Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

San Francisco Tea Tour: Stop #3

August 31, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Shops

Next Midori took me to a place I never would have found on my own, the Lupicia tea store inside the San Francisco Centre, despite the fact it was a mere two blocks from the hotel I’d been in the week before for a conference. San Francisco Centre is a shopping mall. I’m not a big fan of malls. Having spent my teenage years in suburban New Jersey, the mall is a place that I associate with being trapped in a place where shopping to increase one’s social status is the only pastime. This is why I don’t live in the suburbs now.

The Lupicia store, from the outside, looks like a fancy cosmetics store. Everything is lit with the tiny bright jewels of track lights, some things in neat shelves, others in baskets… Seriously, it could have been bath soaps and skin care products they were retailing, like an AVEDA store.

However, it smelled far better than any cosmetics store I have ever been in, of course.

The tea of the day they had for the trying was an iced tea, given the summer weather. It was San Francisco, so we had jackets on, but Lupicia does have an emphasis on seasonality and freshness. I honestly can’t remember what the tea tasted like now, though. Was it pomegranate-flavored, perhaps? I was too distracted looking at the newly picked plantation-specified packets of things to register the flavor of what I was drinking. I wanted to be drinking some of that and that

I could have easily walked out of there with $100 worth of tea. But I was trying to limit myself (and besides, I’d already spent more than my budget at Aroma Tea Shop, because so much of what we tried was so very good there), so I asked one of the nice, bright sales clerks what did they have that I shouldn’t miss?

She pointed out that they would be having a tasting that night at 6pm, but by then I would be off to teach a class of my own, so she steered me back to the table I had been salivating over earlier, the plantation-specified and newly picked selections.

I ended up choosing two in particular, a Jade Dew Mingjian, and a first-pick darjeeling from the Hillton planation in India. With the Jade Dew I figured I knew what to expect, and now having brewed it, it did not disappoint. A solid entry into my collection of grassy young teas. But the Hillton!

I am not as familiar with tea from India as I am from China, but everyone in America knows the basic flavor of darjeeling, because it’s the basic taste of Lipton (and in Canada, Red Rose). However a fine darjeeling is to Lipton/Red Rose what a fine cheese is to Kraft Singles. And the first-flush Hillton? Was the tea equivalent of stopping at a small goat farm’s road stand and eating their first chevre of the year.

The first steeping was incredibly mellow and sweet, and so very green for a darjeeling, because of course it being just the fresh, young leaves, there’s been very little oxidation. A delightful cup.

But the really amazing flavor comes on the second steeping. A distinct flavor of lychee emerges, sweet and delicate, and yet the leaves have never been near a lychee fruit. One of the adages that is repeated in tea lore is that all of the things traditionally used to scent and flavor tea (jasmine, magnolia, lychee, cherry blossom, orange blossom, vanilla, etc. etc.) were all things one could find the flavors of in fine tea, much the way a wine lover can find everything from blackberry and grapefruit to leather in their glass. This was one of the clearest notes I’d ever tasted in a tea, so strong it was reminiscent of the green lychee tea I bought in Shanghai and have never been able to find since.

And to think if Midori had not been familiar with the Lupicia chain from a trip she had taken to Hawaii, I never would have set foot in this mall to visit this store to purchase this tea. We chatted with the clerks a bit. Lupicia is a Japanese company, and they have stores all over Japan, but in recent years have expanded into malls in Hawaii and California. A look at their website reveals the root of their name is a cross-cultural one: “Lupicia started out in Japan in 1994 and actually began as two separate tea stores. First as a black tea specialty store called “L’epicier”, meaning grocery store in French. Then a few years later a specialty tea store offering green teas from China and Japan called “緑碧茶園 Lu Pi Cha En”, meaning jade green tea garden in Chinese, was opened. In 2005 the company decided to become a purveyor of world teas and combined the two stores and the two names resulting in the name “LUPICIA”. In a sense, it is a blending of cultures that envisions the hope to spread the wonderful flavors of tea and a tea drinking culture throughout the world.”

By the way, I can link you to the Hillton ordering page on the Lupicia web site, but it’s listed as Sold Out/Discontinued. I had asked the sales clerk what was the one thing I shouldn’t miss on that visit and she did not steer me wrong. (The Jade Dew Mingjian they do still have as of today, though.)

I also picked up some of their signature blends. I took one that included Napa Valley grapes (Decaf Muscat), so actually had a local connection to my visit, as well as a few herbal choices, like a roobois with lemon grass and cardamom (Adagio), and another based with peppermint (Kikeriki).

For purchasing more than $30 worth of tea, I am supposedly now to receive a subscription to their Fresh Tea magazine, which is purported to arrive with a fresh tea sample in each issue. I will have to blog about it when my first issue arrives.

From there we were able to leave the car in the garage and walk to our final destination on our tour, the Samovar Tea Lounge’s latest location, near SF MOMA on the park. Tune in next time for that.

0 Comments to “San Francisco Tea Tour: Stop #3”

  1. The last time I stopped by this SF Centre store I was disappointed to find out that Lupicia has discontinued many of their teas for sale in the US… including all of my favorites (mostly strong indian varieties).

    I guess most americans like fruity flavored teas. I’m back on my never-ending quest for a store in SF that sells high quality whole leaf indian teas.

  2. Palgus, that’s a shame. I also wonder how much of it is economic. I was reading recently about how drought and other factors have made the price of Indian tea shoot up this year, as well? That it is going at crazy prices at auctions.


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