A Visit to Teance
Teance is the premier tea room in the San Francisco Bay Area. No other such place offers tea in either so thoughtful a manner or in so creative a space. The shop is nestled on a terrace above a quiet lane in the bustling 4th Street district of Berkeley. The wide awning and fully windowed front greet and open in welcome. On traversing the mosaic threshold, the very considered character of Teance is immediately apparent and directly appealing.
Once within, there is a momentary feeling of ascension. The eye soars to the high ceiling – brightened by skylight and an immense hanging lantern ablaze in orange red – only to drop precipitously to the ink black floor, a dark elaborate board of ceramic and stone tiles, each giving depth and mass to the fleeting instance of transcendence. Entering Teance gives the distinct sense of crossing into a world beyond.
The essential elements are everywhere. A garden pond invites with long stemmed aquatic plants and flashes of intense color as goldfish swim amidst the dark recesses of the pool. Water cascades gently from above into a mossy basin, pitter-pattering in asymmetric syncopation on stone, the shower ionically charging and freshening the air and filling the pond below. Follow the long weighty column of calcified basalt to the color muted interior, a smooth pale ground set sparingly with polychrome flecks of stone.
From the floor rises the exquisite tea bar. Cast in a single pour of fine concrete inlaid with stone, shell, and minerals, the counter inset with drain stations of pure copper, mottled and stained, on which to brew tea. Bearing a rich patina from use, the bar is unique, a mirror of the pond: forms of earth and water embodying the open ensō, the Zen circle of enlightenment and spiritual perfection.
Winnie Yu is Director of Teance and curator of the seasonal selection of teas from China, Korea, Japan, and India. Petite and gracious, she radiates a calm certainty from within the tea bar as she prepares and serves a succession of light to dark premium teas:
Anhui Yellow – a yellow tea from Mount Jin Zai, Anhui
Gyokuro – a green tea from Uji, Japan
Four Seasons – a wulong tea from Nantou, Taiwan
Phoenix Honey Fragrance – a wulong tea from Phoenix
Yunnan Gold – a black tea from Yunnan
The simplicity of her casual gestures belies the masterful techniques by which she brews each tea. Frugality, economy, and practicality transform her motions into an elegant ballet. From one cup to another, the subtle rhythms of the leaf enfold as if notes on a score, lightly played yet resonant and deepened with every steep. She pours clear water into the gaiwan, then spreads green gyokuro in a circular motion into the cup. The tea floats a bit, as if surprised, and then rapidly sinks to provide a brew redolent with umami, the intense and savory taste – the pursuit and delight of the connoisseur.
Yu hails from Hong Kong, where at the age of four she learned to drink tea. Her mother is the scholar Yuen Chuen Tam and her father, the renowned painter Chitfu Yu, who in 1978 moved the family from China to New York and presently resides in New Jersey.
Winnie graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, a city by the Bay where she stayed and prospers. Adhering to literati traditions, she melds the ancient and the new within the store: Yu translates old Chinese tea poems for her patrons, giving recitations and lectures; her father’s calligraphy graces its walls, his ink paintings filling the unexpected places. And Winnie Yu’s innate sense of the good and proper permeates the Teance experience. A revelation and a pleasure not to be missed.
1780 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710