Coffee Shop

Red Blossom Tea Tasting at Café 4

Dragon Pearl white tea

Dragon Pearl white tea

Last week, I took part in a free Chinese tea tasting held at Café 4, one of my favorite coffee shops round these parts. One of these days, I’m going to give Café 4 its own post to highlight how awesome it is, but for now, just know that you can find it right near these guys.

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Yep, Café 4 is housed in Castro Valley’s Neighborhood Church, easily recognizable by those three crosses whether you’re driving or BARTing in. The coffee shop resides in the church sanctuary’s foyer.

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And yes, it is that beautiful. But enough about Café 4 for now. We’re talking tea!

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Namely, the teas offered by Red Blossom Tea located in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This company flies to China multiple times a year to procure their wares, and the care they take in making quality selections shows.

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I was impressed by how easily Alice, daughter of Red Blossom Tea’s founders, explained the basic concepts of what they look for: which mountain the tea comes from, what elevation the tea is grown at, and what time of year it’s harvested.

The dried versions of the teas we were about to sample.

The dried versions of the teas we were about to sample.

I was also impressed by how easily she and her assistant navigated the 20 of us gathered for the tasting.

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I did not expect that many people for a tea tasting at a relatively unknown coffee shop! Good job getting the word out, Café 4.

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Zocalo Coffee House

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Zocalo is a large, 16-year-old coffee shop in San Leandro, one of the quite appealing little cities in the East Bay just south of Oakland. The shop feels very welcoming with a friendly, smiling staff and a mix of families and laptop junkies like myself on a weekday afternoon. Ye olde local art on the walls and a mix of hanging curtains and dark-amber lighting fixtures give the cavernous open room a touch of personality.

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Plenty of places to sit, and there are outlets to be found against the walls and free Wi-Fi. They have pretty much every type of seating you could want including a children’s play area in back.

There’s a small selection of baked goods, but that doesn’t mean an uninteresting one. I had a bacon-scallion scone, which bore a lot of resemblance to a cheddar biscuit both texturally and in flavor.

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It was very fluffy, and much like a quiche, the fillings travelled to the bottom of the scone except for the thick layer of cheddar, bacon, and scallions sprinkled on top. That made for a good mix of ingredients without feeling too heavy. There was a lot of cheese throughout the treat.

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Martha & Bros. Coffee

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My first Noe Valley stroll was undertaken with one purpose: try Martha & Bros., a small San Francisco coffee roasting chain that’s been going strong since 1987. Run by a family with roots steeped in Nicaraguan coffee, it seemed like a safe bet for a coffee house with personality.

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And it was! The original location provided a nice contrast to the clinical feel you can sometimes encounter in the area’s larger local chains. Most of the people in the store during the couple of hours I spent there were either regulars or members of the family. Ultimately, it felt more like I was welcomed into someone’s living room rather than their showroom, which is sometimes the feeling this coffee lover needs. There is free Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets inside, and a few outdoor tables with shade, though I should note that many of the inside tables are a little small if you need to spread out.

In addition to the twenty or so different roasts of coffee available by the bag, the display case and long counter overflowed with prepacked sandwiches and salads and an impressive range of baked goods from seven-layer bars to rugelach. My coffee of the day was Martha’s Blend, a dark roast that I found attractive in coloring and clarity.

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It smelled and tasted great, with a striking shiny gleam and traces of smoke. The person who served my coffee was worried I didn’t like it when I asked which blend it was, which means that their customer service is top-notch. Martha & Bros. wants to please their patrons rather than simply deign to inform them about their coffee prowess.

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