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May 28, 2006

If There Was Only One...

Mariage Frères in the MaraisThe absolute reference in terms of tea shop is without a doubt Mariage Frères in Paris. They’re one of the oldest establishments in France and have done a lot to give tea it’s “lettres de noblesse”. They have, as only the French can do, made tea a luxury product. Their assortment is huge (600 varieties). They have published beautiful books on the subject. They have a range of perfumed candles and exquisite teaware. They even have a tea musem above their historic adress in the Marais (which is really worth a visit). They’re very expensive but you have the feeling of buying something precious. The staff, in colonial outfits, are very knowledgeable and one discovers something new every time. Mariage Frères is a bit the Hermès of tea : fabulous and very luxurious !!!

If you’re in Paris and you like tea, you MUST visit. The adress is : 30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, Paris 4e Tél. : +33(0)1 42 72 28 11. I would advise not going on weekends as the Marais shop is quite small and it quickly gets very crowded (which detracts a lot from the experience).

May 26, 2006

The Magical Yixing Teapots

yixing1.jpgyixing2.jpgYixing (pronounced Yee-Shing) is a city in Jiangsu province in eastern China. It's very famous for it's reddish clay that has been used for centuries in teaware. It continues to be used today. The porous nature of the Yixing clay absorbs some of the tea aroma after each brew. Because of this, Yixing teapots are believed, over time, to enhance the flavor of the tea although to achieve this effect, one must always brew the same kind of tea in a specific teapot. This means that most people who use these teapots have several of them. For example, one for Ceylon, one for Darjeeling, one for Yunnan, one for Sencha etc... This tea enhancing property also explains their enduring popularity in China and now all over the world.

Yixing teapots come in an incredible variety of shapes and forms. The two teapots pictured here are typical classic Yixing shapes but they can be much more elaborate or fanciful. They come in all price categories although they're generally cheaper than porcelain. Old Yixing teapots are collectors items and can sometimes fetch high prices at auction. Every good teashop sells them.

May 15, 2006

Sencha: The "Common" Japanese Green Tea

Sencha.jpgSencha means common in Japanese. It's also their most common green tea. Which doesn't mean that it's not a good tea. The japanese are a very refined people when it comes to what they eat and drink. They take great care in buying (Sencha isn't cheap...), storing and brewing their tea. The local climate permits tea cultivation and tea has been a part of japanese culture at least since the ninth century when it was imported from China so most of Japan's production is consumed locally with little available for export. As such, Sencha, in our parts of the world, is something of a premium tea.

The process for making Sencha is a simple three-step affair: picking, steaming (to conserve flavor) and drying. This gives Sencha it's main characteristics which are a "grassy" aroma and something of a brittle "twiggy" dark green appearance. Once brewed, it delivers a pale yellow-green liquor. A typical first-time drinker in the West will often remark that it tastes like "hay" and it's true that Sencha is something of an acquired taste. But drink Sencha with some nice Sashimi and a bowl of steamed rice (as the japanese do) and you will quickly learn to appreciate this refreshing tea.

May 13, 2006

High Tea at the Burj Al-Arab Hotel

The Burj Al-Arab Hotel in DubaïView of Dubaï from the Al-Muntaha restaurant

A new section debuts today : Great places for tea. And we start with one of the world's most stunning (and expensive) hotels. The Burj Al-Arab in Dubaï. I had the good fortune of having a High Tea there today in their top-of-the-world restaurant Al-Muntaha (which means "Ultimate"). The tea, sandwiches and pastries are all really good but I have to admit that my attention was much more absorbed by the incredible surroundings and the phenomenal view. You can find more info here about Burj Al-Arab but let's just say that this was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had whilst savoring tea ;-)

The Al-Muntaha restaurant

May 04, 2006

Storing Tea

There are four things that can harm tea: air, light, moisture, or excessive heat. Therefore to best protect your tea, store it in an air-tight, lightproof container away from moisture or heat. The foil bags that loose tea comes in, when you buy it at a good Tea shop, are good temporary storage containers. For longer term storage, the ideal container for Tea is the simple metal caddie with a narrow opening at the top (as illustrated).

With very few exceptions (Pu-Erh being the most famous), Tea is not meant to age. It is best consumed within a year of purchase. The suggestion here is that it's best to buy your tea regularly in smaller quantities.
Be careful about storing you teas with your spices. Dry Tea leaves are extremely absorbent and will absorb the aromas of anything in close proximity.