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Tea Time

Imperial silver noodles, "Monkey-Picked" Tieguanyin, bamboo aged Pu-erh, and boba tea might sound like witches brew, but these are an interesting few of the finest and most flavorful types of tea to consider besides your everyday green tea and English breakfast. Too long overrun by coffeehouses in every nook of the city, tea finally plays the star of the show at three recently opened teashops, with a fourth on the way.

Check out Imperial Tea Court for a taste of Chinese tea tradition at its second location (the original shop remains at Powell Street) in the bustling Ferry Plaza Marketplace. Against a backdrop of festive Chinese lanterns and antique-inspired tea salon furniture, this pleasant teahouse carries an impressive selection of mostly Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese loose-leaf teas. The selections are classified as green (non-fermented), white (slightly fermented), oolong (semi-fermented), and black (fermented). And Pu-erh (typically black) which is aged tea. Proprietor and renown tea specialist, Roy Fong oversees all areas of tea production, from planting to cultivating to the final leaves placed in the cup. His selection of over 150 types of hand-crafted teas will ring you up anywhere from $1.12/oz. for lychee black tea to a hefty $29.50/oz. for the Imperial Grade green tea. Tea prices generally increase with rarity and quality (uniform size and shape of leaves). There's a great selection of beautiful teapots for sale as well. Imperial Tea Court also hosts informational lectures for those interested in learning more on teas and tea ceremonies.

If chilling is your thing, experience immediate tension release upon entering Samovar Tea Lounge, located on the outskirts of the Castro/Mission hood. Founder Jesse Jacobs, an impassioned tea connoisseur, presents a well-rounded variety of teas from Vietnam, the UK, Tibet, and Russia in addition to East Asia. The warm setting he has created is well translated by the sea grass tiled floors, bamboo walls, and warm-hued pillows, inviting you to sit down for a cup or pot of tea before picking your blends to take with you. Samovar carries over 50 interesting teas sold by canister, such as Thai Ngyuen green tea ($14.25/3 oz.) and the natural wake-me-up Yerba Mate herbal tea ($6.00/4 oz.). For some mind-body relaxation try the organic Chill Out Blend that mixes chamomile, lemon verbena, linden herb and osthmanthus flowers ($4.50/2 oz). If you're decision-challenged, it might be worth your while to take the Tour of Tea - a sampling of three teas with your personal teatender (RSVP required).

Finally, you are missing out if you haven't caught on to the boba trend, a totally different take on tea. Boba (also called bubble or pearl) tea is a chilled latte-type tea filled up with black, chewy tapioca balls. It may sound strange, but the phenomenon first popularized in Taiwan in the 90's has taken major cities like L.A. and New York by storm ever since. And the newest and hippest teashop in town is Pearlina, situated on the edge of North Beach. The bubbly pastel-toned shop offers 26 different types of bubble teas (all $3.50), ranging from the popular green tea to pina colada to mango banana pineapple bubble tea, with a smattering of chais and classified teas on the menu as well. Like the other two shops, Pearlina also carries its self-labeled teas for sale by 1/2 pound to a pound. And all things boba (from tapioca balls to the teas to the thick straws for sucking out the tapioca) can be bought and made at home as well.

It's a party for your palate at these teashops and Teavana, slated to open soon (at Polk and Vallejo). Make a shop stop or a sit-down visit to explore the world of teas, befitting every mood and taste. It may just be your cup of tea.