I didn’t care that I had to fly from DC to Toronto to finally land in Paris only to make my way to the Airbnb I booked that presented itself as “Close to the Le Marais.”
(Side bar: It’s never a good sign when the word “close” is used in an Airbnb listing. I should have known better.)
Upon arrival at the door of this “Le Marais” flat, the host took my bags and stored them so I could begin the day. When I asked how far we were from Le Marais he said, “At least 26 minutes on foot. But it’s better to take the Metro.”
I immediately heard a voice in my head says, “Oh hell no. You didn’t come to Paris to Metro. You only have 2 days.” The voice in my head was right. I came to walk and wander New York City Style. So, while standing on the side of a busy road I called my old standby hotel which had originally been booked online (and why I booked an Airbnb) with the hope that “par chance” a room would be available. When I heard the voice on the other end say: “Oui” – I hung up, got my bags and tried to find a taxi. Not so easy as you may know if you have ever tried to find a taxi in Paris. There are rules.
Rolling my bag along the bumpy sidewalk, I walked up to a waiter at one of the cafes and asked him if he knew where the closest taxi stop was. He was only too happy to help me and literally ran out into the busy road looking for one to make stop. He then made a joke and said, “Just stand here looking beautiful and they will stop.” Ah Paris. Whomever said the French weren’t friendly must have been a mighty miserable curmudgeon.
My drive to the Latin Quarter was narrated ever so perfectly by an older French driver with his gorgeous old school thick accent. He pointed out all the different buildings telling me a story of each one. It was brilliant and full of passion. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this wasn’t my first time in Paris, so I listened and savored each moment until we rolled up to my favorite, quaint little hotel – and pretty much the only one I’ve ever stayed at in Paris: Hotel Claude Bernard. Three stars, nothing fancy or over the top, slightly old Paris in feel and my favorite.
The man at the front desk was someone I recognized from my last stay many, many, many years ago. While he checked me in I told him how when I used to stay I always got the room on the top floor facing the street.
He said, “Ah yes, I remember! #62! I am going to make some re-arrangements and you will have your old room again. Plus a nice breakfast in the morning. D’accord?” D’accord!
He handed me my key and as I turned to make my way to my room I faced my old friend: the funniest, littlest elevator maybe ever created, and only large enough to fit 1 suitcase and a person. A memory came flooding back of the time when a friend and I tried to fit in it together and it got stuck between floors well after midnight. The evening desk clerk came running to our aid to try to pry open the metal doors. When I asked him if this had ever happened before, his reply was, “Uh, basically never.” Basically. Never. The sound of spontaneous roaring laughter from all three of us echoed through the hotel as he braced himself with his feet against the metal door and pulled me by the arms to get me out of the elevator. Both of us laying on the carpet laughing for a good long while.
But this time it was just me and my cute suitcase rolling into the lift to the 5th floor, then climbing the rounded staircase to the 6th floor to my beloved room #62 with its tiny balcony, deep long tub and wrought iron bed frame. I felt that kind of joy one feels when you can relax into something that feels safe and familiar, like home. With sun shining, cars honking below and a deep blue sky, I trotted down all 6 flights and set out on foot to the first reason I was in Paris: Research/Tea at Mariage Freres.
Leaving my hotel and wandering the winding streets of the touristy Latin Quarter making my way across the river with a quick stop at Notres Dames, I paused. Just to take in the beauty of the day that had started out so many hours ago with a long flight on Air Canada that delivered me exactly where I wanted to be. Living. Felt. Good.
The winding continued into the Marais until I arrived at 35 Rue du Bourg Tibourg – the original location of Mariage Freres, and perhaps my favorite. Located on sleepy old road, you enter the teahouse and are greeted with its old weathered dark wood, tea tins placed perfectly on shelves and an intoxicating aroma. The dark lighting from small strands of light that find its way in adds an air of Harry Potter-like magic… and like you just stepped through a worm hole and went back in time. It’s simply delightful.
It wasn’t crowded so I was able to linger and review the tea menu, smelling different selections generously presented by the gentleman behind the counter. Christian was dressed in an impeccable blue suit, his English was impressive and his knowledge of tea even better. I started with Yunnan black teas which are some of my absolute favorites and ended up selecting Yunnan D’Or (Gold). Then on to Oolongs, and Puers and the best Dragonwell I’ve had this year… it went on and on and on… with questions and comments and stories and opinions. Tea Happiness Level: 100.
