Samovar Tea

In a culture that encourages a ‘who can do it first’ mindset in everything from tech innovation to being the first to tweet about an event, finding a place to slow down for peace of mind is increasingly difficult. Even coffee shops, once a haven for people to linger over their cappuccinos and engage in conversation, are being taken over by the hustle mentality of to-go cups and espressos thrown back in a harried gulp. That’s where Samovar Tea, founded by Jesse Jacobs in 2001, comes in. Jacobs grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts before moving to San Francisco, California. Jacobs created the tea lounges as an area specifically designed for people to relax, eat health-minded food, and drink custom-blended teas.

Samovar was “born from the realization that our society is focused on the wrong things…Because we can’t see the overwhelming abundance of the present moment, we consume what we can see — ourselves.” In short, Jacobs created Samovar as a place for people to step back and “disconnect to reconnect.” By supporting local farmers and encouraging employee enthusiasm, Samovar creates a wholly immersive escape from the daily rush.

The teas served at Samovar range from a “California Rose” black tea infused with notes of cardamon, orange peel, rose petals, bergamot, and jasmine to a more exotic “Velvet Cacao” Pu-erh tea that includes roasted dandelion, yerba mate, coconut, and vanilla bean. Jacobs sources tea from around the world, working with small, family-run tea gardens in order to ensure the highest quality tea leaves. The tea is then brought to life in one of Samovar Tea’s four storefronts, each of which invite customers to sip slowly and enjoy the comfort that tea can bring.

samovar tea interview

Mood of Living Q&A

Mood of Living: What is the mission and goal of Samovar Tea?

Jesse Jacobs: We believe that living a good life means striving to reach our full potential. Our mission at Samovar is to help our customers reach this potential through tea. And it works. Drinking tea yields mental clarity, social intimacy, and physical and spiritual vitality.

MoL: Where do you source your tea from? Why did you choose these areas?

JJ: We source our tea from all over the world. We focus on working with small, family, artisan farmers who create unparalleled products. We look for farmers who care so much and give such attention to detail that their products are the freshest, most delicious, and healthiest teas and herbals available. We chose these areas  because we want both the best tasting products available and to know we are helping support environmental and economic sustainability.

MoL: What inspired you to become start Samovar Tea Lounge? What kinds of people come to Samovar Tea?

JJ: I was  inspired to start Samovar because I realized that there was no good tea in San Francisco. I wanted a place to go, where I could to get away from it all and enjoy a cup of really good tea, that wasn’t a coffee shop. Seeing the lack in the marketplace, I decided to build it. Additionally, I was overwhelmed at the time by a job I didn’t like and living at a pace that seemed unsustainable. Tea provided a way out. The simple ritual of tea connected me, however momentarily, to this very moment. With that little sliver of mindfulness, I saw that life was better. Tea is the perfect panacea to the pace of life today.

tea lounge san francisco

Samovar Tea, Hayes Valley

MoL: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you could really do this?

JJ: When I applied to 72 different banks for a small business loan, and 71 denied me. “Aha” came when #72 sat down for tea with me and said, “This concept looks amazing. I love your tea. I believe in the concept, and I want to help you.” He believed in me and approved the loan.  The customers responded, obviously – positively and demanding more and more. Over the years we’ve opened 5 local San Francisco locations and have expanded wholesale operations that supply tea to premium cafes and restaurants all over the world.

MoL: What experience do you want to provide for each customer that steps into one of Samovar Tea’s spaces?

JJ: The experience we intend for every customer is one of an oasis. Whether it’s a 5 minute “to go” transaction at our Valencia St. location or a 2 hour tea and lunch service at our Yerba Buena Gardens location, the goal is to take them away for a break. Every location is an oasis designed around impacting every sense: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. We designed every location with the intent to impact the customer and to remove them from their daily grind. It could be a quickie chai to go, or a full blown meal and tea service – the mission is the same. To give our guests a moment of their own by way of a cup of tea.

samovar tea bar

Samovar Tea, Yerba Buena

MoL: Where do you draw inspiration?

JJ: I draw inspiration from my years abroad in Denmark and Japan. Specifically, under these themes:

Denmark: The concept “hyggelig,” roughly translated as “cozy,” is a concept we don’t have in America. In Denmark, they make the time to really connect with each other. This connection is defined by this Danish concept. I loved it and wanted to bring it here to the U.S., via tea and Samovar.

Japan: Wabi Sabi, Shinrinyoku, and Ikigai.

Wabi Sabi: Roughly translated as “natural and imperfect beauty,” this is a concept of nature and imperfection. I love how in a digitally-defined era, nature and imperfection and rustic qualities are desirable.

Shinrinyoku: Translated as “nature bathing,” the term refers to the fact that life gets better when we are participating in nature. If you can’t actually walk through the woods or throw your heels up at the oceanside, then walking into Samovar and experiencing our raw natural leaves and design aesthetic will closely connects you to nature.

Ikigai: Translated as a “reason for being,” I see this as the ultimate search for self. Joseph Campbell speaks to it in “The Hero’s Journey.” That is what life is about, searching.  Ikigai represents this search, and tea facilitates this journey.

