The eight arrondissement is the place to go for an expensive cup of tea. This is the quartier housing Ladurée and the Hotel de Crillon and some of the city's favourite tea emporiums and luxe food halls. This is not really the place to find interesting teas.
But, in the spirit of investigation I visited some of the doyens of tea merchants including Betjeman and Barton (since 1919), Hediard (since 1854) and Fauchon (opened their shop in 1886 and have been serving tea since 1898).
I wasn't really impressed with any of these shops. Only Betjeman and Barton was a dedicated tea shop while both Hediard and Fauchon only sell loose leaf tea as part of their luxury food stock. Fauchon's tea selection was pretty small and some of their tea is stored in a clear perspex self-service counter.
Hediard carries a selection of about 200 teas but nothing caught my eye. Their 7 golden rules of tea preparation however, include "Scald the teapot and the leaves before use to enable the tea to release all its flavour". Aie! Who wants a steaming cup of tannin?
Betjeman and Barton was also disappointing. A tiny shop filled with all manner of kitsch "English" tea accessories such as flowery tea cosys and mugs. I confess I wasn't inspired to try their tea since the selection was mostly the usual "ye old merchant" tea with some first flush Darjeelings thrown in. However, I did find a replacement for my favourite Japanese tea pot that broke 3 years ago which pleased me no end. The staff were nice too.
Walking around Place de la Madeleine in the rain wasn't completely unrewarding because Fauchon is selling a tea that made me stop in my tracks with an inelegant cry of "quoi?".
In their beautifully slick, hot pink and dark grey shop are huge stacks of Thé Mai 68.
Is it not the height of irony that the French equivalent of Fortum and Mason's is selling a tea celebrating an anarchist/Maoist uprising against capitalism and authority?
I can't wait for Harrods to start selling tea commemorating the Miners' Strike.
Anyways, I had to have it.
I was absolutely ready to turn my nose up and was quite put out that the tea of the revolution is drinkable. Who would have thought it! A whole leaf green tea flavoured with rose, grapefruit and exotic fruits. I didn't feel like the flavours were just there to disguise an inferior grade of tea. In fact, the green is very distinct and complements the strength of the fruit flavours. However, the scent of the dry tea is overwhelmingly fruity and it was only after a few days that I realised what the infusion reminded me of. It smells exactly like hot exotic fruit squash like Kia-Ora or Capri Sun. My collegue suggested, less diplomatically, that it smells like when an overexcited child at a party throws up on you. I disagree but I see what he means.