Where to Get the Best Cup of Tea in San Diego

I grew up in a home where tea was a vital part of our existence. The kettle whistled constantly from the kitchen as my mother fixed her cup of tea, moving from one flavor to the next as her day progressed. In the evenings we all had a cup of sleepy time tea, a blend of chamomile and spearmint, before being sent off to bed. Tea is a drink of tradition. It has both a royal and humble place in history. Today, there is a thriving tea culture, which allows tea lovers to enjoy leaves and blends from around the world. I spent a rainy afternoon in San Diego visiting a vast array of teahouses. What I found, is that there is always more to learn about this timeless beverage.

1. Mad Monk Tea
4966 Santa Monica Ave. Ste. C | San Diego, CA 92107
360-472-1262 | www.madmonktea.com
tea in san diego

The Mad Monk is modeled after the traditional teahouses of China and Taiwan. It is here that tea is treated in a much more serious manner. There is an art, almost a religion to the tea. We were invited into the Mad Monk to have a tea tasting (much like a wine tasting). We came into the small bamboo room and sat down. It was a relaxing space for our tea ceremony. I was unsure of what to expect, but the overwhelming positive energy in the room told me I was in the right place. Taylor was barefoot. Taylor owns the Mad Monk. He has traveled the world meeting and searching for tea farmers who are on the forefront of sustainability and organics. He spent two months in Hawaii living on one of the farms he receives tea from. Right now there are twenty-four teas on the shelves. He says they are always changing. He carries 15-year aged pu-er cakes (see my Tea-ology chart for a definition). Taylor knows his teas. He told me stories of his travels and teas while preparing our tasting.

His hands moved quickly and delicately as the task of preparation revealed itself to us as an art. I learned that everything matters, from the kettle to the cup there is a reason for everything. Taylor tells me this is all “Gongfu Tea, ” the art and practice of pouring tea. It was 10 a.m., and I was learning Gongfu Tea. As I drank the tea, I slurped it and rolled it around in my mouth and over my tongue, playing with the flavors. It was all a very new experience to me, but one I enjoyed very much. The Mad Monk is serious about tea. All his teas are loose leaf and sourced directly from the farm. Once you go here and it speaks to you, I doubt you will buy tea anywhere else.

2. Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe
3719 India St. | San Diego, CA 92103
619-683-2748 | www.ukcornershoppe.com
tea in san diego

Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe stole my heart. This adorable little tea cottage completely transported me back to England. It’s a traditional English teahouse with an afternoon tea service that pulls out all the stops when it comes to detail. Tea is served on the garden patio at adorable little tables set with perfect fine china. Owner Selina Stickley guided us through all the tradition of my first afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is a very social and relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe makes it easy to really get into the spirit of it. First, we selected our tea from a list of over 30 English teas. Selina showed us how to pour our tea, using a small strainer over the teacup to catch all the leaves. Then she brought us a tower, literally a tower, of snacks and treats. We had Waldorf salad, cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls, raisin scones with Devon cream and strawberry jam, sticky toffee pudding and pumpkin cakes. The best part was that all these tasty bites were authentic to an English afternoon tea. They even have a British butcher for their sausages, and they import all the jams and the Devon cream from England. Their raisin scones are made to perfection. An afternoon tea is $21.95 per person, and they will do vegan and vegetarian snack substitutions if you tell them when you make your reservation. This is something I cannot recommend enough. You must go treat yourself to a delicious and relaxing afternoon tea at the Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe.

3. Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden
2215 Pan American Way | San Diego, CA 92101
619-231-0048 | www.niwa.org
tea in san diego

No one offers a better place to drink tea than the Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden. The teahouse is owned by the garden and gives a percentage of all profits to help support their nonprofit garden. San Diego is a sister city to Yokahama, Japan, and this garden is based on a similar garden in Yokahama. It is the most relaxing and peaceful place I had been all day. They carry more than 45 loose-leaf teas that you can order to enjoy at a table, or in my case, take with you on a stroll though the garden. This place was designed to enjoy tea. I took a seat on a rock, crossed my legs, and waited patiently for my tea to cool down a bit before drinking. I had a blood orange tisane that was incredibly rich in flavor. The Tea Pavilion also hosts an incredible menu of Japanese soups, noodles, rice bowls and sandwiches that smell so good I was practically drooling on myself. I made a note that next time I come back, it’ll be with an empty belly.

4. The San Diego House
2767 San Diego Ave. | San Diego, CA 92110
619-683-2416 | www.thesandiegohouse.com
tea in san diego

Located in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, The San Diego House looks like an old speakeasy from the Wild West. Dirt roads ramble through the park, connecting shops and restaurants for the bustling crowds. The San Diego House has been open for over twenty years. I went inside and was met with the most beautiful aroma of dried fruits and flower petals. The walls are lined with glass jars, holding their selections of over 500 different loose-leaf teas. Here the friendly staff will brew up any one of these flavors into an iced or hot beverage for you, perfect for any time of year. I enjoyed a vanilla green tea while listening to tales of the location’s rich history in San Diego. They also carry close to 50 different bagged teas, local honey, cooking spices and herbs and 75 different coffees. The San Diego House has the largest selection of loose-leaf teas in Sand Diego. Overall, The San Diego House is a win across the board. They serve tea in-store and in any quantity you could want. You can also order their teas online and have them shipped around the world. As I made my way out of the San Diego House and back to my car, it started to rain a bit, but I didn’t mind, not with the hot cup of tea in my hand.

