Best Tea - 2005
498 Sanchez (at 18th Street), 626-4700, www.samovartea.com
Drinking tea is a ritual that's been around for 5,000 years, and doing it in style makes all the difference, as the folks at Samovar will tell you. This Castro tea lounge is more of a modern Zen oasis than the stuffy china-closet digs the term "high tea" usually recalls. Grass floors, burnished woods, bronze Buddhas, and plump cushions strewn every which way take customers back to the way original tea connoisseurs might have enjoyed the drink. Samovar's delectable seasonal savories have a Pan-Asian flavor, ranging from baked tofu with miso chutney to an egg bowl with smoked wild salmon, and you can top off your meal with a selection from the exhaustive tea menu, which includes white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh, and herbal. Those who want to splurge may be drawn to the 1940 Vintage Extra Age cup of pu-erh tea, infused with 10 different blends, at $23; a staffer may tell you it's not for beginners, but that's just tea-speak. Style or no, in the end it's just a good hot cuppa.