Peter Luong will not be a tea mystic. The founding father of San Francisco’s Song Tea & Ceramics is aware of and values the refined, complicated traits of tea, however shows a well mannered skepticism concerning the many claims for its bodily and psychological health-enhancing talents. “I don’t like the ‘fetishing’ of tea,” he says. “Tea should just taste good.”
This perspective is each shocking and unsurprising contemplating Luong’s background. His immigrant dad and mom opened a Chinese apothecary, Yau Hing, in San Francisco’s Chinatown greater than 30 years in the past. This store carried, however didn’t focus on, tea. But Luong resisted following within the path of the household enterprise. He grew to become a techie in, as he says, “the first wave of dot.coms.” But when the start-up he was consulting with couldn’t create a workable enterprise mannequin, his father suggested him: “You need to be in control of your own destiny.” He joined the enterprise in 2003, and commenced slowly re-branding it. Eventually, the apothecary facet of the enterprise was closed, and Red Blossom Tea Company emerged. Luong grew to become the tea purchaser, touring along with his father to China and Taiwan, assimilating key data about tea rising and processing.
In 2010, his dad and mom retired, leaving Luong and his sister to run Red Blossom. By 2012, Luong had determined to strike out on his personal, with a special, extra up to date aesthetic. A retail area, tucked away on a quiet block of Sutter Street, up from busier Fillmore Street, grew to become out there. He moved in, created a easy, welcoming inside, and purchased the primary “collection” of Song teas in 2013.
Refreshing vs. re-upping
When he first started shopping for tea, Luong puzzled why it was essential to go abroad personally every spring. He shortly discovered that establishing relationships was important to getting one of the best product, in addition to to discovering new sources. Song Tea carries roughly 30 teas at a time, that 12 months’s assortment. Luong emphasizes there’s a “50-60 percent change” on this group every year, relying on what he finds on his shopping for journeys. “We don’t necessarily ‘re-up,’ each year,” he says. “We refresh the collection each time.” Proper freshness, particularly with inexperienced tea, and correct processing are important. Luong mentions, for instance, the precision with which Chinese fu ding licensed natural white teas are ready. “There is a perceptible difference,” he says.
During our interview, he first brews Song’s White Dragonwell (2 oz. $88). This natural inexperienced tea from Zhejiang, China has a fragile coloration and aroma of, as Song’s web site notes, “chrysanthemum, rice milk and marshmallow.”
The web site, songtea.com, is a banquet of details about every tea carried, together with any particular preparation in Song’s personal “tea studio.” For instance, the second tea tasted, Dragon Phoenix Clear Heart, a Taiwanese oolong (2 ounces, $34), is listed as having been “lightly baked at our tea studio…to further concentrate the tea’s innate fruit and floral notes.”
Sipping flavors of cherimoya, buttercream and edamame, Luong solutions questions concerning the ceramics facet of the enterprise.
Presentation and preparation
Song Tea & Ceramics options teapots, bowls, cups, gaiwans (lidded bowls), servers, and trays for gai pao (“dry brew”). All of the items are wood-fired and commissioned from ceramic artists in China, Taiwan, and, in two instances, the U.S. “A lot of them reflect a great deal of time and study,” says Luong. Of his 4 employees folks (referred to as “tea members”), “one has a solid ceramics background,” he explains, permitting refined decisions. He mentions the purple clay tea pots, such because the “Tambour” ($280), made by Taiwanese potters who work solely in purple clay. “The pots are very simple forms,” he notes, however straight mirror a connection to the culture of tea.
However, Luong reductions over-obsession with preparation. “Tea is not coffee. Coffee [brewing] is about precision. [Brewing] tea is like cooking, where a different outcome is not necessarily bad,” he says. At Song Teas, he continues, experimentation in brewing sure inexperienced teas “has amped up the water temperature by nearly 10 degrees.” Tea dogma, Luong says, “removes the fun of playing around. Just relax and brew!”
He brews Taiwanese oolong Four Seasons Gold (2 ounces, $60), a small-batch, natural picked within the third week of April 2018 and bought from considered one of solely 14 tea producers in a selected excessive elevation. Scents of gardenia, orange blossom and “peach tarte tatin” waft up from the cups. “I don’t always work with new people the first year I see them,” he says. “Often the batches are pre-allocated, so we may order for the next year.”
Pairings and Partners
Asked concerning the culinary pattern of pairing teas with meals, Luong describes a “pop-up” dinner with Los Angeles’s Triniti restaurant that served 40 folks, through which every course was served with a selected tea. Again, nevertheless, he warned in opposition to an excessive amount of ritual and guidelines, preferring to concentrate on enjoyment.
On the opposite hand, the corporate does provide teas to a choose group of restaurant and lodge “partners,” locations Luong has personally chosen due to shared aesthetics. Similarly, the corporate wholesales sparingly to a gaggle of coffeehouses throughout the nation, ones that he feels finest showcase the teas. “If they call and ask about tea bags or what is our least expensive tea, they are likely not a good fit,” he says drily.
But as he brews the ultimate tea, luscious Taiwanese Winter Sprout Red (2 ounces, $58), Luong is cautious to notice that the store provides $10, three-tea tastings every retail day, and that each one prospects, whether or not steeped in tea data or not, are welcome. “It’s completely OK if you don’t buy our most expensive teas,” he says, as scrumptious notes of rose, honeycomb and cinnamon bark are loved. “I trust that people have decent palates,” he says. “For some customers, this is a destination, for others, this is their neighborhood place. We welcome all.”
Song Tea & Ceramics, 2120 Sutter St., San Francisco. (415) 885-2118, songtea.com