This Couple Prefaced Their San Francisco City Hall Wedding with the Sweetest Chinese Tea Ceremony

bride groom pose on stairway decorative gold railing
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Vivian and Christopher met in October of 2012 through a professional dance team in San Diego called the Choreo Cookies. "Christopher is an internationally recognized choreographer and dance teacher and I have been dancing for more than a decade, so dance is a huge part of our relationship," Vivian says.

Six years into their courtship, the pair drove from San Diego to San Jose to spend Christmas with Vivian's family—and decided to stop in Monterey along the way. Christopher knew that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of Vivian's favorite places in the world, but the holiday crowds made it difficult for him to find a private moment. Instead, he popped the question while the couple walked their dog, Barnaby, around their rental nearby.

With a tight budget, the pair decided to plan an elopement with an intimate reception to follow on April 9, 2019. They invited 35 guests to join them on a private balcony at San Francisco City Hall for their ceremony, and to Wayfare Tavern, also in San Francisco, for a lunch reception. But before their big day unfolded, the pair had a pre-nuptial photoshoot at SCOUT at Quarters D, in San Diego, California, complete with a traditional Chinese tea ceremony—the shoot was an homage to the bride's cultural roots (and, ultimately, to her mother, who was expected to be too sick to attend the actual wedding day. She proved everyone wrong!).

San Francisco worked well as a location for their celebration, first because it was easy for Vivian's family to travel to, and also because the couple had a dance performance in the area that weekend, so all of their mutual friends were already be in town. "We wanted our friends to be part of our big day—not just as guests," Vivian says. "My friend did my makeup, another friend played guitar as we walked down the aisle, and another friend got ordained online and married Chis and I."

01 of 20

Staged Invitations

wedding invitation suite white card stock design
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

The couple used Paperless Post to invite their guests to their actual wedding at San Francisco City Hall, but worked with Epoch Designs to create a simple invitation suite on white card stock to capture on the day of the tea ceremony.

02 of 20

A Meaningful Pre-Wedding Moment

bride groom tea ceremony pre-wedding celebration
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Before their actual wedding day, the couple prepared an engagement photoshoot with their photographer, Courtney Yee from Photoflood Studio, at SCOUT at Quarters D; Tamm Ashworth of Isari Floral Studio brought the majority of the small-scale celebration to life. "Having worked for Tam Ashworth at Isari Flower Studio for years as a florist and production manager, I knew that I could count on Tam and the staff at Isari to bring our wedding shoot to life," explains the bride. "Tam picked SCOUT at Quarters D for the photoshoot for its beautiful lighting and empty canvas spaces. She transformed it into a beautiful space."

The shoot incorporated a staged tea ceremony as a nod to the bride's Chinese heritage and parents. "My mother was very sick at the time, so we could not have them be part of the tea ceremony or much of the wedding," Vivian says. "It was my way of showing, through photographs, my respect and gratitude to my parents for taking care of me all these years."

03 of 20

Ready for Tea

floor-length nude gown v-neckline and long sleeves
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

For the tea ceremony, Vivian wore floor-length nude gown with delicate white embellishments, a V-neckline, and long sleeves.

04 of 20

Shine Bright

radiant cut diamond engagement ring platinum band
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

This bride's engagement ring featured a radiant-cut diamond set a timeless platinum band.

05 of 20

Red Finishing Touches

red pointed toe sling backs shoes
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Vivian wore red pointed-toe sling-backs from Manolo Blahnik for the tea ceremony—a nod to the shoot's signature color. The décor incorporated a lot of red tones, which symbolize good luck in Chinese culture.

06 of 20

Groom in Burgundy

groom brown suit tea ceremony outfit
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Christopher wore a burgundy suit for the shoot; he polished off the look with a white shirt and a black tie that featured tiny white polka dots.

07 of 20

A Nod to Their Pets

cookie pet shapes on red tray
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Though Vivian and Christopher couldn't bring their pets to San Francisco for the wedding, they wanted to include them in the engagement shoot in some way. They asked Heritage Desserts to make cookies that looked like Barnaby, the pair's dog, and Ollie, their cat. "It is typical in Chinese tea ceremonies to include sweets or dried fruits, but we opted for cookies instead," Vivian says.

08 of 20

The Photoshoot Setup

tea ceremony table setting red floral arrangement centerpiece
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Tropical green plants were set up throughout the space to create a lush atmosphere. A round table defined the space, and held two vibrant centerpieces which played off the brass silverware and bold red chopsticks.

09 of 20

Red Centerpieces

lush arrangement of ranunculus, peonies, amaryllis and fritillaria
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Each centerpiece was a teeming arrangement of ranunculus, peonies, amaryllis, and fritillaria. Pomegranates and blood oranges were also scattered throughout the tabletop, adding more bold color and sweet fragrance.