I had another moment similar to the one just an hour or so earlier that made me pause once again: Along with good health, the luxury of time and travel is like winning the lottery. And I made sure to savor every minute I spent researching, smelling and talking tea in this foreign city.
At the end or our tea exploration, I asked Christian for his recommendation on a tea he thought I should not leave without having. He brought me a black tea from Colombia. Totally unexpected and currently on deck for me to try in the coming days.
With my giant bag of “research” in hand, I was then handed off and escorted to a perfect table situated under a skylight. The juxtaposition of the dark romantic teashop next to the light white tearoom looking up at a blue sky was a gorgeous jolt to my senses. White linens, actual silver ware and the most beautiful bowl of sugar I had ever seen sat on the table. The menu itself was beautifully designed, and the finely curated cuisine seemed to go on for forever. I wanted it all.
After a review of the 600 teas on the tea menu, my decision was to take the waiters suggestion and try their popular Opera Blue Tea. “Why blue? What is it made of?” I had questions.
When the perfect porcelain pot of tea nestled inside a silver pot landed on the table, I poured its liquid into the fine bone china teacup. The liquid was blue – just like he said. I had to allow it to open up and then cool a bit before the first sip. Interesting. I took another sip trying to figure out what this unusual tea tasted like. Another few sips were required. Ah ha.
Waffles. That’s exactly what it reminded me of: slightly nutty, almost bread-y with notes of grain and a very, very slight hint of sweetness. I had heard that the longer you let it brew the more complex and flavorful it becomes. So I allowed it to steep longer as I sat and read the book on the table, stared up at the blue sky and slowly but purposefully began to eat the most interesting green tea guacamole I have ever had. (And I’ve had a lot.) Here is how Opera Blue tea is described on their website:
“The charm and pure emotions of the opera are intensely echoed in OPÉRA BLUE, an irresistible velvety and caressing blue tea. In the seductive indigo blue-coloured cup are singing notes of vanilla and red berries highlighted by the milky gourmandise of a blue tea in a perfectly balanced symphony. A tea as fascinating and sensual as an opera aria.”
Blue tea paired with Matcha guacamole was a truly interesting cacophony of flavors that crashed into each other. The grain-like flavor of the tea against the fresh vegetal creaminess of the guac was worth the experiment. I did my best to eat slowly and as humanly as possible, but it was not easy given the level of deliciousness in that green glob of goodness. In the end, while there is no denying how interesting the Opera Blue tea was, it turned out not to be my preferred cup. So I moved on.
Hello Darjeeling D’or. I’ve been waiting for you.
Part of their Darjeeling Haute Couture Collection, this tea is brilliant elegance. It might send a Darjeeling lover into full orbit. Here is how they describe the leaf and infusion on the the website:
Dried leaves : The buds with ardent golden nuances exhale delicious notes of tamarind and ylang-ylang honey.
Infused leaves : Shimmering umber. Tender and flavourful on the palate, the buds are just as delightful to the nose. Syrupy notes of hawthorn dance amongst the aroma of roasted tea tree nut.
Liquor : Pastel gold. Soft like cotton flower, and as fragrant as a magnolia bouquet, the liquor is seductive. Carnation and pink lavender compose an aroma punctuated by hints of suave lemon balm.
A jewel of a tea.
I do not disagree. One of the most delightful Darjeeling teas I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. The complexity of floral notes is exactly how its described and it was a wise choice on my part to pair with the second gastronomic creation I chose: Matcha Creme Brulee.
Assuming you take any of this advice and try what I have suggested, you must know in advance that Matcha Creme Brulee, dusted with a single line of powdered sugar and topped with 3 perfect berries is a perfect way to end a long day of travel to Paris. The thick, slightly tinted green cream against the burnt sugar top layer? All I can say is this: If you are a Creme Brulee lover, you must order this if you are ever in Paris at Mariage Freres. You can send me a thank you e-mail afterwards!
Sadly, my research ended there. And what a truly flavorful conclusion it was. I made sure to sit a little longer before leaving, knowing that this would be my only opportunity during this short trip to enjoy the salon. Mariage Freres is always a destination for me when I stop in Paris. I hope every tea lover has the opportunity to enjoy a truly French Tea experience like this. Perhaps add it to your Tea Bucket List?
Happy Sipping! (Bonne fête!)
~The Chief Leaf (La feuille en chef)