Nothing delights me more than the thought of stuffing my face with sugary treats in the middle of the day and an afternoon tea in San Francisco is the perfect excuse to do so. The experience of having high tea in San Francisco involves you savoring delectable delights of lemon curd, clotted cream and jam with yummy scones and biscuits accompanied by dainty tea sandwiches and petite pastries. As a sucker for all things involving tea time, I have gone to great lengths to scour several tea rooms in the city paying homage to this extremely enjoyable British ritual (the only one I am thankful for, at least). So without further, these are some of the best (and mostly affordable) SF tea rooms providing the best afternoon tea experience in the city. Do bring a friend along to share a hot cuppa and gossip!
This post, originally written in 2016, has been updated for 2018. Please do check the latest prices and policies before you make your afternoon tea reservations. Also, the holiday tea service (month of December) is way pricier in most places with special menu items and occurs on weekends (usually) with regular tea service on weekdays (normal pricing and menu). It might be very difficult to get holiday reservations for weekends cause yapping away with folks over tea and pastries is a very SF thing to do come holiday season, so try to get your spots as early as possible. Weekdays are way easier to get into for all these tea rooms mentioned here.
British high tea ritual in San Francisco # 1. SIP TEA ROOM
Sip tea room is one of the newest entrants in the afternoon tea space in San Francisco and is already a hit with residents, as evident from the packed tables that greeted us during our afternoon tea. Truth be told, I found out about this place only recently when I was desperately trying to scour for a reservation during the holiday season (December 2018 as I type) where every other place seemed to be completely booked for the weekends. Sip tea has a special holiday themed menu where they offer a complimentary beverage (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) along with your regular tea and they can accommodate vegetarians with prior notice. Their holiday tea is for weekends only during December (a nonrefundable $25 fee is required for reservation) but they have regular tea service for weekdays, which is perfect if you are visiting SF or are one of those lucky buggers who gets to work from home and can venture out on a “slow day”. Holiday tea prices are $50/person which is definitely steep, so once again high tea in San Francisco during the weekday is more economically viable.
The tea room, located right next to the Golden Gate park is small, yet tastefully decorated and is cosy. We were seated at a table for two and shared a big pot of tea (several to choose from) along with vegetarian rolls as starters along followed by the food stand which was a typical three tiered one with pastries on top, scones in the middle (with lemon curd, clotted cream and berry jam) plus finger sandwiches on the bottom with coleslaw. Truth be told, I did feel the tea was a bit lacklustre given that we had ordered the delicate Darjeeling, but the food was really good and so was the jovial ambiance! We did have a pianist and even though I do not like the idea of live music in a noisy place (and boy, tea rooms are notoriously noisy since ladies are having a good time), we did have a fun session at the end where each table chimed in for their part in “12 days of Christmas” song. The service was friendly and attentive I definitely want to visit one more time on a weekday to try their regular menu.
High Tea in San Francisco # 2. CROWN AND CRUMPETS
Crown and Crumpets, the tea room inside the funky, eclectic store “New People” on Post street, is my go to place to have high tea in San Francisco, because it is right in my neighborhood. The tea room, unlike all other places, is distinctly modern in decor (unlike the frumpy British granny like decorations going overboard) and comes with a neat little tea menu featuring teas by category and one for savories and pastries to go with it. Again, unlike most other places, there is a very reasonably priced “tea for one” option that has food enough to be shared by two and you pay only $6 extra for that, but it also has several a la carte menu options (scones, crumpets, sandwiches) that you can choose and get a small pot of tea if you are not a big tea drinker like us. This latter option is sorely lacking in all other tea rooms that I have visited, where you have to tackle a bottomless huge pot of tea that will make you feel like you are creating a swimming pool in your tummy.
The savory sandwiches come in three combos, and we went for the tricolor vegetarian ones (mozzarella, tomato and basil pesto). We also went for the fruit scones (come with clotted cream and jam) and the crumpets ( well, of course) with a side of lemon curd. Having been to the crumpet shop at Pike Place Market, Seattle, I can soundly say that these crumpets were some of the best I’ve ever had. Moist and with a slight crunch, they were just the right kind of satisfying. Fruit scones were mildly sweet and tasted great with the cream and jam. Finally, the tea that we chose was the classic Darjeeling tea (2nd flush) and we savored it with some almond milk added in (since I am lactose intolerant). I forgot to mention that this was all a la carte (we did not go for the “tea for one” service) and still came out cheaper than than the tea for one service. For the quality, good quantity and the reasonable price, not to mention the fun ambiance and service, I highly recommend this spot in Japan Town. Once you are done with tea, you should definitely check out the fun stores inside New People that sell a variety of things imported from Japan, including apparel and home decor. They also screen latest Japanese movies during film festivals.
Finally, reservations are a must (we have gotten lucky as walk-ins sometimes but I do recommend booking earlier) and can be made via their website or on phone. They also host private tea parties and have a separate room on the side for doing so. Do visit C&C for an afternoon tea in San Francisco with friends to laugh and unwind over some tea and yummy crumpets!
