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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Thé – Tea in France. Tea and Tisanes and a Short History of Tea.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated January 2018.
Tea leaves

Tea in France
Tea in France is much like tea in the USA. The tea itself will be in a tea bag and offered plain or with lemon.  If you come from the UK and do not want to give up your usual strong cuppa, then you had best bring some of your favorite tea bags with you.  The French teas offered in most cafes, hotels, and restaurants are similar to the teas seen in the USA and not as strong as most English teas, though you may ask for two tea bags.
Tea on French Menus:
Thé - Tea –   Tea is regular black tea, usually without lemon or milk.
Thé au Citron(Le)Lemon tea.
Tea with milk - Thé au lait, pronounced tay-o-lay.
Thé au Lait (Le)– Tea with milk; not every café in France is used to the British tradition of cold milk with hot tea; certainly when you are outside the main cities. For a cup of tea with cold milk, as in Britain, order thé au lait froid. If you request milk on the side, you may be served tea with warm milk if you did not ask for cold milk. For tea with cold milk request thé avec lait froid, s’il vous plais, pronounced: tey avec lay frawh sil vous play. 
Froid is pronounced frawh and means cold, and the s’il vous plais means please.

Thé au Lait Froid – Tea with cold milk.
An English tea set.
English, Chelsea, circa 1760
   Thé nature. Tea without milk or lemon –
Thé vert – Japanese green tea; ocha in Japanese.
A cream tea
An afternoon tea that originated in Devon and Cornwall and includes scones, hopefully, clotted cream, and jam.

Infusions or Tisanes
Fruit and Herbal Teas on menus in France
Infusions or Tisanes are the French words used for fruit and or herbal teas; they are a popular beverage. There will be a variety of fruit and herbal teas available in most cafés and restaurants. Additionally, homeopathic medicine is very popular in France and supported by the French National Health Service  and fruit or herbal tisanes are considered healthy.
There are nearly as many homeopathic pharmacies as there are regular pharmacies in France.   In a French homeopathic pharmacy, you may ask for an infusion (a fruit or herbal tea) to sooth your jet lag or any other feeling that makes you feel less than 100%, and they will be able to help in most cases. They will also advise you on the benefits of your favorite fruit or herbal tea without payment.
A homeopathic pharmacy in France.
Pharmacie homéopathique
Artificial sweeteners 
Not every small French café will have artificial sweeteners, so take some with you.  Sweet and Low, NutraSweet and similar French sweeteners are available in all French supermarkets.
Sucre –Sugar
Mariage Frères
The place to go for tea in Paris
Photograph courtesy of ACJ10
Mariage Frères –. Apart from marketing teas, the Mariage Frères are France’s and Paris’s most famous tea houses and tea emporiums. On my last check, Mariage Frères had three teahouses in Paris; these are not large establishments, but they are the place to go for a nice cuppa, a cake and a bit of history. These are one of the places where elegant French ladies dress up and go to see as well as be seen. The Mariage Frères teahouses offer their very elegantly clothed Parisian clientele 400 different teas and infusions from Tuesday through Thursday from 12:30 pm through 7.00 pm. (Madame does not rise earlier than 11.00 a.m. so Mariage Frères  has no reason to open before 12:30 p.m.). Also, I apologize, but there is no 4 o’clock tea at these establishments. Mariage Frères is French and the French do not have 4 o'clock tea. I have my ideas why they are not open on Monday, Tuesday. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but those ideas I shall keep to myself.
I have, in this blog, refrained from naming or recommending any of France's very special cafes or restaurants in this book,  Too many changes occur quickly and today’s very special restaurant may have a different chef and disaster tomorrow.   Mariage Frères; however, has been doing the same thing for the last one hundred and seventy years or so and that is long enough to see that they may be relied upon not to change their recipes or bring in cheap imports when my back is turned
A very short history of tea.
Tea; the beverage and the quintessential English meal, afternoon tea.   Tea, the plant that produces the leaves that will produce, with the addition of hot water the drink called tea is unique.   Fruits and herbs and their leaves do not make teas, though they are often, incorrectly, called fruit teas; fruits and herbs may make infusions but not tea and in France they make tisanes.

