A divine tea experience

Tea indulgence at Mariage Freres in Paris

On a recent day trip to Paris I treated myself to a tea experience at Mariage Freres. Situated in the heart of the Marais area, this tea salon is a perfect respite for legs aching from a long Parisian promenade.  Once seated in the small colonial style dining room I was handed a tea menu and a little book, titled ‘The French Art of Tea’, to help in my selection. The book was perfect tea table reading covering history, selection, characteristics and food matching for all the main varieties of tea.  It was so informative that I bought one to bring home with me!  The menu was similarly impressive, a vast list of teas that are all available to taste.  Their storage must be huge.

The tea menu at Mariage Freres

I selected the top tea on the right hand column (and it wasn’t just because i was overwhelmed by the choice), called Tibetan White Tea.  Like any good white tea, it was delicate with a hint of fruit and beautiful perfume.  The tea came prepared and strained in a beautiful pot with it’s own felt insulation layer, so my brew stayed warm as I enjoyed my other indulgence.  Nothing marks a perfect Paris afternoon more than a cheeky cocktail so I selected the house named ‘Mariage’s', Marco Polo red tea with champenoise methode sparkling white wine.  The red tea was sweet and syrupy and added a lovely depth to the fresh and fruity wine. Gorgeous!

I will definitely be going back one day, after all there are so many more teas to try!  The menu also includes a whole range of snacks and meals prepared using different teas.  I can picture many more indulgent afternoons to come, I just have to get back to Paris.  It is such a pleasure to enjoy an experience where tea is front and centre, where it belongs.

Tea takes centre stage at Mariage Freres

Tea in Europe

Finally it feels like Spring!  The warm breeze lifts my spirits and eases the tension out of my winter bones.  It also  reminds me of wonderful summer days in Europe where we drove through alpine valleys, ate delicious local seafood in Italian lake towns and cheered as the Tour de France whizzed past!

I loved having the opportunity to explore European tea culture.  We visited tea houses wherever we found them and I thought I would share two of my favourites.

An inner London oasis, Postcard tea shop

The Postcard tea shop is in the middle of busy London, just around the corner from Soho.  You step into an oasis of calm, a quiet contrast to the bustle outside.  At times it was even a little too quiet, some music would have created more atmosphere, but I wasn’t there for my ears, I was there to taste!

Timothy d’Offay is extremely well traveled and knows pots about tea and the wonderful processes that bring it from tree to cup.  Pick his brain with your tricky tea questions or enjoy learning about his travels to bring the best tea from around the world back to London.

Plenty to taste, Postcard tea shop

The tea menu is extensive, with most of the tea sourced direct from small estates, selected for its quality or unique characteristics.  They also have a Tea Masters range which show off the skill and passion of experienced tea masters from China and Japan.  I was so excited tasting I forgot to write down the names of the tea, however you can’t really go wrong with this selection and the staff are on hand to guide your choice.

Send a postcard, Postcard tea shop

One of the coolest things about the Postcard tea shop is that you can choose a tea, taste it, take it home in an artistically unique canister AND send a packet to a friend as a postcard!  They have you covered, you simply pay a little extra for postage and they send it off for you.  I sent one home so it would welcome us on our return.

http://www.postcardteas.com/

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prague has a vibrant tea culture.  People go to tea houses at all times of the day to sit and chat over pots of tea, rather than a cup of coffee.  There are tea houses dotted around the city, and we loved this one.

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Tea in Sydney

Winter has barged in on my year and left me with cold fingers and a snuffley nose.  I intend to deal with this situation in two ways:
1. Escape to Europe for some northern hemisphere summer
2. Enjoy the wonderful warming benefits of tea at every opportunity

Tea is pretty much always my drink of choice (unless it is cocktail hour), and I love that there are as many different plants that taste good infused in boiling water as there are health benefits from those teas.  Some of my favourites are herbal teas like fennel, mint, rosehip, hibiscus, ginger, lemon balm, nettle, dandelion root and the wonderful blends by the geniuses at Pukka (a London tea brand that is starting to make it’s way here to Australia).  Earl Grey is my all time favourite black tea, although I am starting to develop a respect for Orange Pekoe.

Over the last few years I have developed a deep appreciation for the complexity and variety of green tea, a term that really refers to a whole library of teas, each  with a unique colour, flavour and aroma.  Oolong, white tea, red tea, Pu Erh tea, all completely different and suited to different situations.  One of my favourite teas at the moment is an Australian green tea, grown in the Kiewa Valley at Tawonga in Victoria by the Alpine Tea Company.

http://www.alpineteaco.com.au/

I am also thrilled to note that some new tea houses are starting to pop up (I am also discovering ones that may have always been here) and offering more opportunities for a cup of tea on a busy day.

This weekend I have had two very different tea house experiences.  One was a classic Chinese tea tasting session in a Neutral Bay tea shop run by the wonderful Raymond Mao.  Time seems to stand still as we sit and watch him prepare his teas for us to examine, smell and taste, appreciating the way the flavour changes with each infusion.  Raymond has great knowledge of tea and the process involved in creating each variety, beginning as they all do with the leaves or young shoots of the Camelia bush (or tree in some cases).  Raymond has made tea pilgrimages to different areas of China and has wonderful photos of small villages who care for 500 year old tea trees.  If you have a bit of time, sit and drink in his knowledge whilst you taste his tea.

http://myteahouse.net.au/p2b.asp

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

The other tea house was part of the new breed, which sets itself apart from the cafes or coffee shops with a few teas on the menu as a dedicated, tea only venue that creates the feel of a classic tea salon.  The Tea Parlour in Refern is a time capsule in which you can sink into a plush armchair, open a vintage book to read from the tea menu and select a home made scone or cucumber sandwich to accompany your pot of tea.  A great space to come with a small group for high tea, or a close friend for a tete-a-tete.  I raise my china to the emergence of many more tea houses to balance out our coffee heavy culture.

http://www.twothousand.com.au/eat-drink/tea-parlour/