Tea of the Week: Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong

Earlier this year, I visited Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. To say that it’s a place to get tea is a severe understatement as the shop embodies the idea of serenity in a cup. Samovar is unlike any traditional tea room you’ve ever been to and elevates tea to an almost spiritual pastime. If you are in San Francisco and love tea, it is not to be missed!

Apple Ginseng is one of Samovar’s popular oolong blends. The tea has a wonderfully earthy quality where plentiful chunks of dried apple and mildly sweet licorice root make help to mellow out the soft bitterness of ginseng. If you’ve ever had plain ginseng tea before and didn’t like it or if you’ve never had ginseng tea before and are curious, you should definitely try this blend.

Together, the fragrant Taiwanese oolong and sweet apples lend a floral essence to this blend that the ginseng tea itself wouldn’t have otherwise. The steep has a sunny, honey-like character to it, making it a yummy partner to breakfast items and brunch time baked goods.

I’m presenting this tea to you Samovar-style today, where the guest is offered a small wooden tray with a pot of tea, a teacup, and perhaps some extra tea for additional steepings. This is the signature way that Samovar Tea Lounge serves any brew. It’s a simple, unique way of treating every brew with a sense of ritual, focus, and respect.

The addition of both ginseng and oolong in this blend mean that it has a fair amount of caffeine, so this an excellent AM steep to help get your day moving along. Samovar hails this tea as one that promotes “vital energy and libido.” I can attest that the first part of this equation is true. As for the second part, don’t expect any reports back from me…you’ll just have try some and find out for yourself!

Tasting Notes for Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for 5 minutes. I generally like to drink any ginseng tea hot. Good for several steepings.

THE BLEND:  A mix of Taiwanese oolong, dried chunks of organic apple, organic white ginseng, organic licorice root, and natural apple flavor.

THE SCENT:  Smells of wood, tree branches, and earthy fallen leaves. Like a serene autumn walk through the woods.

THE STEEP:  Each sip starts with slight astringency from the ginseng root. The astringency is followed by the woody, earthy taste of oolong, and then tamed by gentle sweetness from the apples. This is a sunny, refreshing alternative to your morning cup of Joe.

GET IT:  You’ll find this blend at all of Samovar’s vibrant tea lounges in San Francisco, except for their latest Tea Bar on Valencia St. The tea is also available online at Samovar’s website or on Amazon.

FOOD PAIRING:  Apple Ginseng Oolong pairs perfectly with fall breakfast treats like french toast, pancakes, or a thick slice of Maple Brick Toast. It’s also exceptionally delicious with Mochi Banana Bread or my favorite fall treat…Crisp Apple Strudels!

The cute sticker comes tucked inside the box of tea!

Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco

Earlier this month, I shared a recipe for Russian Tea inspired by the Sochi Olympics.  A good black tea infused with homemade blackberry jam is a simple, straightforward way to drink tea as the Russians do: with full flavor and a maximum amount of caffeine!

Today I’m sharing with you the inspiration behind my Russian Tea post:  Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.  San Francisco is known for their tart sourdough, rich chocolates, and fresh clam chowder, but what they should also be known for is their tea!

Tucked away in the Yerba Buena Gardens not far from Union Square is Samovar Tea Lounge.  A tea experience at Samovar is rooted in a deep reverence for all aspects of tea.  Amidst the techno music and urban vibes, they’ve managed to marry the ritualistic with the casual here.

Notice that Samovar isn’t called a tea room…it’s called a tea lounge.   This wouldn’t be such an important difference except that is it is unlike other places that serve tea or afternoon tea.  Samovar is not a tea establishment of the “pinkies up” variety.  Samovar is modern, eclectic, and undeniably masculine.

From how the tea is sourced to how thoughtfully each cup is brewed, every aspect of drinking tea at Samovar speaks of respect and appreciation for the ancient beverage.  The staff at Samovar are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, as if they are sharing their tea with you, not just serving you.  Tea is brought to your table and placed front and center, with food items placed at the sides.  This way, there’s no way to deny that tea is the real star of the show.  My choice?  Tolstoy’s Sip, a mix of Lapsang Souchong, Lychee Black, and English Breakfast teas…I needed a boost after all that shopping in Union Square!

They offer 7 tea services at Samovar, each themed according to a country’s tea customs and foods.  And although their scones are delicious, we aren’t talking just scones here!  Depending on which place you want to take your taste buds on a culinary vacation to, Samovar has a tea-inspired meal for you.

From Japanese seaweed salad to Indian curry to Russian pickled eggs, the tea foods at Samovar definitely won’t leave you bored.   And for those who are just wanting a taste and not a full tea service, there are other light food items to choose from, some for pairing with tea and others infused with it, like my husband’s choice of a green tea mousse.It’s so hard to choose which tea to try at Samovar because they are all so rare and special.  Each tea is thoughtfully hand-blended in small batches.  Some of the best sellers at Samovar are their large selection of organic teas.

I walked away with their Apple Ginseng Oolong, a “love” tea of sorts, a blend inspired by Adam and Eve, brimming with sweet dried apples.  If you check out the Samovar site, they offer suggestions on what to serve with each of their unique teas.  Looks like I should be enjoying my Apple Ginseng Oolong with some French toast or chocolate cake!