10 of 20

The Place Settings

tea ceremony table setting white plate red chopsticks
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Candles situated in round brass votives nodded to the brass cutlery and chopsticks at each place setting. Classic white plates were topped with simple printed menus.

11 of 20

The Reason for It All

bride groom tea ceremony kiss
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Chinese tea ceremonies are a way for a couple to honor their families by serving both sets of parents; the photoshoot was the bride's way of practicing the tradition, albeit from afar.

In the week leading up to the wedding, it seemed unlikely that Vivian's mother would be able to come, as she was very sick at the time. "I had already prepared myself for her absence," Vivian says."But the morning of our wedding, I received a phone call from my dad. He said she had resolutely gotten out of bed this morning and taken a shower, determined to attend!"

12 of 20

Welcome to City Hall

city hall wedding location bride groom stairway
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

A few weeks later, the couple's wedding ceremony took place at San Francisco City Hall. Vivian and Christoper loved the historic spot's architecture—and the laid-back atmosphere this wedding type (they consider it an elopement!) provided. "We thought about doing a normal city hall wedding with a judge to marry us, but we also really wanted our friends and family to be there," Vivian says. So, the couple rented out a balcony for an hour and used the private space to host their loved ones.

13 of 20

Moody Florals

toned floral bouquet ranunculus cosmos orchids
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

The bride's modern bouquet, made by Lambert Floral Studio, consisted of moody-hued florals, including plum hellebores from her mother's garden, burgundy ranunculus, black cosmos, and lady slipper orchids.

14 of 20

Two Piece

bride back pose 2-piece open back wedding dress
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Despite running late for her wedding dress appointment at BHLDN, Vivian managed to try on 12 gowns in just thirty minutes. "The lady who helped me at BHLDN was shocked that I was so decisive and took so little time to try on dresses!" she says. She went with a two-piece getup—the "Lawrence" top, which featured a draped open back, and the sleek "Gidley" skirt.

15 of 20

Finishing Touches

brides white flat wedding shoes belt clip
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Vivian kept her accessories simple—she borrowed her mother's pearl earrings for a meaningful touch. She chose shoes that she could wear after the celebration: white Linea Paolo flats from Nordstrom.

16 of 20

The Groom's Ensemble

groom dark gray suit bride simple white dress
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Christopher wore a dark gray suit with a paisley-patterned tie, both from Suit Supply.

17 of 20

A Friend-Filled Ceremony

wedding ceremony vow exchange personal friend
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

The couple's friend, Caro, played "I'm in the Mood for Love" by Julie London on the guitar as the bride and groom made their way down the aisle. "Most of our guests stood in a half circle around us, while we had seats for the older guests," the bride says. "Having our friend Larkin officiate our wedding was one of the best decisions we've ever made. He really personalized the ceremony for us. Everyone had tears of joy in their eyes by the end!"

The couple exchanged vows they wrote themselves; Christopher included a quote from the pair's favorite TV show, The Office, which had guests roaring with laughter.

18 of 20

Off to Lunch

bride groom enjoy venue architecture view
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Immediately after the ceremony, guests headed to Wayfare Tavern for lunch. It was incredibly important to this couple to serve amazing food at the reception, so they spent a majority of their budget on the menu. "Wayfare Tavern was recommended to us by my friend and florist Sammy Go at Lambert Flower Studio," Vivian says. "Being an experienced wedding industry professional, I knew I could trust his taste!"

Guests enjoyed a family-style meal that started with tartare, butter lettuce salad, and truffled deviled eggs, followed by entrées of fried chicken and salmon, served with burrata whipped potatoes, grits, and roasted vegetables. The couple put together a Spotify playlist with all of their favorite songs, including artists like D'Angelo, Gipsy Kings, Queen, and Etta James.

19 of 20

That's a Wrap

bride groom kiss dark floral bouquet window lighting
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

To finish the celebration, guests then joined the happy couple for mini golf. "It was the perfect end to a beautiful day!" Vivian says. The couple is currently planning their honeymoon, which they hope will be in Italy.

20 of 20


bride groom walking crosswalk historical building
Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Photography, Courtney Yee, Photoflood Studio

Tea Ceremony Venue, SCOUT at Quarters D

Tea Ceremony Coordination and Flowers, Isari Flower Studio

Tea Ceremony Tea, Paru Tea Bar

Tea Ceremony Cookies, Heritage Desserts

Tea Ceremony Invitations and Paper Products, Epoch Designs

Tea Ceremony Rentals, Catalog Atelier; Wildflower Linen

Ceremony Venue, San Francisco City Hall

Reception Venue, Wayfare Tavern

Bride's Gown, BHLDN

Hair and Makeup, Beauty by Stacey

Groom's Suit, Suit Supply

Catering, Wayfare Tavern

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles