Living in Scotland, a person gets used to having a variety of drinkable tea available at the supermarket as well as affordable tea from specialtea shops. And, having grown up in Canada, it is a similar situation there, although our tea-drinking culture is not as strong as the Scots’.
Well, such is not the case in Paris.
Once I had moved into my own, wee studio apartment, I went to the Monoprix a few minutes away to do my grocery shopping. There, I purchased 200 g of Lipton’s loose leaf Earl Grey (not Early Grey, contrary to what I posted on Facebook). That evening, I decided to relax with a nice cup of tea.
That tastes like soap.
How disappointing! To sit down with a nice, warm cup of Earl Grey, only to find that it tastes like a bath product. I later discovered the problem — the ingredients list a mysterious item ‘bergamot flavouring’. Thus, in the factory, they sprayed the tea leaves with something meant to give the tea the flavour of bergamot. Ick.
I am not the only person to have had tea woes in Paris, though. My friend Catherine purchased the store brand tea at Carrefour. With milk in it, this tea tastes like warm milk. Without milk, it tastes like hot water. Fantastic.
I had, however, been informed of Kusmi Tea before coming here. Kusmi is Russian aristocrat tea that costs 12 euros per tin. Nonetheless, given the state of affairs at the supermarkets, it was decided to splurge on this tea! As a souvenir, of sorts.
So, after French class one afternoon and before my day’s excursion to the Bibliotheque nationale, we found a Kusmi shop in the 6e. I purchased 150 g of Anastasia tea. It is a blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. The flavouring of the tea is delicately done, so that it still tastes like tea, just with citrus and bergamot. The way un thé parfumé should taste.
Not like soap, in other words.
On Saturday, the Edinburghers wandered our way to the original shop of Parisian tea merchants Mariage Frères. They have over 350 varieties of tea in the shop, lining the walls in large, black cylinders of awesome.
I smelled a good number of the teas, both scented and black. I believe they will pass muster, but I am waiting till Jennie is here, and she can choose a fancy tea of her own. Catherine, however, bought a Darjeeling. It smelled good; I imagine it tastes good as well.
Later, we discovered that there is another shop in the 6e much closer to Ethan’s stomping grounds. That’s the way it goes. You traipse across the city and through a street lined with sex shops only to learn that you could have stayed closer to home to buy the same thing.
The question that has been bothering me about the supermarket teas — be they Lipton (!!) or store brand — is why on earth they are so bad. The British know how to blend a good tea. They are probably the famous people on earth for drinking tea. Why not import good, British blends? The British are perfectly capable of importing good, French wines.
It was Julia who pointed out the difference — the French don’t really drink tea, whereas the British do drink wine. Therefore, the market for high quality teas is much smaller here. The French — despite the Mariage Frères book L’Art Français du Thé — do not drink tea, so it matters less the quality thereof.
Nonetheless, we have access to nice teas, even if pricy! I am drinking my Anastasia Tea right now and liking it!
To close, a quotation from Henri Mariage, co-founder of Mariage Frères: Un parfum d’aventure et de poésie s’évade à l’infini de chaque tasse de thé.
The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea.