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Red Blossom Tea Company, San Francisco

Aug 30, 2012

by Danielle Tsi

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Quality. When it comes to food, what does it really mean? In my experience, true quality speaks for itself, without need for fanfare or idolatrous reviews. It sets the mark against which all other consumables in its category are measured against. Once you’ve tasted the best, an invisible bar of gastronomic expectations is raised. You’ve experienced the sensory delight of discovering what something should really taste like.

I had one of those eye-opening experiences courtesy of a tea-tasting at San Francisco’s Red Blossom Tea Company. Founded in the early 1980s by Chien Luong and his wife, what began as an apothecary business with a small offering of Chinese teas is now a thriving retail operation specializing in high quality Chinese and Taiwanese teas. The Luong children, Peter and Alice, took over the reins about a decade ago, slowly refining their vision for the business and, in the process, rediscovering their own relationship to tea.

Danielle Tsi

Setting the stage for a tea tasting.

“Tea has always been a part of my life, but I never gave it much thought,” Peter reflected. “We always had tea to savor and share, but there was no ceremony or ritual about it. I guess, as my appreciation for food grew, and I became more interested in learning about where and how what I ate was made and cultivated, that curiosity spread into the world of tea as I entered the family business.”

Operating from the same location for the past 27 years, the modest retail shop in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown offers a range of 80-100 loose leaf teas, neatly lined in silver canisters. Each is labeled with detailed stories about the provenance and crafting of its contents. These are not your average tasting notes; then again, these are not your average teas. Their Dong Pian (Winter Sprout) 2012 is described as “sublimely sweet and creamy, reminiscent of golden sugar cane, caramel, and cotton candy.”

Danielle Tsi.

Teas for purchase, each labeled with tasting notes and a brief summary about the crafting process.

“There’s a distinct lack of discussion about quality teas in the same fashion we talk about wine or coffee,” said Peter. “This needs to change. People need to ask more questions about the teas they consume – how and where the plants are grown, when the leaves are harvested, and how they’re crafted – this, along with an openness to taste and try new types of tea, is what’s going to help consumers make better choices.”

We tasted the Heritage Rougui (an oolong), the Taiping Houkui (a green) and the Aged Wenshan Baozhong (an aged oolong). The oolongs were delicate and subtle, with a sweet finish, while the green was unlike any other I had encountered. As I savored its creaminess and fresh, round mouth feel, Peter explained the process that goes into crafting each batch.

Brewing a batch of Taiping Hou Kui, regarded as one of China’s top ten teas.

“Once the leaves are picked and cooled for 45 minutes, they’re wok-roasted by hand. Then each stem is individually shaped and arranged on a mesh screen where they’re flattened and baked over charcoal,” he said. “It’s time-consuming, but the result yields exactly what a green tea should taste like: round and sweet, instead of dry or astringent. You’re tasting the leaf, nothing more.”

He continued, “Most people don’t realize that tea production is actually a labor-intensive endeavor. It’s a craft. Our WuYi oolong teas, for example, requires the producer to roast the leaves over charcoal, taking into account a variety of parameters. The ash needs to be at the right temperature for the type of leaves, which also have to be rolled to just the right size, in order to bring out the true flavor profile of each cultivar. The majority of oolongs on the market today are processed by machines and roasted in a convection oven, obliterating the unique characteristics of each variety.”

Danielle Tsi

Customers can taste teas before they decide on a purchase.

The focus on quality explains why Red Blossom Tea remains at its small Chinatown location with no plans for expansion. Instead, they are focused on educating consumers about quality tea.

“We held a tea demonstration for the Society for Asian Art a few months ago. The next week, one of the attendees visited the shop to purchase a few teas and said that we had changed the way she savors and thinks about tea,” Peter said. “This may sound cheesy, but, for me, hearing something like that makes it all worthwhile.”

What are some of your favorite teas? Do you know how they’re made?

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3 Featured Comments

  • WestAstheCrowFlies

    Kay West from WestAstheCrowFlies said 3 years ago Featured

    As I sit here sipping my green tea, I realize how much I've gotten away from the ritual of tea; of being in the moment of savoring and appreciating. Thanks for the article to remind me that there is more to enable a richer enjoyment of a cup of tea.

  • Bellabisinia

    Debbie Mekonnen from Bellabisinia said 3 years ago Featured

    Thank you for such great post. I recently left Sf and moved to Ethiopia after residing there for 20 years. It has been my home and I miss it a lot. My confession is that I am a coffee addict. - but who can accuse an Ethiopian of being a coffee addict when we have a 3 time a day coffee cermeony:) but one thing for sure is that I aloso love tea and my appriciation of tea didn't start until I went to china few times and upon my return I became a big fun of Red Blossom at is was 15 a minute bart ride from my house. The people there are amazing, the place super clean and inviting and onc who set foot there will defenitly leave that place finding a sort of Tea muse- Thank you for such great post. Hats off to Red blossom for giving tea a special place.

  • glassgifts

    Cyndi Phillips Burkey from glassgifts said 3 years ago Featured

    Thank you for expanding our minds about tea - the unique way of bringing the tea leaves to a point where they will give the consumer an experience of drinking real flavorful tea - not just using tea bag out of a box. I appreciate this article so much and will never think about tea the same way again.

62 comments

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 4 years ago

    Great article! Organic darjeeling is my favorite tea right now. I love tea shops, wish I was closer to this one.

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 4 years ago

    Great post!

  • IlluminatedPerfume

    Roxana from IlluminatedPerfume said 4 years ago

    Fantastic piece!

  • theartistlodge

    C L Kelly from theartistlodge said 4 years ago

    I love tea, and this was a great article. One of my favorites is Lapsang Souchong i also enjoy Gunpowder Green.

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 4 years ago

    Pure art!

  • OuterKnits

    OuterKnits from OuterKnits said 4 years ago

    I wish I knew more about Chinese teas. I stick to old favorites like Earl Grey. Wonderful post!

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 4 years ago

    Mmmm. Tea rocks!

  • jgaido

    Josie from JosiesBoutique said 4 years ago

    Lovely article!

  • Ridgevales

    Lindsay from SweetThreesBoutique said 4 years ago

    I recently became a big fan of tea, and really enjoyed this post! Thanks for writing!

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 4 years ago

    Great post !

  • thenakedbird

    Brooke Griffin from GideonAndBrisby said 4 years ago

    i never knew! i need to have that tea now. ugh, and i was JUST in SF!

  • BonitaBellita

    Stephanie from BonitaBellita said 4 years ago

    What a beautiful shop history and experience! I prefer a spice tea such as chai, but to hear about the tea process from the Red Blossom Tea Company. sounds divine and encourages me to go and try something else.

  • ForStrangeWomen

    Jill from ForStrangeWomen said 4 years ago

    I LOVE this place! they have an excellent selection of Pu-erh

  • BlueBrocade

    BlueBrocade from BlueBrocade said 4 years ago

    I have always been a tea lover, and am overjoyed to come across tea shops that offer such quality and expertise to customers as we generally see with artisan coffee, wine, or cheese. Tea is so easy to find in the supermarket, it is easy to forget that tea, where it is picked, how it is roasted and how it is steeped, is also a craft with a long history. There are so many different teas out there besides Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe! Quality tea masters and tea shops are amazing places, where the complexities and joys of tea are celebrated and shared, opening our eyes to new ideas and flavors. Lovely post!

  • furniply

    Ingus Jākobsons from Furniply said 4 years ago

    I love simple mint tea.

  • EmiliaFaith

    Edie Ann from OhHoneyHush said 4 years ago

    lovely!

