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Tea Is the New Whiskey

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Tea is the new whiskey!

OK, maybe it isn’t. Because tea doesn’t get you drunk. Nor does it mix well with Coca Cola, get served in a highball glass, or typically grace the hand of a quintessential whiskey aficionado: a bearded guy wearing immaculate wing tips and a Giants cap.

Rather, tea puts you in a vibratory state characterized by sharpness and relaxation, the best of both worlds. And my imagination would describe the tea poster child as a beautiful woman with the depth of infinity in her eyes. She can scale a mountain while reciting Rumi, and at the top of the mountain she’ll give you a massage.

bellydancer

Note absence of TV set or neon sign.

I could write a book about the merits of alcohol. It’s magic! Let’s just leave it at that. Now, that being said, not everyone wants to spend time in bars. Loud TV-laden sports bars. Shallow gay pickup bars. Unapologetically fratty Marina bars. Pretentious wine bars. Biker bars where the staff is comically mean. Snooty Financial District bars where everyone is talking about hedge funds and LinkedIn. Oh Lord above, is there no respite?!

There is a wave of tea houses in San Francisco with popularity surging. They aren’t exactly new—what with places like Samovar being household names for years—but they are growing in scope, scale and (metaphorical) buzz.

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Arrow Macgowan from Tea House of the Sacred Heart

Tea Science

“You’ve got theanine, as in thea, Latin for goddess. And then theobromine, theo, God. I always get a trip out of that.” This is a mere snippet of the legato musings of tea-head Arrow Macgowan from Tea House of the Sacred Heart, which just opened in the Lower Haight. Arrow can speak fluidly about the psychoactive chemicals that make tea the magical elixir it is. His words, albeit marvelously technical, flow like a graceful river.

L-Theanine, theobromine, theophylline and good old caffeine. These are the four psychoactive compounds found in tea that are able to triumphantly cross the blood-brain barrier. Together they have a synergistic effect that allows tea to lift us to lofty levels.

There are three types of tea houses in San Francisco right now. First, places like Lovejoy’s Tea Room or The Rotunda, where mostly women drink tea while eating little scones and clotted cream and other gastronomic gems that may or may not have originated from a delightful little cottage in rural England.

Second, there are places like Samovar, which have a huge array of teas from around the world along with amazing food, all served in a typical restaurant setting—particularly with a very “zen” aesthetic, Buddha statues and bamboo furniture galore.

Third, and this is where things are popping lately: Places like Tea House of the Sacred Heart, which elevate the culture to new heights. The atmosphere (curated array of mod antiques and mood lighting), the tea (top quality heirloom varieties), the people (generally young, beautiful and funky, alternately described as the tea poster child referenced above but wearing galaxy-print tights)—it all forms a culture that is thick and very alluring.

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Oshan Anand of Om Shan Tea, Sacred Heart’s spiritual predecessor.

Hanging out one night at Sacred Heart, I asked people their impressions.

Joshua Duman, musician, New Orleans: “It feels supportive and conscious. Meeting new creative people who are awesome and have something to offer to the world.”

Oren Bordo, real estate broker, Richmond District: “People here are easy to talk to, and they’re in touch with the nuances of life.”

Matt Yerge, massage therapist, Oakland: “It’s all about the space. I’m going to bring a bunch of my hard-drinking Irish friends here next week. I think they’ll love that $30,000 piano in the corner.”

Cara Kinkel, Los Angeles: “The people working here aren’t employees, they’re creators. I see that in the food, decor, activities.”

Annie Anton, Woodside: “We are able to be with one another in a way that’s deeper. I love it. It feels safe.”

Eleonor Geli, Lower Haight: “I love the warm feel. Much better than a bar.”

Harlan Miller, San Diego: “It’s more real than a bar. Less facade.”

To serendipitously grace the merit of my tea vs. whiskey analogy, I interviewed Lauren Korshak of San Francisco. She had hosted a match making event called Whiskey and Chocolate, then later changed things and hosted an event called Tea Sinistry. “We did the whiskey event and it was good. I didn’t believe in tea at first. But we did the Sinistry event and it was way better.”

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Om Shan Tea party

Arrow from Sacred Heart continues. “Lipton and Mighty Leaf and all that stuff in tea bags, that’s what people think is tea. Those come from plants that are young and have a very jagged and unsettling trajectory. With heirloom teas, these are plants that are four or five hundred years old, and their trajectory is like that—a long wave. That’s the smooth, calm buzz you feel when you drink these.”

Tea House of the Sacred Heart is at 548 Fillmore Street, between Oak and Fell, next door to the former Sacred Heart Church that now houses a roller skate disco party: ‘Church of 8 Wheels’ four times per week. Check them out.

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Dan Nazarian - Uninformed Informant

Dan Nazarian - Uninformed Informant

Dan Nazarian is a Bay Area native whose life has been colored by extensive world travel, a brief white-faced obsession with the Cure, and periodic acid trips while skinny dipping. He is a massage therapist in the City.

6 Comments

  1. The Mama In Black
    November 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

    There is something so alluring about sitting around with a warm cup of sense heightening elixirs in your hand in a dimly lit room. I can see how this is the new trend in SF- bars have become so “blah” then again, maybe it’s just me that is “blah”.

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:50 am

      Yes and yes. I don’t think you’re bla — you just forgot the CK (blaCK).

  2. BuzzK
    November 11, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    There is something called “Tea Drunk” which is a state not too far from alcohol. Different people experience it differently. My experience came from too much Taiwan Oolong and I felt sort of dazed and disoriented. One can also overdose on tea and have unpleasant consequences. People who drink tons of sweet iced tea in the South have cases of this. I heard of a man drinking up to four quarts a day.
    But I totally agree that pu’er can create a subtly blissful feeling of relaxed and aware, especially late night pu’er. It is low in caffeine but seems to have other chemicals which stimulate without making one jumpy or preventing the eventual desire to sleep.

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:49 am

      I find sweet tea rather obscene in its sweetness. I imagine people from the South have a palette more attuned to sugar than us in kale-loving California. Thanks for the the post!

  3. Russell Kurson
    November 19, 2015 at 10:15 am

    I have been drinking tea long before I went away to college. I didn’t grown up with coffee drinkers, Thank god.

  4. November 19, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I just have to visit the Sarcred Heart Teashop. I hope it is wheelchair access.