Sunday, 7 October 2007

Tea in Paris

In an effort to clear my mind of all sorts unnecessary clutter (both romantic and work related) I took a short trip to Paris and Switzerland. From a tea perspective, it was a very fruitful journey. Firstly, I was able to gage the usefulness of my new magic tea filter whilst on the road and secondly, I could browse the selection of tea books in delightful French bookshops. I ended up buying a sinful number which is bliss for me, but havoc for my bank account.

I found a copy of the Palais des Thes's tea tasting guide (available in English) and a lovely looking book on green tea. I have only have time to flick through them for now, but I have felt weak just contemplating them.
I was also able to visit some tea shops in Paris. Not as many as I would have liked since my days in Paris unfortunately coincided with Sunday/Monday/Tuesday - days that stores are often closed (grrrr!). I'll take better notes on my next trip in May, but for now, here are some highlights.
A walk around the Latin Quarter between the Sorbonne and the Boulevard St. Germain revealed several tea boutiques offering fresh cups of tea while staff talked you through their vast selections. La Route du Thé (14, Rue Lapécède) and Thés de Chine (20, Boulevard St. Germain) were particularly good when I was there.

One of my favourite tea experiences while in Paris was visiting the Mariage Frères tea shop/tea room/tea museum extravaganza (35, Rue du Bourg-Tibourg, in the Marais). The Mariage Family's involvement in European tea imports began in the 1660s and solidified in 1854 when they founded the Mariage Frères tea company. The tea shop is still in the same wood panelled building and is a veritable treasure house, selling over 450 teas. Each tea can be sampled in the tea room in which waiters in white serve from between palms fronds. It would be colonial-kitsch if it wasn't so professionally executed; one tea guide to Paris describes the experience as "seeing life in sepia for a few hours".
I wasn't crazy about all the teas I sampled, but the Tea of the Solitary Poets was a lovely blend of Darjeeling and oolong and a big hit with my work colleagues.

Another true happy hour was spent in The Palais des Thés (64, Rue Vielle-du-Temple, conveniently on the street parallel to Mariage Frères.) I could have listened to the staff member who served me for hours. The language and the terms he used to describe his teas were most usually associated with high discussions of wine or cheese. (Two other things I hold in very high regard.) I bought an oolong called Himalayan Jade from the Jun Chiyabari plantation in Nepal which I'm getting to know at the moment - it's quite spicy and woody.

I have booked myself onto their tea course for May, so I'll be back in the city then so please send me any recommendations and I'll go check them out!