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Tea Given the Coffee Treatment

Peter Luong sells high-end tea in a snob-free zone.

Peter Luong

Peter Luong 

 

Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about the Chinese-American city that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the April 2015 Chinese Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here. 

Although Song Tea & Ceramics is first a store, it’s as much an educational center as a place of commerce. When he opened it in late 2013, owner Peter Luong’s goal was to sell painstakingly sourced Chinese teas of extremely high quality—and, he says, to do it “without attitude.”

So while Luong’s lower Pacific Heights store, with its clean lines and bone-white walls, may be a minimalist reverie, Luong takes a maximalist approach to customer service. Concerned that a shop selling rare and unusual (and expensive) teas might strike customers as daunting—his rotating line of 25 to 30 small-batch teas includes delicacies like Dragonwell, a handpicked green that retails at $88 for two ounces—Luong wanted “to be as unintimidating as possible.” So he created a tasting room where customers, regardless of level of connoisseurship, can sip without judgment—even if they leave without buying anything.

Luong’s approach speaks as much to his experience in the tea business—his family has owned San Francisco’s Red Blossom Tea for some 30 years—as it does to misconceptions surrounding the beverage. A lot of tea sellers, he explains, lack “a good grasp of where tea is coming from or how it’s crafted. The worst are the ones that depend on myth and lore to sell tea: There’s a tad of Orientalism going on that sort of irks me.”

When you go to Song, Luong will patiently describe the distinct characters of his green, white, red, and oolong teas, which he researches and buys during regular trips to China and Taiwan. He’ll talk about how cultivars are harvested and crafted. All you have to do is listen and enjoy—and maybe buy some tea. Or not. Either way, you’ll leave enlightened. 2120 Sutter Street

 

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