Sunday, February 26, 2012

San Francisco International Tea Festival - Year I

I kind of want to keep this a secret, but how can I?
This was the first annual (yes, they are planning on doing it next year) San Francisco International Tea Festival.  Though I love coffee, I am now seriously considering converting to being a 100% tea drinker. All, if not the majority, of products were from (or have North American HQs) in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York--an added thrill for me.
The display at Oakland's own  Sky Tea
Over a course of four hours, I learned about how tea is processed and sampled 15-20 varieties (green, black, red, white) including:

Black teas from Indian and British companies

There was also, oddly, one chocolate and ginger ale booth each, both marvelous.
From Pure Puer
  • Masala chai (blended with brown sugar and 2% milk) from Oakland's Sky Tea . It had a gentle kick to it, and its creaminess reminded me of the delicious chai I had in India which was made with buffalo milk.  
  • Ito En's matcha.  To be fair, we didn't see other pure matcha teas there so they didn't exactly have competition. But we were told that Teas's Tea Matcha won some kind of taste award...and that is quite believable.  This booth had at least a dozen varieties of their chilled teas as well, which were clean tasting and refreshing.  Ito En also produces green tea bags under the Kirkland (Costco) brand. They are the best tasting green tea bags I have had and contain a bit of matcha in them.
  • Claudio Corallo's chocolate with raisins in liquor.  Absolute seduction.  However, I did not buy it because a small package (< 6ounces) was $25.  But in case I regret this, I needn't travel to Italy as I can find them in Gourmet Ghetto thank goodness.
Claudio Corallo's soap-sized packages of chocolate.
  • Red Circle Tea was delightful and wins my award for friendliest and most informative service.  Sky Tea, with its enthusiastic crew, was excellent too.
Also from PurePuer.
Did you know that:
  • Unlike wine, all tea (we aren't talking about tisanes here) comes from one plant, but that its processing distinguishes them from one another? 
  • The difference between Japanese green tea and all the rest is in the processing.  Japanese green tea is steamed whereas other teas (including Chinese green teas) are roasted during production.  
  • Matcha, ground tea leaves, is the purest kind of green tea. For optimal brewing, do NOT use boiling water.  This is really important!
  • You can use the tea leaves you used for making tea and throw them in your stir-fry to get more anti-oxidants out of your meal says Ying Compestine.
  • "Kung fu" means something that is achieved through dedicated effort. (Imperial Tea Court's Roy Fong said so.) The reference isn't just to Bruce Lee et al.  Why he mentioned this in his talk, I cannot remember. But Roy Fong also believes that tea lowered his blood pressure (he had a heart attack at 41),
These were some of the bits of info that we were told.

Since this is their first year, the festival had some first-year glitches. For example, an intimate Japanese green tea ceremony, which I had won a ticket for, was way overbooked.  I couldn't get in as a result.  I was disappointed.   (But I got over it.)  All the volunteers we ran into (and there were many) were friendly and accommodating, if a little lost.  The crowd was also manageable and small enough that you could move around, but I would strongly recommend the festival stock their booths with double the number of staff next year. This would make traffic even better and reduce wait times.  

But for a debut, nice job, tea festival!
From Roti Roti.  Not a vegetarian sandwich! Hunk of porky inside. 
Of course the venue, on the second floor of the Ferry Building, is a gem. Before entering the tea festival, we got a bite. At the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning, the options are luxuriously overwhelming.  Miraculously, there was almost no line at Roti Roti and J was able to get one of their famous porchetta sandwiches in no time.  This was possible only because it is still officially winter and tourists haven't yet taken over the place.  Just a few more precious weeks before they do...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Philz Coffee (Downtown Palo Alto) - Review

What was all the fuss about Philz Coffee?  No matter when I pass by this glass-walled cafe, I see tons of people inside. Nevermind about the spectacular customer reviews.
Disclaimer: this is based on one visit on a springy, Sunday February morning.
Tip: Order first at the barista bar and then go to the cashier and pay.
  • All coffee is made to order.
  • Service is efficient even though the coffee prep takes time.
  • Vibe on a Sunday morning: all kinds of Palo Alto types, slim, trim and wiling to pay $3.25 for a small cup of black coffee. So they are 20-40 somethings typing into laptops and adults with children in jeans, hoodies, button-down shirts, and Patagonia jackets. Some customers are alone
  • Pastries to stay are served in huge coffee filters. 
  • Baristas take care of your cream and sugar if you want any.
  • Lots of individual attention and coffee counseling (as needed). I felt like I could take my time talking (unlike at some places I love in SF) because there was not a long line of customers behind me.
  • Lounge chairs, tables, and lots of natural light. Bottom line: I am intrigued! I like it!
Went in and wasn’t exactly sure where to go. The place is big and there was a cluster of people both by the cashier and on the other side of the deep barista bar.  But since the staff is attentive, listening was all that was required to figure it out.  Still, maybe Philz could benefit from having someone out on the floor guiding people.

I asked for a black coffee.  I barely glanced at the menu in part to avoid being overwhelmed with choices (I had heard that so many drinks were good here) and because I just wanted black. But the Philz’s hot chocolate was tempting me.  Anyway, I ordered. “This your first time here?” said the long haired man behind the counter. He had a cross earring dangling from his left ear.  He could have been a professional wrestler. In fact the entire line of baristas looked as ethnically and culturally diverse as what you’d find on BART.

He told me: every serving is brewed individually and that I should try Tesora, described on the menu as “a grand representation of our coffee and they way coffee should taste."  He also asked: cream or sugar? We prepare that back here.
At the cash register I asked a kind kid who looked like a graduate student in CS to recommend some pastries. He likes the chocolate croissants best.  When I kept probing, he also suggested the almond twist and the apricot bar. I went with the bar. But I will be back for the other two.

Philz Coffee
101 Forest Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301