Tea Tasting Ceremony at Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco [PICS included!]

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco. Imperial Tea Court was founded in 1993 by Roy Fong, and particularly well-known for a good selection of hand-crafted Chinese teas. Interestingly enough, they are also working on creating a local tea farm in California. You can track their progress on the Camellia Sinensis blog.

There are two locations for Imperial Tea Court, and I chose to visit the location in San Francisco’s Ferry Building for their tea tasting. The interior of the store is full of traditional-style lacquered wood furniture. We were greeted by one of their staff who seated us and presented us with a tray of teas to examine and smell.

The teas are arranged from ‘light to dark’ and in order of oxidation. From the bottom left to the bottom right, there’s an array of white tea, green tea and jasmine green tea. They didn’t take the time to explain what specific tea each type was, but it looked like silver needles, dragonwell and a jasmine pearl tea. The top row from left to right was a dark roast oolong, golden yunnan and pu-erh. We were invited to inspect the teas and select two.

The first tea we selected was the white silver needle tea.

The second tea we selected was the black golden yunnan tea.

The teas were prepared with a low temperature water in small gaiwans and cute little tea cups. Our staffer explained the process of washing the teas, though had a somewhat halting explanation of the differences between the two teas and how they are created.

I love the way that silver needle expands into plump, bright green leaf pods.

There was a marked contrast between the white tea and the black tea (pictured below). It’s amazing that such different flavors can come from the same plant with a different preparation process.

Here’s a shot of the two teas together on the tray.

It was an interesting experience, but overall I’d have to confess that I probably would not recommend the tea tasting to a visiting guest. Our staffer wasn’t particularly knowledgable and made the experience feel a little rushed, the water was lukewarm, and we felt like the entire experience seemed to lack some point of finesse. All that aside, they have a truly amazing representation of teas from China on their menu, and I would love to explore this more in the future.