Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Tea in Paris: Part 1

Paris. Oh, glory days!

It is a truth universally acknowledged (in Britain) that the French cannot make a cup of tea. The very worst that can happen (to the British) after a long journey through Parisian streets is to be served a cup of warm water with a Liptons tea bag perched elegantly on the saucer. The urge to shake the waiter and show him how to boil water, to pour it over a tea bag and only to remove it when the water has coloured a dark chocolate brown strikes the British most forcibly when holidaying in Europe.

So, the fact that the past week has been a veritable heaven of tea drinking is something I have had to elucidate to friends, family and many curious onlookers. What can the French teach us about tea? Well, the short answer is everything. Let me explain…

My first forays into tea drinking (of the non-CTC type) lead me very quickly to reading about the history European tea trading with Asia. That the French figured early and persistently in this trade was perhaps not surprising, but that companies such as Mariage Frères still existed and continue their trade, was. Some internet searches revealed that French people talk about tea with the same reverence as wine and that most serious tea companies have outposts in Paris and Brussels but not London.

So, despite the fact that it is very, very easy to have a bad cup of tea in France, if it is also very easy to have the best cup of tea of your life. As long as you steer clear of anywhere that claims to be a "Salon de Th
é" (this is Lipton's tea bag territory, have a coffee instead), and try some of the places listed in Tea in the City: Paris or Le Thé à Paris (available from newsagents in Paris) you'll be kept very happy whether you want tea and scones or to sample something from the biggest collection of tea outside China.
The simple fact is that the French know how to live and in the words of Christine Barbaste, "the French palate is both demanding and unfaithful - they want quality and diversity" and over time they have been quietly developing a superlative tea culture.

One of the best resources for tea is Le Palais des Thés. They are a huge company with shops all over the world (except, sigh, London). They also run a tea school - L' École Des Thés. It took me a year to finally register for the first half of their intensive course but I finally did it and it was worth the wait. More to follow....

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