'Uncle Gee,' Guru of Chinatown Tea

'Uncle Gee,' Guru of Chinatown Tea

Many locals avoid San Francisco's Chinatown because the streets are congested, and the sidewalks are packed with slow-moving throngs. But along the well-trodden tourist path of Grant Avenue, among the shops stuffed with knickknacks, are a few places that rise above the kitsch.

One of the best things about Chinatown is a teahouse called Vital Tea Leaf, which has about 300 teas, including white, green, yellow, red and black, and a "try before you buy" model. It also has a resident character who introduces himself to all as Uncle Gee, who is 77, was "born in the ghetto" of Chinatown, and loves telling people what to drink based on their age, gender and state of health.

Hungover or tired? Stanley "Uncle" Gee, a proprietor of Vital Tea, recommends Blue People oolong tea with ginseng.

Have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol? Try a green tea called Angel Green.

Have insomnia? Try the rosebuds from Iran and Siberia.

For weight loss or heart problems? Try Puerh, a black tea.

From behind the counter, Uncle Gee orders customers to try certain teas, and curses anyone who would think of adding milk and sugar to his sacred stuff.

His advice flows like water: "Don't pour boiling water over tea!" he exclaims. "You'll shock it and hear the leaves scream." (Let boiling water sit for a few minutes first. The perfect water temperature is between 175 and 180 degrees.) "Do not drink coffee. Ever. It dehydrates you and makes you old."

When customers depart, he tells them: "When you came here, you were a stranger. When you leave, you are a part of my family."

He may also grab an unsuspecting customer's hand and hold it to his cheek. "Feel the youth and smoothness of my skin," he boasts, noting that he runs 6 miles three times a week and can bench-press 110 pounds.

Uncle Gee's favorite teas? Blue People and Angel Tea.

Uncle Gee's favorite drink? "Single-malt scotch."

Friday: A cable car ride.



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