On Saturday morning I was perusing the Chronicle online and came across an article on teahouses in the East Bay. Coincidentally one of them, Deep Roots Urban Teahouse [warning: most of their web site appears to be broken] happened to be just a couple of blocks from the Fruitvale BART station, where I was heading that afternoon en route to a show boyziggy was running sound for. So naturally I had to check it out.
Fruitvale has undergone a renaissance of sorts since I was looking for apartments in Oakland back in 2000. The BART station is now surrounded by "Fruitvale Village", which is colorful, generally clean, and has plentiful benches, but the actual businesses there didn't look too exciting. The nearby shops on International Avenue are more ethnic in character, with street vendors selling Mexican food etc.
The teahouse is just a block off International Ave., on 34th. I got a little lost looking for it and was pretty sweaty on the warm day by the time I came in, and was wondering if I really wanted hot tea after all. But upon arrival I was greeted warmly. The server chatted with me, asking if I were filming something as she saw my tripod, etc. Then she offered me a sample of ginger pu-erh, which I was hesitant about accepting as I had heard pu-erh is a very earthy, sometimes almost dirty-tasting tea. But this blend was tasty; the ginger really balanced out the flavor. Still, I decided to order Moroccan mint, which they offer in both green and herbal varieties, with and without sweetener (unlike many green teas, this variety is traditionally served sweetened). All of their wide variety of teas are organic and cost $2.50 for a generous-sized personal pot.
The server came to my table with a large bowl and pitcher of water that she poured over my hands, saying that westerners needed to connect more with water. I had read in the article that they performed this little ritual so it wasn't a surprise, but was still pleasant. Soon after she returned with a beautiful (and very hot!) silver teapot and small decorated glass, and a complimentary cookie in a leaf-shaped plate. She poured the tea into the glass from high above the table.
The tea was delicious - perfectly sweetened, and the mint was very refreshing on the warm day. While sipping and reading the paper I enjoyed the vibe of the place. The servers seemed to know most of the guests, two of whom my server embraced enthusiastically and then they sat and had bottled water and sandwiches. Another guest worked on his laptop. There was local artwork on the walls, and community postings on the bulletin board. As I left I took a menu and signed their beautiful handmade guestbook. My server was outside at the bulletin board chatting with a patron who handed me a postcard for a film he had made about the local street vendors. Another person came in speaking Spanish as I walked out, and the server spoke to him fluently (near as I could tell) in that language. A very cool place - deep roots, indeed.