I moved from Boston to San Francisco in May 1997. The owner of the coffee and tea house I used to frequent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, recommended that I check out Imperial Tea Court as soon as I arrived. He thought I would enjoy the place. Who knew that 14 years later I would be a regular and still be enjoying the wide variety of amazing teas and food!
Since 1997, the Imperial Tea Court has opened two new tea houses and closed the original tea house in Chinatown. Being a San Francisco city dweller, I spend most of my time at the Ferry Building location and had only been to the Berkeley location two times before my visit today. I love the Berkeley space with the outdoor garden, but find that I don’t often venture over the Bay Bridge.
Today was a beautiful summer day and definitely an enjoyable experience. The patio was warm and sunny, but I chose to sit just inside. I tasted the Imperial "Milky" Green Oolong tea upon recommendation from Michael. This oolong tea is from Taiwan. It is silky and creamy with the typical oolong characteristics—ah so sweet! I kept steeping it at least 7-10 times. I find that usually steeping number 4 or 5 seems to be my favorite.
The Ferry Building and Berkeley tea houses have two different menus. I was anxious to try some food in Berkeley. I tried the green onion pancakes, noodles, and soup. I recently returned from traveling in China. I can honestly say that this pancake tasted better than the pancakes there. It was a little bit thicker than what I found in China, and not greasy. I knew the ingredients at the Imperial Tea Court were only the finest. Roy told me the pancakes are made from organic flour, wild tea seed oil, organic scallions, and sea salt. It was really nice to taste something that reminded me of my travels but had a nicer twist.
If you haven’t visited the Berkeley tea house, you are in for a special treat when you try the noodles. They are made to order! The noodles are made from organic wheat flour, and are similar to what you would find in northwestern China around Xian. They are served al dente style and definitely have a chewy sweetness about them. There are several meat and vegetarian options. I tried the cabbage with scallions, swiss chard, and tofu. They are spiced up with chili, but perfectly seasoned for my taste buds.
I also was privy to the Beijing style soup. It is made with organic Napa cabbage, tofu, and noodles. It’s got a very light broth and is perfect for a warm Berkeley day when you don’t want something heavy.
I happened to be there when the chef was eating and also got some samples of left over steamed buns he was frying for himself. The buns are typically eaten in China for breakfast or lunch. I guess if there are some still remaining by the late afternoon or evening, it’s time to cut them into slices and fry them up. They are really sweet, crunchy, and delicious. Next time, I might have to try them fresh.
Stop by at either tea house. Some new white and puerh teas are arriving soon!