The highlight of our afternoon at Sip Tea Room was the tea itself. The Earl Grey was high-quality but standard — the least interesting of our selections. The China Rose Petal black tea had a lovely flowery aroma and subtle rose flavor, when drunk at the correct moment. Because the teas were served loose-leaf in large pots and brewing instructions were imprecise, some of the cups we poured were either under- or over-brewed. That didn’t matter for the bright, tart Big Hibiscus, but the Mao Feng Shui green tea needed careful timing. At its best, it was crisp and herbal.
Nine different sandwich flavors were on offer. (We didn’t manage to try them all.) The goat cheese and herb variety was a hit all around, but both the egg salad and cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches were merely ordinary. We approved of the flavorful smoked salmon, and Jasmine praised the pickle, apple and cheddar as one of her all-time favorites. We were divided on the savory side of coleslaw: most of us voiced approval despite a usual aversion to the dish, but Hannah insisted that it was under-fermented. Flaky scones were served with definitely-not-really-clotted cream, too-sweet lemon curd, and a fabulous homemade strawberry compote (undersold on the menu as merely “jam”). The top tier of the étagère included a very rich chocolate cake, a blueberry cheesecake, and a honey-drenched almond cake — all individually tasty, but overwhelmingly sugary in combination.
Sip Tea Room’s decor is best described as “shabby chic” (or, in Hannah’s more creative words, “faux Anne of Green Gables”). Sip understands that afternoon tea is a photo opportunity: they even have a selfie stick available to borrow. Cute British-themed souvenirs and tchotchkes enliven the space without overwhelming it (though the lace-backed windowpanes along one of the walls seem merely puzzling). A cheerful chalkboard at the back of the shop lists the daily specials, as well as instructions for scone-eating. The soundtrack features Motown classics and other upbeat oldies, which add to the unpretentious vibe.
Lace tablecloths and matching floral teacups lend a note of elegance to the table. The flatware, however, is too large and heavy for the delicate place settings and dainty food on offer. Small tables proved a challenge for the full afternoon tea spread — the teapots and tiers of food required juggling, even when our server brought out a side table for additional space.
Enthusiastic chefs and servers all wore hats, ranging from toques to fascinators. (Update, August 2018: A subsequent visit to Sip revealed that the hats are not an everyday occurrence, much to the disappointment of the H.A.T.S. “Hat day” at Sip is the third Sunday of the month.) The service itself was lacking. Water refills rarely arrived, and our requests for more sugar and clotted cream required trips to the counter.
Date attended: January 21, 2018
Attendees: Hannah, Ilana, Jasmine, Marissa, & Tom
Location: 721 Lincoln Way, San Francisco
Menu and reservations: siptearoom.com