Yerba Buena Tea Co. Brews a Quality Cup

Ana Valdes, CUESA Intern
September 2, 2016

Much as coffee has experienced a “third wave” artisan renaissance in recent years, with an emphasis on fairly traded beans and small-batch roasting, loose-leaf tea is starting to have its moment in the spotlight.

“We feel that when using tea bags, you’re losing out on the experience of brewing a fresh pot of tea,” says Grace Smith of Yerba Buena Tea Co., the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market’s first dedicated tea vendor. With more than 50 blends and a focus on wellness, local and organic herbs, and fair trade sourcing, Grace and her husband and business partner Chad Smith are bringing the millennia-old practice of tea drinking to the farmers market community, and sharing their loose-leaf teas packaged right here in San Francisco.

“We hope that more people will want to bring back this traditional way of making tea,” says Grace.

Brewed in San Francisco

Wellness, natural foods, and entrepreneurship run in Grace’s and Chad’s families. She grew up in Chico with “hippie” parents who regularly drank tea, and her father worked in natural foods marketing and sales. Chad’s father was a small business owner, while Chad himself has a food service background.

After meeting in San Francisco in college, the couple traveled before returning to the Bay Area to settle down. While teaching English in Madrid and helping one of Chad’s high school friends open a restaurant on weekends, they decided they wanted to start a business together.

“While living in Europe we loved being served loose-leaf tea everywhere,” says Grace. “We noticed that even the smallest cafés managed to carry it.”

Shortly after returning to California in 2013, they founded Tea Smiths of San Francisco (a nod to their last name), which they recently rebranded to Yerba Buena Tea Co. Inspired by the presence of native herbs found in the area, Yerba Buena (“good herb”) was the name originally given to San Francisco by the Spanish. Fittingly, the company’s office is located on Treasure Island, so Grace and Chad pass through Yerba Buena Island on a regular basis.

Steeped in Wellness

Yerba Buena Tea Co. is best known for its herbal teas, with herbs sourced from farms in Northern California and Oregon. They also offer black, green, and red teas (imported from Japan, China, India, and Sri Lanka) and yerba mate. All teas are organic, and fair trade when possible.

So what makes Yerba Buena teas different than those from large manufacturers? Chad and Grace blend, package, and label each tin of tea by hand themselves, without any machinery, from recipes they’ve created with the consultation of a master herbalist. They specialize in herbal blends, using plants known to have medicinal properties. With blends such as Golden Gate Green, Turmeric Lemon Ginger, Elderberry Immunitea, Good Night, Detox, and Tummy Mint, they have a tea to suit any taste or to soothe anything that might ail you. They also make custom blends.

Chad and Grace pride themselves in not using any additives, such as flavorings, found in many tea brands. “You can find tea blends with pieces of apples or other fruit, which look cool, but it’s really difficult to get any flavor out of a dehydrated apple,” says Chad. “It usually has added flavor.”

Think Outside the Bag

Loose-leaf tea has more whole-leaf herbs, which the Smiths believe provide more nutrients and superior flavor compared to mass-produced bagged tea. Furthermore, she says, “Most tea bags are bleached and may contain other chemicals or non-biodegradable plastics that are harmful to human health and the environment.”

While many people may think that brewing loose-leaf tea is messy or complicated, the Smiths stress that it’s easier than you might think, encouraging the use a simple strainer or a French press. “A lot of people think that a French press is only for coffee, but it makes a fantastic pot of loose leaf tea,” says Grace.

Yerba Buena tea tins contain up to 40 servings of premium tea. Once the tin is empty, you can either recycle it or reuse it by purchasing a replacement Yerba Buena loose-leaf tea packet, which is also biodegradable.

Though they have plans for expansion into retail, Chad and Grace take pride in the quality and care they put into each individual tea they blend and want to maintain that care and quality as their company grows.

A perfect pick-me-up for foggy San Francisco mornings, Yerba Buena typically offers piping hot samples and sometimes cups of chai or their herbal blends at the farmers market, so stop by to discover your favorite healing blend of tea.

Find Yerba Buena Tea Co. at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, in the front plaza to the right of the Ferry Building clock tower.

Loose leaf and brewed tea photos from Yerba Buena Tea Co.