Tea is often thought of as a particularly English obsession and, indeed, every day the people of England – myself included – down buckets of the stuff, with or without milk, sugar, and biscuits. As a big fan of what the Victorians called “the gentle herb,” I am frequently asked to recommend places in England for a perfect “cuppa.” But the answer I give people is not usually what they expect. The best tea I have ever had was shock horror in Paris.
Contrary to popular belief, the Parisians are not merely coffee drinkers; they are also connoisseurs of tea. Hédiard, Mariage Frères, Angelina’s, all of these Parisian establishments serve a brew that often blows the cross-channel competition out of the water. Whether it be Earl Grey, Assam or Darjeeling you’re after, they’re all here, in quantity and quality. Not only these, but a whole host of other teas, teas you might actually be hard pressed to find back in the UK, such as goût russe (Russian Caravan). At the top of my list of salons de thé, as they call them here, is Le Café Chinois on rue de Béarn in the 3rd.
Hidden away in a quiet street behind the Place des Vosges, this Asian-themed café is a peaceful and interesting place to get one’s daily tea hit. Deceptively spacious and furnished with mismatched tables and seats, it is a welcome alternative to the monogrammed china and schmoozy waiters one might find elsewhere. The teas – ranging from the aforementioned goût russe, a delectably dark, smoky blend, to delicate green brews – come in dinky Chinese-style ceramic pots and handle-less cups, and are brought by one of two people: the proprietor or his wife. Light lunchtime dishes and cakes are available too, if you aren’t quite ready to take your tea solo; imagine seasonal salads, a home-made soup of the day, and wholesome slices of tea-loaf sprinkled with dried fruit, honey, and spices. Also worth a try is the hot chocolate. Totally unlike the creamy, unctuous stuff one is usually served in Paris (which I love), it is as the Mexicans would have made it aeons ago: without sugar, without milk, but rather an intense, slightly bitter liquid in a tiny steel cup. Memorable, to say the least.
Even if you don’t stop by for tea, do just go and have a look at the boutique just beyond the cafe, which is filled with textiles, china, and other appealing bits and bobs brought over from various parts of the Orient. An excellent place to pick up an unusual gift, for yourself or another!
Address: 7 Rue de Béarn, 75003
Métro: Chemin Vert, line M8
Tel: 01 42 71 47 43
Hours: 11:00-19:00 Tuesday through Saturday. Closed on Sundays.