Paris, like a good steaming cup of tea, offers perennial pleasures that remain little changed over the years. And though Paris is a coffee culture, it’s also true that the world’s most widely drunk, oldest and consistently comforting beverage — tea–still holds its own in this city. Paris is also a city of diversity – in neighborhoods, fashion, and food – and so, too, with tea. Indeed, there’s a tea spot for every vibe. Here’s a small sampler of my favorite Parisian tea shops, full-service salons de thés, and spectacular high-tea rooms. Don’t leave Paris without having done tea!
Just two blocks off of the Champs-Élysées at 12 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt is Dammann Fréres, purveyor to kings and tea lovers since 1692. The oversized black, red and yellow classic tea tins in sleek, dark wood and floor to ceiling shelves give the shop an elegant traditional vibe and the assurance you’ll find fine teas, a knowledgeable staff and an array of tea related products and gifts. A tea clerk named Isabelle was extremely helpful and patient in guiding me on my search for a few teas to suit my tastes. When I asked her to recommend a tea that pairs well with a macaron, she directed me toward the Houicha, a subtle Japanese tea with vegetal notes less likely to compete with the flavors of the pastry. And she pointed out Dammann’s own Jardin Luxembourg – a flowery blend of hawthorne (a medicinal plant), aloe vera, rose, jasmine, prune flower and acacia- as one of her popular blends. Stand out gift from the shop: A delightful and delicious Madame Dammann tea jelly.
By contrast, the relatively young Palais des Thés has a decidedly more contemporary vibe. Founder Francois-Xavier Delmas, tea researcher and expert, has created a very mindful brand with a strong emphasis on corporate social responsibility and education. Palais runs a tea school which offers a wide range of classes and tastings. In the “Cooking with Tea” class (135 Euros), Cheffe Nathaly Ianniello teaches how to make a three-course meal with tea as an ingredient, while a tea sommelier guides tea pairings for each course. There are tea and chocolate, tea and cheese, and tea mixology classes. Their informative website includes information on world tea ceremonies, tips on selecting and caring for a tea pot, as well as a large selection of accessories and tea ware.
The modern Palais des Thés shops, with lime green, mustard yellow and white bulk tea tins lining the walls and numerous tasting stations throughout are vibrant and inviting ways to discover, taste and learn. I enjoyed my first taste of the Mao Cha Imperial Light, the flavor profile for which was described as “earthy, mineral, and vegetal with notes of mushroom.” In front of each blend is a small bowl of crushed tea leaves covered by a glass cloche which you can lift to inhale the fragrance.
The vibe here is inviting tea lounge-meets-laidback classroom. Laurence, the tea-bar’s boundlessly knowledgeable and amiable director, and her new protégé, Natia, clearly enjoy revealing a world of teas to their customers. They get to know your tastes, then give thoughtful advice and share fascinating back stories about their extraordinary teas. As Laurence put it, “we try to help people explore and find new teas, and to make them accessible.” And that they did; I discovered some wonderful teas to pack up and take home.
She had me taste the silky Wulong Milky tea, which I learned had been fermented in milk at 86 degrees, accounting for its milky taste and notes of caramel, and it pairs perfectly with simple cakes like madeleines. It should be infused for five minutes, and, like most teas, you can reinfuse it up to three times, adding thirty seconds each time that you do. Another stand-out was the Oolong Jing Shuan, a robust tea with leaves that are hand-rolled thirty-six times and is produced by a woman owned and run business. Laurence shared that smoked teas, like their Korean and Japanese Lapsangs, pair perfectly with cheese. Forget wine! The tea is the thing.
The impressive array of small artisan produced teas, as well as the tea accessories and sweet and savory packaged treats, are carefully curated by Agnès Defontaine, the company’s General Director. She has also co-authored a wonderful sixty-five-page paperback cookbook featuring recipes from leading French chefs using tea as an ingredient as well as tea pairing suggestions. It’s no wonder a fast-growing number of restaurants, tea houses and hotels carry the brand.
Other shops to consider visiting: Comptoirs Richard, the most ubiquitous brand served at restaurants and cafés around Paris has lovely shops around town. Their boutique on Rue du Cherche Midi has a coffee and tea counter in the back. Thé Marriages Frères is the most famous and biggest French brand, with fifteen hundred shops in sixty countries. Méert, in the Marais district, is rich in history and charm, and has homemade packaged sweets not to be overlooked.