5. Tea Gallerie
7297 Ronson Rd., Ste. B | San Diego, CA 92111
800-409-3109 | www.teagallerie.com
tea in san diego

The Tea Gallerie means business when it comes to teas. They sell wholesale, at markets, spas, hotels, stores and take personal orders. You can order their teas by the ounce or up to 500 pounds if you’d like. They make all of their own teas: 250 different styles and blends, all with their own unique flavor. There is truly something for everyone. You can order online or if you would like to visit their San Diego location, you can taste the teas before making your purchase. Tea Gallerie is not a café, but you can certainly take some tea home and turn your kitchen into one. Invite you friends over and share the deliciousness. Tea-time fun isn’t just for adults. Tea Gallerie now has their own line of tea for kids. This is something I haven’t seen anywhere else. The kid’s teas are made only from dried fruits and flower petals, there are no sugars, no coloring and no preservatives. This growing and successful business has just expanded to Portland, Seattle and Chicago. I spent a small amount of time browsing their selection at the end of my adventures and tea trailing through San Diego, and I found the variety of their teas to be both unique and refreshing.

6. My Cup of Tea
242 3rd Ave. | Chula Vista, CA 91910
tea in san diego

My Cup Of Tea is the most adorable “tea boutique, ” as I like to call it. They have an extensive selection of tea gifts like gorgeous porcelain teapots and cups and some perfect tea-time hats as well. They serve a traditional English afternoon tea by reservation only. If you are just strolling by, pop in for a cup of tea and scones that are readily available. With a selection of over 100 different loose-leaf teas, the owner Janice told me, “I won’t put a tea up that I haven’t tasted. I know my teas.” And that she does. She recommends a cup of vanilla chai tea that has me absolutely tickled. All teas are poured from the most beautiful teapots through a strainer to catch the loose leaves. Most of the selections at My Cup of Tea are Sochi teas from Cafe Calabria on 30th and University. They do all their own drying and mixing in-house and a fine job they do. All teas at My Cup Of Tea are sold by the ounce and packaged in adorable little bags. I couldn’t leave without taking at least three different flavors with me. It honestly made me wish this cozy sweater weather would remain, so I could pass all my days sipping tea by the window. This spot is perfect for a traditional afternoon tea and a great place to buy gifts for the tea lover in your life.

tea in san diego

How To Read Your Tea Leaves:

I grew up reading tarot cards. I have had the same deck since I was thirteen, so I know a bit about interpreting life through objects and patterns. Tasseography, the art of reading tea leaves, is an art of intuition. They say no one is more equipped to read your tea leaves than you. Much like tarot cards, tasseography will not tell you or teach you anything you do not already know. The answers are already there, but we often may not see them or want to. To perform a tea-leaf reading of your own: allow some of the leaves from a brewed cup of loose-leaf tea to remain in the cup. Hold your nearly empty teacup in your hand and give it three good swirls. The tea leaves will disperse around the interior of the cup. Gently dump out the remaining liquid by turning your teacup over into a saucer. Start at twelve o’clock and read the images clockwise. You must be relaxed and open, listen to the first things that come into your mind. It is a lot like a Rorschach test: performed through a subconscious image association and self-analysis. There are no stupid answers; there are no wrong answers. Starting out can be the hardest part, and if you would like an aid to image interpretation, the best symbol list I have found is at: www.crystalinks.com/tealeaves.html. Best of luck to you in your own tea discoveries!


• Rooibos: a root from South Africa that grows decaffeinated, dried tea and is brewed like a traditional tealeaf. The essence is very smooth.
• Tasseography: the art of reading tea leaves.
• Afternoon Tea: a social engagement based on an old English tradition in which you enjoy tea along with a variety of traditional English snacks like finger sandwiches and pastries.
• GongFu Tea: the art and practice of pouring and drinking tea, coming from Chinese tea cultures.
• Loose leaf: a blend of tea that is not bagged, prepared with boiling water and some sort of strainer, either on the cup or in the pot
• Yunnan Province: the location where the first tea plant ever sprouted on the Westside of China at the foot of the Himalayas.
• Pu-er Cakes: a medicinal teacake made of fermented tea leaves from Yunnan Province, which has much stronger, medicinal properties. (They can fetch upwards of thousands of dollars in the tea market.)
• English Scone: a “traditional” English scone is served with afternoon tea. It is a flaky crusted pastry that is both salty and a touch sweet. It is served warm with jam and Devon cream. It does not have any frosting.
• Devon Cream: also called “clotted cream” with a nutty, cooked milk flavor. It is an essential part of traditional English tea.

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Erin Rose Belair is a fiction writer who spends most of her time hitting the keys. In the rare moments when she isn’t writing you can catch her getting upside down in a yoga class or hitting the road with her folk band. She studied creative writing at UC Irvine and has since spent her life’s blood exploring an array of creative avenues. You can catch her collections, creations, and adventures on her blog roseblacque.com/. She also loves iced tea and her black cat Belladonna.


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