In Silicon Valley, specialty tea is quickly becoming a phenomenon. Specialty shops, stores and tearooms devoted to the leaf are sprouting up all over the Bay Area. In San Francisco, tea businesses have gone beyond Chinatown and Japantown, spreading to Hayes Valley, the Castro and SOMA.
Tea is the new coffee — the tipple of choice for the Twitteratti. The culture that brought us pizza as a food group and $20,000 coffeemakers has now discovered tea. And its internet-savvy boosters like Rose and Ferriss are leading a movement in the United States to promote the leafy beverage as a trendy drink for new-age geeks who are as obsessed with having energetic bodies as they are with fast computers.
“It’s the new social lubricant,” said Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, a popular mini-chain of high-end tea rooms in San Francisco. “You’re never hung over and you can never drink too much.”
Rose, Ferriss and Jacobs are hoping to see specialty tea hit the mainstream just like coffee. And it’s certainly possible: Many credit Alfred Peet for single-handedly spearheading the specialty-coffee movement when he opened the first Peet’s Coffee & Tea store in Berkeley in 1966. Starbucks soon followed, and today their coffee shops are omnipresent.
Tea is so ancient that its exact origins are impossible to trace. In one popular Chinese legend, emperor Shen Nung, who drank only boiling water for hygienic precaution, discovered tea by accident 5,000 years ago. According to the tale, some dry leaves fell from a bush into the emperor’s boiling water, and the first cup of tea was created.
Today, fine teas are taking their place in the center of the digital universe. Specialty shops like the Samovar Tea Lounge are virtual emporiums of the beverage, carrying teas from cities, villages and gardens all over the world for guys like Rose and Ferriss, who use it to find respite from their endlessly busy, overly connected lives.
Jacobs, owner of Samovar, which opened three locations in the past year, explained that technology and the internet have changed everything for the tea industry.
“Technology, commerce, shipping methods, storing methods — all these things come together so that today we have access to the best tea ever,” said Jacobs, who has a background in technology himself as a former user interface designer.
He added that the emergence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter are bringing exquisite, obscure teas to the tech-driven world.
Digg founder Rose, for example, who is hailed as one of the most influential people on the web, is playing a large role in bringing obscure teas to the mainstream. He said he quit drinking soda as a New Year’s resolution in 2000, and he turned over a new leaf [ho ho] for tea.