SALONS DES THÉS (Tea Houses)
Just one block from the bustling Boulevard Saint-Germain you can duck into Thè-ritoire , a word play on “territory”, a cozy old-world sanctuary of tea that you’d expect to find in Britain rather than off the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. Customers can hunker down in a space comfortably cluttered with British and French tea accessories, cups, saucers, pots and more. The cozy salon offers an impressive selection of around seventy teas: white, green, black, Puerhs, parfumés, and Red. The menu of eats is more limited but plenty tasty: Scrumptious scones with jams and clotted cream, lemon cake, fruit crumble, bread and butter pudding are all seven euros each. Savory tea snacks include traditional finger sandwiches for ten Euros, vegetable tarte and a soup-of-the-day. Now you’ll be recharged and ready to stroll the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and beyond.
On the Rue du Cherche Midi – a great street for strolling, window shopping, eating and drinking – you’ll find Marie Thé, something of a hybrid tea salon and restaurant. The collection of tea pots on the wall, and the tiered counter stacked with fresh homemade pies, cakes and scones tipped the balance toward tea on a recent visit. Sitting at a sidewalk table enjoying a very generous slice of chocolate cake and a pot of Oolong tea while people watching in this artsy neighborhood was great late afternoon break on a lovely Paris day.
Paris is full of age-old side streets, cozy cul-de-sacs, and hidden alleys. The Passage Dauphine, a pedestrian stone-paved street-alley dating back to 1607 under Henry IV that can be accessed only through discreet doorways on the Rue Dauphine and the Rue Mazarine, is one such hidden gem. Nestled off this beaten path in the 6eme arrondissement is L’heure Gourmande, a charming tea salon that is off-the-eaten path. While all of the home made pastries are delicious, for a perfect outdoor tea experience try the seasonal fruit crumble with one of their twenty teas.
It’s hard not to feel immediately at ease at Le Loir dans La Théière, with its mismatched tables and chairs, theater poster lined walls, and long marble counter covered with over twenty stunning homemade cakes and pies. The day I went I could hardly take my eyes off of the oversized lemon merengue pie, the chocolate pear tart, and a tarte Tatin thick as a fist. Located on Rue de Rosier, the fun-yet-funky vibe is the perfect complement to an afternoon of strolling and museum hopping in the Marais district. The savory is as good as the sweet here, making this is a great place for lunch or brunch as well as afternoon tea. The website says that Alice in Wonderland was the inspiration for this family-owned eatery.
The Tea Salon at the Grand Mosque of Paris is the perfect respite from a full day of walking in Paris. You will sigh with relief as soon as you step off the rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire into the honeycomb of nooks, corners and multi-leveled terraces with an abundance of trees and greenery that make up this oasis of tea, pastry, and hospitality. As soon as you take a seat at the copper topped table a server brings you a refreshing cup of sweet tea. The menu offers up a cornucopia of North African sweets and savory treats, and priced at an average of about two euros each, why not indulge and try a bit of everything. Stand-outs include: Makrat, Pistachio Ghoriba, honey and almond crescent shaped cookies, ice cream and sorbets. A seasonal fruit salad is eight euros, crêpes are four euros.
With three-star Michelin starred chef Eric Frechon’s world renowned reputation, we had high expectations heading to Le Bristol Hotel’s Café Antonia for high tea. Under his supremely talented new Pastry Chef, Yu Tanaka, our expectations were way, way surpassed. Everyone is greeted and treated like royalty from the moment you walk in the door, and the sweets, savories and service that follow are indeed fit for a king or queen. Sumptuous settees and period armchairs at crisp white-clothed tables which are spaciously spread throughout the grand room. The vibe is definitely stately French elegance par excellence. One classic High Tea (65 Euros) plus one dessert and a scone order was generous enough for two of us, making high tea at Le Bristol an accessible opulence. In the time it took our Lapsang Souchong to steep, a dazzling three tiered tea tray appeared, a triptych of tasty sweet and savory treats. Delightful finger sandwiches on the bottom, a chocolate éclair and the moist “Vanilla Key Ring” signature dessert in the middle, and a lovely lemon meringue pie sits enticingly on the top plate. Accompanying our Classic tea was the best caramel crisp mille-feuille we’d ever had. A delectable sugar dusted nut and dried fruit scone – served with jams and clotted cream – as well as the cannelle nestled in the same silver basket – were pure perfection. We savored our tea till long after we’d devoured our edible delights. This high tea hit new heights. So high, it was heavenly.
Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. Find him here, on Instagram.