Sometimes you want tea, and you want it without a room full of cats. While Hayes Valley’s KitTEa opened to great acclaim last month, Chai Bar by David Rio has been serving elephant vanilla chai and matcha lattes just off of Sixth and Market Streets for a little while longer. We’ve stopped in twice in the last week, and it’s a pleasant departure from the long run of coffee-centric cafes that have been sprouting up along Mid-Market in the last few months (and no shade thrown at any of them, either).
[jump] What started in 1996 as a line of teas in a Japanese-language-only catalog has, by way of chai created in Bernal Heights, turned into a global business. While David Rio is available across the Southwest, the company doesn’t have many retail locations of its own. All things being equal, we’d probably prefer not to see formula retail establish beachheads at Sixth and Market, but from the tiled floor to the wavy sofa to the quality of the chai itself, you’d never guess this was part of a corporate expansion. And the outdoor seating is not only pleasant in its own right, but rather bold; unfairly or not, I can see a lot of people opting to huddle indoors away from the street life, so good on them for taking the risk. Market Street desperately needs more café culture on its grand, wide sidewalks — although being on the south side of the street, it’s only going to get slivers of sun in the late afternoon.
It’s not just frothy drinks, either. Beyond the bubble chai (with tapioca pearls) and the Cub Chai (vegan, and spicy with ginger; get it with macadamia milk), there is a fridge case with onigiri and salads. While the packaging shows a little overkill, you’re not going to find triangular rice balls at 7-Eleven. And of course, if you want coffee, the full selection is there. I can think of no better place to reconstitute your insides after devouring a carnitas super burrito at Taqueria Cancun down the block.
Chai Bar by David Rio, 1019 Market, 415-865-0677.