I still remember the first time I visited Samovar Tea Lounge. It was spring of 2010, and I had just moved to San Francisco. Eager to discover all of the wonderful hotspots the city had to offer, I was intrigued when I accidently stumbled upon the original Samovar Tea Lounge, located in the very colorful Castro district of town. The word Samovar, in Russian, means teakettle, and having grown up in Russian household it was easy to make the connection between the title, and this unique establishment. Three years later, as I sit and chat with Samovar’s owner Jesse Jacobs, he jokes that in the early days people used to come in and ask whether they were in a Thai restaurant. We laugh at this, but as I look around, I am not surprised.
Having designed an ambiance inspired both by east and west, according to Jesse, “décor is the synergy of everything.” As Jesse and I sit together and drink tea, I learn about his eclectic-hippy upbringing in Boston, where his parents farmed their own food and taught macrobiotics to visitors from all over the world. Some days a martial artist would stay, another day it was a former CIA agent turned nun, and the next, a traveler from a foreign land. Hearing his story, I am not surprised that this man has a passion for bringing people together, for culture and for language. Following his passions, Jesse traveled through and lived in both Denmark and Japan, and it was learning about martial arts, Zen and the tea ceremony in Japan that inspired Jesse to go deeper within himself and craft not only a new life and career path, but a whole new experience for San Franciscans.
When we speak about the inspiration behind Samovar, Jesse quickly says, “happiness is bullshit, it’s all about finding meaning.” He continues with,“ happiness is the easy to grab lollipop…
Not surprising that Samovar’s mission is “Creating Positive Human Connection.” Within the few hours I spend with Jesse, I begin to connect with his story, and become wildly inspired. After reaching out to 71 banks, which all said no, the final bank he reached out to gave him the loan to start Samovar and years later with three locations in San Francisco and plans for expansion, he has yet to do any outside advertising. While the growth did not happen quickly, (it took five years to become profitable) it has all happened due to word of mouth, and the more time I spend here, the less this surprises me.
Walking into the Samovar Tea Lounge at Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, I feel a sort of enchantment. The glass building stands tall, and is adorned with autumn colored curtains and Scandinavian lamps meant to create “Hygelig,” which loosely translated from Danish means, “cozy feeling.” They do just that. The teahouse is buzzing with waiters and waitresses serving guests from a full menu of teas, appetizers and both savory and sweet lunch and dinner options. My personal favorite Herbal Tea is named Ocean of Wisdom. If like me, you are curious and want to learn more about the tea you are drinking, rest assured that the passionate staff is more than happy to educate you. Not only did my waitress Dasha educate me about my tea, she shared with me a bit about her own story: “Coming into Samovar, I started to consider myself a student of the leaf. Looking at my life through a tea prism inspires me to live a more sustainable life and to have a deeper connection to nature.” Her words bring me back to my conversation with Jesse in which he said, “the ritual of drinking tea is a training ground for the mind.” It becomes evident that like a great yoga or meditation class, the experience of Samovar is one that inspires you to slow down, to disconnect a bit from the frenzy of modern day life and find mindfulness, which you are free to take with you as you leave it’s doors. It’s the experience that keeps on giving, and that’s what makes it priceless.
When I ask Jesse Jacobs what he is most proud of he says, “ my ability to change” and with this in mind, I cannot help but think about Samovar’s possible expansion to LA, Dubai and New York. As soon as my mind begins to wander, I bring it back to the moment, here with Jesse, sitting, relaxing, and sharing stories. I look forward to visiting Samovar’s future locations and sharing new stories with many friends over tea, but for now I’ll just enjoy this very cup I hold in my hand.
To experience Samovar, please visit one of their three locations in San Francisco.
Svetlana is a San Francisco based writer and photographer.