England may be famous for its love of tea but the drink only really became popular in England at the beginning of the 18th century, that was about fifty years after it had become popular in the tea houses and the tea gardens all over Europe. Today the English drink more tea per capita than any other European nation; despite that,  the rest of Europe including France were into tea and tea houses long before.  Nevertheless, the drink of choice in the morning for the average Frenchman or French woman is a very milky coffee. 
Manor House Tea Garden
A reminder of what was.

The tea industry.
The vast Indian tea industry that would later spread to Ceylon, Africa and elsewhere, is all down to an Englishman called Robert Fortune (1812-1880).  Fortune was a botanist and an amateur explorer, but he is better remembered for buying, begging, stealing, or otherwise procuring the first tea plants from China; those plants created the Indian Tea Industry under the British Raj.

The three types of tea.
Black, Green, and Oolong are the three most important types of tea that we see in the stores or may be offered in a café or restaurant:

Black tea
Black tea comes from tea leaves that have been fermented before being dried and from these are chosen the teas most popular in the west. The names of many of these teas cover specific areas; others are just brand names.  Earl Grey was named after the British Prime Minister of the time and this black tea is flavored with the peel of the bergamot orange, which gives it its distinctive aroma.
Black tea
Oolong tea

Oolong tea comes from leaves that are only slightly fermented before being dried, and so its taste is somewhere between black and green teas.
Oolong tea

Green tea

Green tea is produced from steamed leaves that are dried but not fermented, and this is the tea preferred by the Chinese and Japanese. The Japanese green tea and its unique and mild flavor has been taken to heart by some French chefs. The use of thé vert, green tea, or ocha, which is its Japanese name, may be noted on some French menus.
Green tea
My teatime experiences outside France.
Quite a few years ago I was wandering around that awe-inspiring English food emporium Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly, London.  I checked various brands of ant's knees in chocolate and smoked salmon wafers in 24-karat gold wrappers but decided to pass. Then I looked for my favorite English tea which is a very plebeian blend.
 I walked up to the tea counter and asked if they stocked XXX PG Tips.  The answer I received was very clear: “I hope not, sir.”   This learned man with the audacious but clear answer changed my appreciation of tea forever. Then and there I listened to a Fortnum and Mason tea scholar.  I learned the differences between the best Indian black teas prepared from tea leaves in a teapot and the poor ersatz copies made with cheap African leaves and sweepings.  The scholar gave me, and an equally enthralled group oteaphilewho gathered around us, an introduction to the history and preparation of tea. 
Tea on sale at Fortnum and Mason’s.
This learned man changed my appreciation of tea forever. I walked out of Fortnum’s with an assortment of their Breakfast and Afternoon Tea blends. That was a few years ago, and out of sight, out of mind, I have slipped into my old and familiar ways. I have returned to tea bags and XXX PG tips.

China is the birthplace of the worldwide tea industry, and my work has taken me to China on numerous occasions.  There quite a number of business meetings, in Southern China, began with the owner or a senior member of the company preparing for tea for all.  I will not describe the methods and their history as that would require too much space but suffice to say that the tea most often served was black tea.  The preparation of the tea served may be formalized, but the choice of the tea used varied significantly.  During the meetings, our cups were topped up again and again.

Walking through the tea market in Shanghai is an enjoyable experience, but walking into a specialist tea shop is more intense, and it is the way to enjoy, taste and learn about China's teas.

When work was finished for the day, in a number of China’s small cities, those with less than 5 million people and considered too small for specialized tea markets, there are many shops selling tea.  Some of these shops may also sell tea bags, but they are kept under the counter.  In the windows and on the shelves these shops are showing black and green teas. Most of the teas are named after the area where they originated, though some are branded. These specialized shops allow you to taste different teas and if you have the time you may relax and try four or five over an hour or so, no pressure is applied.  I had enjoyed a tea that was offered in tea bags in my hotel and went to one of these specialist shops with samples in hand to find out more.  The shop manager opened a tea bag and smelled the tea and produced a small barrel of tea leaves with the identical smell.  Then, I learned how the leaf tea and the tea bag differed in taste; the leaf tea was noticeably smoother.

A tea shop in China.

The teas sold come in whole leaves in large canisters, barrels or round cakes. Teas are also aged and acquire different tastes associated with the aging process. The best and most expensive teas have whole leaves, then came teas with broken leaves, but none of the tea bags had tea dust like those seen in most Western tea bags.
Connected Posts:
What Happened When I Ordered Eggs for Breakfast in France

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2018.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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