MoL: What does tea mean to you and how has it affected your lifestyle?

JJ: Hyggelig. Ikigai. Wabi sabi. Shinrinyoku. Tea has made me healthy, focused, and more mentally clear. On top of that, it’s sustained hundreds of employees and millions of customers over the years. Knowing that I’m doing a small part to make the world a little bit more sustainable and mindful, makes me happy and feel like my time is being well spent. 

jesse jacobs interview

Samovar Tea, Mission District

MoL: Coffee shops are much more prominent than tea shops, especially in America. In the future, do you see specialty tea lounges and shops becoming more popular? What is the difference between the two?

JJ: Yes, I do see more tea-centric cafes opening up. Just like how we now have “bars” and “wine bars.” And cocktail bars. And bars that serve all the above. I see the same happening with tea. Cafes that serve both, as well as specialists in just tea.

MoL: Where do you see Samovar Tea in 10 years?

JJ: Doing what we do best – creating customers who live better lives by drinking our tea. We see tea as a major part of the daily American habit and Samovar being a major player in fostering this habit. We will continue to expand into the retail cafe market, in the U.S. and beyond, as well as continue to provide top tier coffee shops with tea for their customers.

san francisco tea lounge

Samovar Tea, Castro

MoL: Favorite hobby:

JJ: Teaching my son magic, business, backpacking.

MoL: What is your favorite quote?

JJ: “Meaning is not something you stumble across. It is something you build into your life…out of experience…out of love…out of values” – John Gardner.

MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

JJ: “Listen to your heart.” – My gymnastics coach in high school.

MoL: What advice can you give anyone interested in starting his or her own business?

JJ: Listen to your heart. Expect to want to quit. Many times. And don’t. The hardest part is not the financing, the hours, the ideas, or the logistics. The hardest part is the people. Learn to listen to people, and to be able and willing to express your needs.

Read: Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth and “The Hero’s Journey;” Peter Drucker, The Executive in Action; Ryan Holliday, The Obstacle is the WayEpictetus; Marcus Aurelius; Thich Nhat Hanh.

MoL: If you could have a conversation with any living person, who would it be and why?

JJ: Mata Amritanandamayi, because she has learned to use love as a limitless source of energy.

MoL: What is something you know now that you wish you knew before?

JJ: That the world of business is radically encumbered by the world of law. The reality of business is that it’s probably a wise decision to allocate 1% to “legal” expenses.” At least 1%. Maybe more. Nobody ever told me that when I was starting out.

samovar tea lounge

MoL: Words of wisdom:

JJ: Do a weekly digital sabbath. Once a week, for 24 hours, go offline and go inside yourself.

Love sleep. Everything needs to recharge and go dormant. Sleep 8 hours a night and find much more productivity in the daytime.

Give up. You’ll never get it all done. Just do your best.

Have a personal mission statement and reflect on it daily. Are you on course?

Take care of your health first. Drink 8 cups of tea a day. Sleep 8 hours. Don’t eat packaged food. Spend time in the sun.

Read. A lot. Fiction and non fiction. It’s the best ROI out there on both recuperation, self development, and education.

Open your heart. It’s not easy, but it feels much better to be open and honest when communicating. Do things that train you to open your heart.

Meditate. Daily, just 20 minutes. Focus on the breath. That’s it.

MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit? 

JJ: Into my teacup. Seriously. In the city, in an airplane, in my living room, out camping. I make a cup of tea, take a breath, and focus for just a moment on where I am.

jesse jacobs samovar tea

MoL: We find that people who make beautiful things are more likely to lead an artistic lifestyle.

i. Do you spend much time creating a beautiful home?

JJ: Yes, but more specifically, a COZY, hyggelig, home. I have a record player and find it’s fun to hang out, look at album art, drink tea (or wine), and listen to vinyl. I also play the ukelele.

MoL: Do you entertain?

JJ: Yes, and I love to cook. I’m currently getting into artisan cocktails – I’m reading all I can and recipe testing like crazy. I’m also getting into doing interesting tea infusions into cocktails; think “vodka infused with jasmine or smoked black tea.”

MoL: Do you have a favorite recipe you would like to share?

JJ: Seared grass-fed beef hangar steak with green tea salt rub, sauteed mustard greens, and a boiled yukon gold potato. Very simple:

For the steak – in a mortar and pestle grind 1 tbsp of houjicha roasted green tea with ¼ tsp grey salt and ½ tsp black pepper. Liberally coat the steak on both sides. If you need more rub, make more.

Sear the steak on both sides and serve medium-rare.

For the mustard greens – mince 1 head of garlic and sautee in 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.

Add washed and dried mustard greens, on high heat.

Add 1 tsp of grey salt, 1 tsp of black pepper, and 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar.

Sautee on high heat.

For the potatoes – boil 2 yukon gold potatos per person. When done, Smash with a fork, Add 1 tbsp butter to each potato and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped parsley as garnish.

Serve with a nice maldec or pinot.

Social Media

Website: Samovar Tea

Instagram: @samovartealounge

Facebook: facebook.com/samovarlife

Twitter: @samovarlife

Jesse Jacobs