound. (So wrong so wrong, not sure if the price if more offensive than the blend.)

      If you know of great 60s loose sheng at $20, please do share.


    2. it's mostly stuff out of Taiwan AFAIK. $1/g for some low quality 60's sheng is possible, for example Wistaria Tea House, one of the most well-known and respected shops in Taiwan sells it for that price. High quality stuff runs higher. Cake stuff is expensive.

      I don't know anything about Samovar and their connections, but they might have gotten an older sheng (maybe 1980s) and mislabeled it. - $100/100g, pic taken in August.