I recently traveled to the Bay area to visit family, and visited a few teahouses that I’ve long wanted to experience.  If you’re looking for a great place to experience and learn about some rare, exceptional Chinese teas, I highly recommend Imperial Tea Court and Teance in Berkeley.

tea in BerkeleyAfter a long flight and not having had a meal for over 18 hours, I don’t think I could’ve found a more restorative spot than Imperial Tea Court (1511 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709, tel. 510-540-8888).  In many ways, this teahouse embodies the spirit of tea to me: a place of respite and tranquility, of communion and community, of nourishment for the body and spirit.  Stepping off the street, through a narrow passageway, a small, well-tended little courtyard garden greeted me as I entered the serene lull of a relaxing, peaceful afternoon.  Quite the contrast to the hurry-up-and-wait I went through 28 hours prior to my departure for the west coast, I assure you!

Although the interior of the teahouse was inviting and rustic – open kitchen, warm, dark woods mixed with other elemental objects – I took a table outside in the garden and immediately felt relaxed, even before my first sip.  As expected, they had a intelligent, expertly chosen tea selection and foods to complement it.  After asking for recommendations from the server, I chose the Purple Bamboo green tea served in a gaiwan along with a pot of water, and a sampling of their dumplings.  The server was knowledgeable and gracious, offering information and instruction, providing just the right amount of attention.  The Purple Bamboo was deep and meaty, with a smooth, lingering finish that lasted infusion after infusion.  Handmade, soft pillowy dumplings filled with a variety of veggies and ground pork served as a perfect complement to the tea.

A few days later, I visited Teance (1780 4th St., Berkeley, CA 94710, tel. 510.524.1696).  Designed by architect Fu-Teng Cheng, this stunning tea store/teabar has a 10-foot circular concrete counter that sets the stage for an exceptional tea experience. Every aspect of the space is so well conceived and beautiful, it’s hard for me to imagine a more visually stunning tea store here in the States.  I sat at the counter and ordered a small “tea tour” at the teabar.  Teance carries only farm-direct, artisanal, seasonal teas, so a professionally guided tasting is a smart idea, because it gives you the opportunity to experience and learn about teas you might not normally order if you had to commit to a pot or large cup.  The tour is also a great resource for helping you to develop your palate, whether you want to learn more about pu-erhs or compare and contrast a few oolongs.  The woman who guided my tea tour was extremely knowledgeable, professional, and hospitable.

If you’re a tea lover and are in the Bay area, I highly recommend you add these to your list of places to visit.  You won’t be disappointed!