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Fancy Contraptions, Minimalist Storefront, and Chinese Production—It's Not the Apple Store, It's Third Wave Tea

Rebecca Flint Marx | July 1, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

“Fast, cheap, delicious, beautiful, potent."

That’s how Jesse Jacobs sums up the attributes of a proper cup of tea. More specifically, it's the cups of tea he began selling at his third location of Samovar in early June. Unlike its older siblings, which Jacobs created in the vein of more traditional tea houses, the sleek Valencia St. storefront was designed, like the tea it peddles, as a minimalist antidote to the “cognitive overload” of modern life, Jacobs says. “It’s absolutely essential to bring the focus on tea, and how to maintain a sense of emptiness.”

As such, you won’t find 50 different varieties of green tea or herbal blends that resemble drinkable potpourri. In their place are precisely calibrated, tablet-controlled glass tea-brewing crucibles, made in Utah by Alpha Dominche, dispensing ready-made cups of impeccably sourced herbal, green, black and chai blends. Although their caffeine levels vary, their flavors are uniformly potent, a characteristic that Jacobs feels is necessary to convince people to take tea more seriously—or, more specifically, that third wave tea has arrived.

Jacobs makes a compelling case: like coffee, tea, he says, went through a colonial-era wave, suffered through a mass-marketed-crap wave, and is now primed to challenge coffee for caffeinated-morning supremacy, or at least offer a thoroughly convincing alternative. Samovar’s cups are priced at $3-$5 and can be brewed in a few minutes, making them comparable in cash and wait time to a cup from Four Barrel or Blue Bottle. Also key to tea’s image makeover, Jacobs says, is a lack of consumer choice: the average teashop, he argues, offers “too many choices. People are already overwhelmed; no one wants to choose something early in the morning.”

If anyone can convince the under-caffeinated masses to take tea seriously, it’s Jacobs; this is a man, after all, who spent a year designing the ceramic mug used for Samovar’s in-house orders. He wanted something “masculine,” with “heft,” a mug “made to be cradled,” he recalls. The resulting vessel, fabricated by Oakland’s Atelier Dion, informed the design of the entire space; its ascetic countenance may as well be a kiln-fired middle finger pointed in the direction of fusty tea parlors hawking lace doilies and crustless sandwiches. (Samovar, for the record, sells a tightly edited selection of Marla Bakery pastries.)

But for all of the thought and details that have gone into Samovar’s design, Jacobs’ endgame is pretty simple. “My only goal,” he says, “is to make tea become a daily habit.”

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