The next time you are in San Francisco make some time to stop by Samovar Tea Lounge.  With 3 locations in the city, Samovar is the place to go to when you want to slow down, relax, and steep in the lifestyle of tea.  In the words of Jesse Jacobs, owner and creator of Samovar Tea Lounge, an experience at Samovar will remind you to “Drink Tea, Mindfully.”  Oh, and as a friendly reminder, don’t forget to turn off those cell phones!  After you sink into your second cup of Monkey Picked Oolong uninterrupted by the outside world, you’ll be wishing you were in distant lands picking your own oolong instead of having to rely on those monkeys (FYI, a monkey didn’t pick that oolong…it’s a myth)!

Russian Tea with Blackberry Orange Jam

A few weeks back I visited Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.  Wow, what a treat.

Samovar Tea Lounge is named after the Russian tea instrument called a samovar, which is used to not only to boil water for tea but also to keep it warm for serving.

At Samovar, I ordered Tolstoy’s Sip, a Russian-inspired blend of smokey Lapsang Souchong, Lychee Black, and English Breakfast Teas.  Upon serving me the steamy dark blend, the waitress mentioned that they sometimes scoop a big spoonful of fruit jam into the teapot while the tea is steeping, which had me totally intrigued.  I’m not sure why not, but that day they didn’t.

After my experience at Samovar, I realized that I prefer using Lapsang Souchong in savory cooking and not so much for sipping.  Thinking of another tea to try with jam, I ordered the Prince Vladimir blend from the French company, Kusmi (through Amazon).  And since I was developing this recipe to celebrate the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the name of the tea seemed just about right!

With a citrus and vanilla base, it’s as if Prince Vladimir and my Blackberry Mandarin Orange Tea Jam are made for each other.  If you aren’t able to get your hands on some of Kusmi’s Prince Vladimir, any black, robust tea with character will work in this tea-jam steep.

Jarred jams with added corn syrup, random fruit juices, and fake colorings aren’t worth using here.  Using the freshest organic fruits I could find at the market (blackberries and mandarin oranges), I decided to make my own thick and luscious tea jam.

I prefer to use mandarins and not regular oranges in my jam because the zest tends to be less bitter, which results in a milder tea steep that is citrusy without being harsh.  I like to add some zest at the beginning of cooking and the other half of the zest at the end of the cooking after the jam has cooled so that there is both depth and brightness in the jam.

Depending on the taste of your tea, go ahead and play around with this recipe!  Your tea may pair better with some other type of berry and some other type of citrus.  Blueberry with lime, strawberry with grapefruit, or raspberry with key lime would all work beautifully.

Here’s how to brew up some Russian jam-infused tea:

#1.  Boil water to 212 degrees F.  Pour a small amount of hot water into the teapot to heat it, then discard the water.  Place tea leaves into the your teapot (1 heaping tsp of tea per cup of water) then pour in the hot water.  Scoop a few heaping tablespoons of the fresh fruit jam into the same pot so that both the tea and fruit can brew at the same time.

#2.  Steep the tea for about 5 minutes, which is standard for black teas.  This allows for the flavors of the tea and jam to fully mingle.

#3.  After 5 minutes, place a tea strainer in your tea cup or vessel, and pour the tea into the cup.  Set the strainer aside.

#4.  The resulting liquor will be slightly cloudy and fragrantly sweet.  The tea will also have more body because of the pectin, sugar, and softened fruit flesh in the preserves.  For serving, you can also place a large bowl of the same fruit jam (and stirring spoons) alongside the poured, strained tea if you and your guests are desiring a more robust fruit flavor in the tea.  If you do add more jam to your drink, you’ll notice that your first sip of the fruited tea will taste lighter and thinner than the very last sip, which will come with tender globs of macerated fruit that have settled at the bottom of your teacup.

This Thursday the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics begin.  Celebrate a very special part of Russian culture with some hot and soothing Russian jam-infused tea (served in some Russian tea cups if you can find them!).  Although we may cheer for opposing teams, we’ll be joined by our love of some exceptionally delicious tea!

Blackberry Mandarin Orange Tea Jam

Makes 1- 1 1/4 cups of jam.

Ingredients:

1 lb. organic blackberries (or other type of berry)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp pectin

2 Mandarin oranges, zested then juiced (or other type of citrus:  2 tsp of zest with 1/4 cup of juice or less depending on how strong/sour the citrus is)

Equipment:

large pot

wooden spoon

zester

something to juice the oranges with (i.e. fork, squeezer, juicer)

Directions:

1.)  Place blackberries, sugar, and juice of 2 Mandarin oranges in the pot and cook on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until juices release.  When juices start to release, add the zest of 1 orange and mix in.

2.)  Once more of the juices have released, increase the heat to med-high until the mixture starts to come to a boil.  As the jam starts to come to an “angry” boil, start stirring at a fast pace for 5 minutes.

3.)  After 5 minutes, turn the heat off and let the mixture cool to room temperature.  Add the zest from the 2nd orange and mix in, then place in an airtight container in the fridge until serving time.