Bonjour Les Amies du Thé!
After an incredible week-long visit to the City of Lights, I am trying to recreate a bit of France this morning sur ma maision with a cup of French Breakfast tea from the premier Paris tea room, Mariage Freres. Although, I think it's a pretty good cup of tea, I have to admit, I haven't quite mastered the artistry of the tea someliers a la francais.
Mariage Freres was one of the several venues we visited on our "Tea Tour De France" just two weeks ago. Like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and The Louvre, there were the "must-see" tea rooms on my list: the Paris Ritz, Mariage Freres and Angelina's. But, in between, we left room for many lesser-known sites that made the tea adventure - - well, exactly that - - an adventure!
With my well-worn "Tea in the City - Paris" guide (by co-authors Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson) in tow, we earmarked locations , or arrondissements, for our premiere choices. After that, we were open to whatever crossed our path.
When we first arrived at our hotel (a striking six- story building with window views of the Eiffel Tower and onetime residence of famed author, Marcel Proust) , it was shortly after noon, Paris time. We had taken an evening flight from Detroit, so by the time we dropped off our luggage and took a saunter down the Champs Elysees, we had been up for well-over 24 hours. Since we had afternoon tea reservations at the Ritz in a few hours, we didn't want to fall prey to the temptation of a nap. We figured a little air, a brisk walk and a light snack might be just the answer.
The Arc du Triumph/Champs Elysees was a two minute walk from our hotel, so once we were awed by the sight of that magnificent structure and the legendary boulevard that stems from its perimeter, we exited down one of the neighboring narrow streets to give ourselves a rest and repast. We found a little corner brasserie (combination restaurant/cafe/bar), "Sir Winstons" which, like most restaurants in Paris, posted its menu outside to assist potential customers in their selection. Sir Winstons had a full page selection of all their teas on display and I couldn't wait to sit in one of those authentic cafe tables and sip some warm brew. When we were seated, I asked our waitress for a tea recommendation. Without hesitation, she said in heavily French-accented English, "Detox!" I was puzzled for a moment - had the jet lag hit me more severely than I had thought? But, then, I glanced back down at the tea list before me, and there it was, about half-way down the page, "Detox". It was listed as a green tea and the waitress was quick to say it was her favorite. Seemed like a good choice since we were going full-leaded at the Ritz in only a few hours. So, Detox it was. As we sat back and watched the endless stream of cars and people and the gendarmes who did their best to control the refined chaos, I sipped my delicious green tea and spent a wonderful afternoon in "rehab"!
In subsequent days, we went to Anrondissement 4 for Mariage Freres and Anrondissement 1, at the Rue du Rivoli, for Angelina's (full review of the "Top Three" in next blog installment), but also visited other Salons de Thé along the way. In Paris, "Salons De The" is posted on many cafes, brasseries and other eating establishments. Like so many phrases, when expressed in French, it gives the air of being, perhaps, much more than it really is. A Salon de Thé just means tea is served - it doesn't necessarily mean it's of high quality. We did, however, find a few salons/patisseries - dangerously within walking distance of our hotel - that served a wonderful cup of tea with melt-in-your mouth works of art. Oh, to have a buttery madeleine with my French Breakfast today would be tres merveilleux!
Journeying out of Paris, we took a drive to Giverny, Monet's residence and home of the famous gardens and water lily pond. It was here, we learned, that the renowned impressionist, not only painted, buy enjoyed a cup of tea in the beautiful countryside estate he cultivated. We sat in one of the many pastel-infused jardins (near the equally lovely gift shop, I might add) and imagined tea time in this rich landscape.
Then, from one extreme to another, we headed to Versailles, which is, in every sense of the word, "rich landscape". This is the great palace that was built by Louis the XIV to get the nobility out of Paris and, ultimately, under his immediate control. To say this is excessive would be modest - it gives excess something to strive for. We viewed the luxurious gardens and ponds as well as the endless stream of interior rooms, including the bedchambers of Louis the XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette respectively. There was not an inch of wall or floor or furnishings that wasn't flocked, gilded or gleaming. How extravagant would it be to have afternoon tea in these surroundings?
While I confess I don't know many details concerning the tea-drinking habits of Marie Antoinette, I do have an "authentic replica" (I know that sounds contrary, but keep the faith) of a tea cup with the pattern she commissioned for her china. (I bought this at an exclusive china shop in New York last year - see original blog story, June, 2007). In any event, I was able to purchase a bag of Marie Antoinette loose tea in the Versailles gift shop. This was among the rather large selection of Marie Antoinette souvenirs that apparently many of us have a need for. I haven't yet thought of an occasion appropriate for this tea, but I'll keep you posted.
During our out-of-Paris excursion, we met up with a couple of lovely ladies from England at a quaint country-side inn, Moulin Fourges, just outside of Giverny. They had the most excellent thoughts to share on tea and they were gracious and compelling lunch companions. A special "bonjour" to Susan and Sophie and a tea toast to the continuing debate on "milk-in-first or milk-in-last"!
Once back in the city, we continued our tea and art travels to, no surprise, The Louvre. After the requisite stops at the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, passing through the grandeur of Napoleon the III's apartments, admiring the French masterpieces and, to satisfy my brother Ed's curiosity, a trek to the basement where the original palace fortress still stands, we stopped at the Louvre Cafe for a cup of Earl Grey and - what else? - a Napoleon. Nothing satiates a patron of the arts like a smooth cup of black tea and a flaky, French pastry. Culture can be absolutely delicious!
After visiting all these legendary landmarks and upscale shops and restaurants, we needed to come down a bit and transition to our life back home. Our last stop before the airport was to McCafe, but this was not the McDonalds of Kansas, Toto. Oh, no, this was McCafe Magnifique! With its marble floors and columns and sparkling glass counter filled with a variety of colorful pastries, this is surely where the Versaille folks would have come for their grande macs avec frommage et les pommes frites. It only made it harder to leave this place where even the "manger vite" is a beautiful thing.
So, away from our Parisian hotel, I am inspired by its former resident, Proust, to reflect on all things past and - pardon moi - all things tea and repast from our trip. (Based up on his volumes of work, I take some comfort that, in his day, if Proust had blogged, it would have been lengthy as well!) As I view yet again the many digital photos of all the sites we visited and peruse all the newly acquired teas from Mariage Freres, Angelina's, Hediards, and, oh, yes, that rather odd one from Versaille, there's no doubt I will enjoy the memories of my Paris trip for many years to come.
Dans le thé et l'amitié,
Poste Scripte - Stay tuned for "Premiere Salons de Thé Review" in upcoming blog!