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Tea Time in Noe Valley

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I've been watching the transformation of  the former Ladybug Ladybug on 24th Street as it evolved into DAVIDsTEA, a Montreal-based tea outfitter bringing their teas to neighborhood spots to a few US cities. They opened just last week, and today I had an opportunity to pay a visit and meet with co-founder David Segal himself. 

The space is bright and cheery, flanked on one side by a bar where customers can sidle up to sniff and sample the 150-plus tins of teas on the wall. As I entered, the place was hopping. 

I have to admit that I was skeptical. Passing by on previous days, staffers were hawking samples of some of their quirky blends involving chocolate, nuts or what have you. I'm something of a purist. I like tea, as in tea tea. The idea of tea called Cherry Cola or Banana Dream Pie did not appeal. Of course, many things I would consider tea tea are flavored teas — Early Grey springs to mind — but somehow these seemed to cross a line. 

But as we chatted and he pulled down a dozen or so tins for me to smell, I was pleased to note that  they do have  tea tea. Inquiring about my tastes, he pulled down two unadulterated greens, a Chinese Dragonwell and a Japanese Gyokuro Yamashiro, and a black tea from Nepal, with slightly smoky notes, and offered me a cup of whatever I'd like. dpaul brought back some gyokuro from a business trip to Japan last year, and I find myself going back to it again and again, so I chose that. Apparently I have good taste, as the gyokuro is the most expensive tea in the shop. I can pick 'em! 

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But even if they aren't my, um, cup of tea, I was curious about some of the flavored teas. And so I sniffed a variety of blends like fruity Alpine Punch, an apparently very popular Chocolate Chili Chai, and super-nutty Brazillionaire with, yes, Brazilian nuts. 

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This much is clear: They're having fun with it. And by producing these quirky blends, and there are plenty of them rotating seasonally, they're making tea accessible and interesting to a much broader audience. The customer who ends up going for a bag of Ice Cream Cake, made with carob, white chocolate and actual bits of ice cream (I guess, freeze dried?), might be the same customer that drops seven bucks on a Venti Salted Caramel Mocha at Starbucks. But maybe, just maybe, it'll make them try something else the next time. Like tea tea. Which, luckily, they also have.

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Where DAVIDsTEA really shines is in the gift market. For example, they've got these 24 Days of Tea advent calendar packages, with a tin of a different tea each day. So, you know, cute, right? Plus various and sundry other gifty collections, packaged like boxes of premium chocolates. And then there's the Cocktail Collection, with ingredients and recipes to make five tea-based cocktails. Hello, hostess gift! Sure beats a bottle of wine.

I also appreciate that DAVIDsTEA, despite being an import, has immediately established itself as a community player. Staff are hired locally, and they've donated to the cause of converting the parking lot across the street to a community park, as opposed to just another block of condos. 

David graciously sent me off with a bag of the Nepal black to try. Perhaps one day I'll make my way up to tasting some of the more creative blends. I may never acquire the taste for Birthday Cake Rooibos, but I'm willing to give it a go.

  • Okay, the Ice Cream Cake flavor might be pushing things a bit far. Looks like a fun place though! I can’t wait to get back to Smith Tea in Portland. Loved it.

  • It is a fun place, really. We’ve got three in SF now plus one in Burlingame that opened today apparently. And yeah, I really loved our trip to Steven Smith Tea. I still have Fex, Chamomile and Peppermint in the pantry.

  • Still, having spent a lot of time in other people’s kitchens, I feel like this is the kind of product people buy (or are gifted) once, and then let sit, slowly turning into dust, in their cabinet. Ice-cream flavored tea, really? Why even waste tea leaves in that? Just make a sugary beverage and call it a day.

  • Kai

    Thanks for this. My brother and I are always trying to find new places for tea purchasing and their website looked good.
    We’re in the same boat with all those fancy teas though. Just give us our basics!

  • Another vote for letting tea be tea. When you have ice-cream flavoured tea, to quote my favourite FRIENDS, “you are so far past the line, you can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to you.”
    This is exactly what why I’ve been walking past the newly opened David’s tea in Westfield Downtown. After reading this, and because your food-related advice is always sound, I’m going to walk in. Let’s see how it goes.