  • chicnuniquegifts

    Elisabeth Schmidt from TheSchmidtStudio said 4 years ago

    I would take tea over coffee any day! I wish we had a shop like yours closer to us. Thank goodness for the internet :)

  • picklehead

    Karina Pryor from picklehead said 4 years ago

    Yay! I love this shop! They are ALWAYS so super nice and the selection is amazing. Loved reading this article, thanks! :)

  • thelittlemarket

    Debbie from thelittlemarket said 4 years ago

    brilliant post!!! living vicariously right now!

  • reflectionsjewelry

    Emily Delfin from reflectionsjewelry said 4 years ago

    Thank you. I never realized the labor that a fine cup of tea required. I will pay more attention now.

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    Judith and Raymond from AnnaOliveDesigns said 4 years ago

    Tea has the most wonderful healing properties. It is a comfort and a treat to me.

  • wheatleypaperworks

    M Wheatley from wheatleypaperworks said 4 years ago

    I'm not exaggerating when I say that tea has literally shaped the world today as we know it. I know this because I read it in a book written by a very smart person. Where people traveled to; how they traded; and what they traded was determined largely by who had the tea, spices and salt and who wanted these commodities. My father who has just recently returned from a hundred day pack-packing trip in China, covets his dwindling quantity of black tea like it was some kind of contreband. He tells me that I've never really had tea until I try his. But alas, he won't share! Thanks for the post. 'Loved every word.

  • SilverandEarth

    SilverandEarth from SilverandEarth said 4 years ago

    I LOVE tea!! Congrats on your feature!

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 4 years ago

    Very enlightening and educational article. I have learned some new interesting things about tea craft! Tea time!

  • CTCosta

    Chris Costa from CTCostaPhotography said 4 years ago

    Great article, thanks!

  • LAccentNou

    Anastasia from LAccentNou said 4 years ago

    I'm tea lover and my fav is green with jasmine flowers :) Interesting article, I'd love to try their teas!

  • TreadleLady

    Donna Kohler from TreadleLady said 4 years ago

    We'll have to visit Red Blossom next time we go to San Francisco. I've got great memories of a tea from China Town back in the 1970s. I've been hooked on a Dutch tea since 1990, the company has been in existence since 1753. Tea history is fascinating.

  • torcdesigns

    Josh Williams from TorcEmporium said 4 years ago

    Amazing!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 4 years ago

    Great article!

  • creativeclassics

    creativeclassics from creativeclassics said 4 years ago

    Makes me and and addiction to Tetley tea look like a poor amateur XD I can practically smell the tea from here, great article!

  • bhangtiez

    Jana from bhangtiez said 4 years ago

    Sounds like a lovely shop!

  • slacey152

    Stacy from HappiestCrafts said 4 years ago

    Lots of neat information ;) Time to switch my coffee to tea!!

  • PinkCheetahVintage

    PinkCheetahVintage from PinkCheetahVintage said 4 years ago

    Absolutely adore tea. Bookmarking this article for sure!

  • DewyMorningVintage

    DewyMorningVintage from DewyMorningVintage said 4 years ago

    Fascinating tea article!

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 4 years ago

    My beverage of choice is tea and i really enjoy trying different ones. I like the earthy taste of green and the rich taste of english breakfast.

  • SmallkineCreations

    Amy from SmallkineCreations said 4 years ago

    Wonderful article. Absolutely love stories on Chinatown stores. Aloha! =)

  • nicolesweavingart

    Nicole Neal from Dreamingacrestextile said 4 years ago

    I have to say, I am a definite tea snob. I like all kinds, and now I know another place to get some.

  • sunkissedhighways

    Noel Tambour from sunkissedhighways said 4 years ago

    tea is magic!

  • good4you

    Jes m from good4you said 4 years ago

    yay tea . i sell some amazing herbal tea blends in my shop

  • jjdesigns0489

    jjdesigns0489 from jjdesigns0489 said 4 years ago

    i love tea good one

  • duvaltea

    DuvalTea Tan from DuvalTea said 4 years ago

    WOW This is AWESOME! I AM SELLING QUALITY LOOSE LEAF TEA AS WELL. THIS IS GOOD INFORMATION FOR ME!

