Since debuting in Taiwan in the 1980s, sweet tapioca pearls have traveled the world, jockeying for the title of America’s next taste sensation upon landing in California. Made of sweet potato, cassava root, and a hint of brown sugar, each pearl is soft on the outside and chewy on the inside, much like a nerf ball filled with creamy mashed potatoes. Tea Leaf Bistro captures the gems in more than 100 frosty, fruit-flavored bubble drinks and velvety milk teas—crafted from authentic ingredients imported from Taiwan and hand-selected tea leaves—in flavors such as mango, lavender, almond, and strawberry. The pearlescent bubble drinks pair with a menu of Taiwanese snacks, including garlic fried chicken, crispy calamari rings, and an assortment of potstickers.
A Time Out San Francisco Critics' choice, Imperial Tea Court provides leaf lovers with access to some of the world's most desirable teas as well as unrivaled expertise in the ways of steepery. Park your carcass in one of its highly regarded teahouses for a 45- to 60-minute primer on the world's most popular beverage and its steamy history, including its medicinal roots in ancient times as an alternative to Tommy John surgery. Pouring hot cups of tea and tepid earfuls of facts, the teahouses' resident sip savants will help guests understand tea's various categories and acquaint them with the traditional Chinese gaiwan, a covered teacup developed for use on turbulent dragon flights and birthday party bounce houses. The tasting includes two samples of your choice of teas, leaving you with a pleasant aftertaste as well as a fully brewed headpot of knowledge with which to douse tea-loving coworkers at the dream factory.
A chrome espresso machine whirs in Nefeli Caffe, where baristas brew illy coffee drinks as the kitchen staff whips up an array of Mediterranean dishes. Chalkboard menus announce entrees such as moussaka made with Niman Ranch ground beef, as well as tapas such as hand-rolled dolmades and mushroom-fennel “cigars” wrapped in filo pastry and served with tiny guillotines. Nefeli Caffe serves its dishes both indoors amid plants in rustic terra cotta vases, and outdoors at wrought-iron sidewalk tables.
Zazou's simple but powerful selection of café fare includes savory eats and fresh sweets. Stumble out of an ear-buzzing alarm-clock stupor with an Italian dark-roast or an organic, fair-trade medium-roast coffee before diving into a classic Nutella, chocolate, and banana crêpe ($6) or a hearty vegetarian crêpe stuffed with roasted red pepper, tomato, pesto, and monterey jack ($6.95). The hot pressed sandwiches see that cuts of pastrami, ham, turkey, or grilled chicken are lovingly squished between ciabatta or baguette halves with grandmotherly intensity, after receiving a number of pinches on the cheek and savory fillings, such as roasted red pepper, pesto, and swiss cheese ($7.50¬–$7.75). The meal-worthy Lebanese salad woos ravenous leaf-loving appetites with organic mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, and kalamata olives topped with feta cheese and pomegranate dressing ($7.25). Zazou’s also features a fresh soup du jour, with past offerings that include North African lentil ($3.50 for cup, $5 for bowl).
Seated within the bright, modern teashop Téance, visitors sprinkle taste buds with a flight of two high-quality teas per person. Selected by dried-leaf experts, the flight pits two warm beverages against one another, challenging discerning palates to suss out the subtleties between caffeinated black teas, delicate white teas and earthy, sweet green teas. Pairs or quartets belly up to the tea-sampling bar and bask in the rich flavors of the farm-direct teas, which are gracefully poured by expert baristas in traditional tea ware and classic tea steins. After bathing taste buds, sippers can peruse more than 65 varieties of seasonal teas, such as the light and chestnutty dafang green tea ($14) or a ceylon orange pekoe tea ($10), which pairs well with candy necklaces.