“A great idea should always be left to steep like loose tea leaves in a teapot…,” sage advice as there is little merit in half-baked ideas or weak tea. In the case of Ottawa-native David Segal, tea itself was the great idea one that became a namesake company, DAVIDsTEA.
The Canadian retailer which at last count has 80 stores in North America opened four locations in San Francisco last year alone and is readying a 1,400 sq-ft. flagship store at 2272 Chestnut Street slated to open in late February.
Beyond the bag
DAVIDsTEA sells loose leaf teas; the only tea bags you’ll find here are the empty ones you use to make your own. Co-founder Segal and his cousin, retail pioneer Herschel Segal, set out to innovate within the category by “making loose leaf tea fun and accessible in a [retail] environment that caters to enthusiasts and emerging tea drinkers.”
At the stores, bright colors and sleek, contemporary décor signal a truly modern approach to tea that includes a deep selection of traditional estate and flavored teas, functional accessories and stylish gifts. The retailer sells one of the largest selections of certified organic tea flavors including 40 blends and as many as 150 different kinds of tea.
Tea of all kinds is attracting a younger audience, witness the number of ready-to-drink teas now offered in the grocery aisle, and Segal’s unorthodox approach to creating flavors has struck a cord with young adults. With pop stars tweeting about their favorites and themed tea and recipe collections like “The Foodie Collection” and “Cocktail Collection” that incorporate tea into cuisine and artisanal cocktails, flavored teas are winning new converts from all corners and getting a second look from traditionalists.
In an at-home taste off, flavored black teas like Chocolate Chili Chai, Read My Lips and Strawberry Shortcake came out on top when a group of discriminating young adults sampled a dozen different teas. Red and green Rooibos teas (made from the South African plant not Camellia sinenses) are the flavor base for many of the company’s novelty flavors including Crème Brulée and candy-infused Birthday Cake and Swampwater.
The fun addition of candy like sprinkles, chocolate chips and even jelly beans to these teas serves as a replacement for adding sugar after the tea has been brewed. It’s a modern take on the traditional Russian way of flavoring and sweetening tea with a spoonful of jam something athlete Maria Sharapova is known to enjoy. Most enthusiasts seem willing to overlook the irony of adding artificially-colored and flavored candy to organic teas.
Quality, convenience and style
Appreciating quality in tea starts with looking at the condition and shape of the tea leaves and from there follows the same approach as wine appreciation: see, sniff, sip and savor. Hopefully this is something that anyone who’s paying $8 for 50 grams (just over two ounces) of Assam Banaspaty is going to do.
DAVIDsTEA Assam Banaspaty is an above-average quality Assam. It’s not a very common tea, none of the other tea shops we called in San Francisco sell it, but organic Assam Banaspaty can be found online (by the pound) for under $2 an ounce or roughly $4 for 50 grams. While the bulk Assam measured up in comparison taste tests, tea drinkers should be aware that, in addition to tea, they are paying a premium for the quality, convenience and style served up at DAVIDsTEA.
Other teas tasted included Dragon Well, Nepal Black, Organic Breakfast and Darjeeling blend, Guangzhou Milk Oolong, and Korean Sejak (green).
By the cup
“Most customers just want a cup of tea,” says Segal. “We steep any cup of tea hot or cold in the store.” At the company’s Polk Street store in San Francisco, $3 buys a 16 oz. cup of any tea, including Assam Banaspaty and Dragon Well, and customers are offered more hot water for additional steepings.
Exploring loose leaf teas by the cup is the perfect way for a beginning tea drinker to experience quality and discover their favorites. Customer reviews and comments about DAVIDsTEA found on Yelp confirm that they are doing just that with some enthusiasts stopping by a store every day with the goal of trying all 150 teas.
DAVIDsTEA has four locations in San Francisco: Russian Hill (2123 Polk Street), Noe Valley (3870 24th Street), the Westfield San Francisco Centre (865 Market Street), and in Burlingame (1400 Burlingame Ave). The company website, www.davidstea.com, also offers specials and items that may not be available at every location.