Of all the design elements the world needs to see more of, travertine has got to be one. The off-white porous limestone formed the crux of the International Style, and now it's back in the new Samovar on Valencia Street. It is a high-concept space, designed to wow you just as those barn-like Third Wave coffee roasteries do.
To be clear, this tea lounge is absolutely nothing like the other three Samovars. With speakers suspended from the ceiling, rough-hewn stone, and a bench made of lovely travertine, it's cool and minimalist without being off-putting. In fact, the entire design concept was developed around the smallest bit of it: the mugs. They're thick and heavy, cool if full of iced tea, warm if full of hot tea, and they come with graphically pleasing coasters.
As far as the tea goes, even though there are multiple infusion devices — which are somewhat entrancing to watch in action — and a large staff to operate them, the menu is actually quite small. Although iced beverage season is short and fitful in S.F., anyone feeling in need of a cool drink on a hot afternoon should check out the Rosie Palmer, a sweet-but-not-too-sweet iced tea of surprising depth. The spearmint-sage herbal green tea is wonderfully restorative as well, but if you have a hankering for something a little more advanced, the "Green Ecstasy" (Japanese sencha with matcha powder) is bitter and buttery.
For nibbles, you have a choice between a sweet and a savory scone; that is all. And there is no wifi or much of an invitation to linger, apart from getting hypnotized by the machinery. Prices are around what you'd pay for high-end drip coffee, which is going to come off as an act of trolling Valencia Street to some people. But this Samovar takes tea in a whole new direction. It is unique.