  • DesignByPeiPei

    DesignByPeiPei from DesignByPeiPei said 4 years ago

    I will definitely stop by Red Blossom next time I'm in San Francisco. Thanks for the article, and spreading the art of enjoying tea!

  • gardenmis

    Priscilla from Gardenmis said 4 years ago

    A delicious article! Nothing is as relaxing as an excellent cup of tea.

  • takeapicturedesigns

    Lynne from RiverSpring said 4 years ago

    Tea has always been a part of my life, too. Wonderful article. from Lynne

  • magsbeadscreation

    Melani Anastasia from magsbeadscreation said 4 years ago

    I love tea. Wonderful article!

  • Shortcakegreen

    Shortcakegreen said 4 years ago

    I've been to this shop and it's amazing. A truly eye-opening experience that spoils you for the "easy fix" of your everyday Lipton bag tea.

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 4 years ago

    I love tea!

  • bosquecarpentry

    Gabriel Montes from bosquecarpentry said 3 years ago

    Why expand? Better is not bigger. Richer is not fuller. Excess is not complete. Love is not vanity.

  • HelloMountains

    Audrey from HelloMountains said 3 years ago

    <3

  • WestAstheCrowFlies

    Kay West from WestAstheCrowFlies said 3 years ago Featured

    As I sit here sipping my green tea, I realize how much I've gotten away from the ritual of tea; of being in the moment of savoring and appreciating. Thanks for the article to remind me that there is more to enable a richer enjoyment of a cup of tea.

  • Bellabisinia

    Debbie Mekonnen from Bellabisinia said 3 years ago Featured

    Thank you for such great post. I recently left Sf and moved to Ethiopia after residing there for 20 years. It has been my home and I miss it a lot. My confession is that I am a coffee addict. - but who can accuse an Ethiopian of being a coffee addict when we have a 3 time a day coffee cermeony:) but one thing for sure is that I aloso love tea and my appriciation of tea didn't start until I went to china few times and upon my return I became a big fun of Red Blossom at is was 15 a minute bart ride from my house. The people there are amazing, the place super clean and inviting and onc who set foot there will defenitly leave that place finding a sort of Tea muse- Thank you for such great post. Hats off to Red blossom for giving tea a special place.

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm from baconsquarefarm said 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this story for the etsy community, had 0 clue of how tea is produced the time process etc. Kiddo's to Red Blossom and wish you continued success always.

  • cberez

    CB DESIGN'S from CBDesignsPR said 3 years ago

    I love and Enjoy tea!!!!

  • glassgifts

    Cyndi Phillips Burkey from glassgifts said 3 years ago Featured

    Thank you for expanding our minds about tea - the unique way of bringing the tea leaves to a point where they will give the consumer an experience of drinking real flavorful tea - not just using tea bag out of a box. I appreciate this article so much and will never think about tea the same way again.

  • VintageWoods

    Sarah Woods from VintageWoods said 3 years ago

    I absolutely love love love teas.

  • SoapnCandleSupply

    Kelley from SoapNSupply said 3 years ago

    My family loves this tea shop! Every time we're in the City we always make it a point to visit. So glad to see them here!

  • NannyMadeandfound

    Melinda from sixtybeansVntg said 3 years ago

    ahhh tea. now that fall is here, i look forward to a cozy evening cup.

  • KaiceJoy

    Kirsti Joy from KaiceJoy said 3 years ago

    Fascinating!!

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 3 years ago

    This is why I love San Francisco....

  • paisleybeading

    LuAnn Poli from PaisleyBeading said 3 years ago

    What a great post. I used to be strictly a coffee drinker, until recently, when I discovered the comfort of a hot cup of delicious tea! With honey. <3

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 3 years ago

    ♥! Tea has a sweet spot in my heart.

  • xZOUix

    Zoui from XZOUIX said 2 years ago

    mmmmm. it's always a ♥tea time♥

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