Afternoon tea in San Francisco # 3. LOVEJOY’S TEA ROOM
If you are in San Francisco, and are yearning for such a tea party (with or without a Mad Hatter), then look no further than Lovejoy’s Tea Room, in the quiet neighborhood of Noe Valley, which is possibly the most popular spots for afternoon tea in San Francisco, and, for good measure.
Lovejoy’s is one of those popular SF tea rooms where locals (and sometimes, out of towners) congregate for their mid afternoon tea breaks to gossip, catch up with old friends, have celebrations (bridal showers/elegant bachelorette parties) or to simply have fun with family. Extremely popular and buzzing with tea service and lively chatter, a reservation is a must which can be done over phone. Once you reach this small tea room, you will be greeted with a decor that for lack of better word, can best be described as a cross between vintage British and jolly. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty delightful to say the least what with all the delicate china, the lace, the wall art, and the souvenirs screaming everything England from every pore, but it kind of seems like an English granny sort of tripped on acid and went overboard in her nostalgic zeal. Slightly crammed with so much going on, but cute-sy overall and will appeal to lovers of everything grandma-vintage. The menu, however, is another story and that is what sets this tea house apart from other places in the city.
Most other SF tea rooms trap you with a confusing menu, where sharing a tea selection (i.e. bottomless pot of tea with savories and sweet accompaniments) comes with hidden extra costs and what not. Not so for Lovejoy’s. There are four categories of tea spreads, starting from an individualized one to a Queen’s tea selection (the costliest at $21) and if you want to share either of them, you have to add an $2.50 per person. There are also side orders that can be added as extras on to the main tea-selection. We went for the “High Tea” which was just the right amount of tea and food to be shared between two people and came with tea sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream and jam, a small sweet treat, a salad and side of cabbage slaw. We added a side order or two crumpets with lemon curd since we love crumpets! Lovejoy’s has a vast selection of teas and many vegetarian options in tea sandwiches. We went for the cucumber & cream cheese and tomato & cheddar varieties. As for the tea, we settled for the house tea blend, which came along with a pot of milk and sugar. Service was very swift and extremely friendly. Food was very good and we polished off everything in a jiffy along with sips of our tea. Lovejoy’s is our perennial favorite (if only getting in were that easy) and I hope you try out this place with your BFF’s if you are ever in town.
SF tea rooms # 4.ROTUNDA AT NEIMAN MARCUS
As the holiday season approaches, a lot of high end hotels in the city open their doors to afternoon tea, but the one at Neiman Marcus remains a perennial popular spot with shoppers and holiday goers with moolah and time to spare for high tea in San Francisco. Having heard about the afternoon tea service at Rotunda, we decided to check it out a few days before Christmas. I made reservations (recommended since it is one of the more popular SF tea rooms) and we were seated after a few minutes wait under the lovely, golden dome.
There are three kinds of afternoon tea services available, the first one being a $45/person basic tea with choices of tea per person along with sandwiches, savory scones with cream, lemon curd and jam, petit desserts, warm popovers with strawberry butter and assortment of fruits. The other two pricier options include a glass of champagne along with the tea service. We went with the basic service which itself seemed like quite a bit for two and requested that the sandwiches be made vegetarian, which was happily accommodated. Our choices of breakfast (blend of Darjeeling and Assam) and chamomile teas were light and paired great with the accompaniments. The popovers were warm and flaky and the strawberry butter was yummy too. The rest of the savory and sweet delights ranged from good to finger-licking good. The price, albeit steep, was a better deal for the ambiance and service than what you would pay at a similar high-end place, but if you are visiting the city and in the mood for some afternoon tea in San Francisco to relax with your girlfriends in style, definitely check this place out if you feel like pampering yourself. Plus, you will be rewarded with great views of the square through the tall, glass windows which is an added bonus during the holiday season with our famous tree gracing the skating rink in the middle of Union Square.
British tea time in San Francisco # 5. DARTEALING
Dartealing (a pun on the famous Darjeeling tea), a SOMA (South of Market neighborhood) tea lounge is one place where you can let your hair down with your girlfriends (tea-lounges are for some reason very fairer sex heavy, i.e. nary a man in sight) over a delightful cup of tea, bite sized sandwiches, scones, crumpets and other sweet and savory goodies. Much as I love the decor (think of arsenic and lace style super dated and kind of tacky but somehow feels just right old school British granny style), the food and their awesome tea, there is a minimum of $14 per head spending requirement and extra charges if you share a pot of tea or a go for the single service equivalent of a tea service for two. We had a great time sipping tea and dunking our scones in cream and jam and nibbling on them in our genteelest manner (haha) as we enjoyed our afternoon tea in San Francisco in this slightly offbeat spot. Again, highly recommended if you don’t mind spending some extra buck to have a good time with your girlfriends, i.e. gabbing away and dishing out the latest gossip in a fun atmosphere!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Please do let me know about your high tea experience in San Francisco and if you managed to hit up any of these spots during your visit!
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