A couple of weeks ago, an old friend of mine from college came through town with his wife and three daughters. I hadn’t seen them in about five years or so, and it was great to get to know the girls and see my friend again. I definitely bonded with his middle daughter, who is eight and is quite upset that she hasn’t been to Paris yet!
As we were all saying goodbye, my friend, John, said, “Oh, wait, I have something for you!” He reached into the car and came up with a very familiar little black packet with a pretty gold label on it…from Mariage Freres in Paris. A friend of his travels there frequently, and knew I loved their tea, so he sent it down to me.
What a fantastic surprise, and a great end to the visit! The tea was Mariage Freres’ Wedding Imperial blend, a black tea flavored with chocolate and caramel. I couldn’t wait to get home and brew a pot.
It actually took me a couple of days to get to it, because I was running around and didn’t have time to enjoy the experience until the next weekend. I didn’t want to waste the tea on just a quick cup! So the next Saturday, I brewed myself a pot of tea…and was in heaven.
The aroma of the dry tea leaves was very rich – it was hard to pick up the chocolate scent, but I could smell the sweetness of the caramel right away. Once I finished brewing it and took my first sip, I felt like I could close my eyes and transport myself back to Paris…
I could see the Mariage Freres tea shop, with the black tins lining the shelves to the ceiling, and the men in white coats helping customers choose their teas. I could smell the scents from the mingling teas, along with the wonderful baking smells coming from the tea room…is that the vanilla-scented Tarte Tatin pastry I smell? No, wait – it’s the chocolate pecan pie I happened to be baking! A perfect complement to the Wedding Imperial tea, reinforcing the chocolate and caramel flavor.
Back to the tea, then: as I sip away, I think how interesting it must have been to be a tea trader over the past hundred or more years…traveling to exotic destinations with labels plastered all over your well-worn leather steamer trunk. I can smell a hint of the leather mixing with the chocolate and caramel in the tea. I wonder what inspired this blend – Wedding Imperial sounds somehow Russian, and the deep, malty sweetness suggests a dark winter evening.
Their website calls it “a paean to love”…I see an elegant Frenchman, in love with an aristocratic Russian woman, who is unfortunately promised to another. After her wedding, he returns to Paris and creates this beautiful, but slightly melancholy brew, which calls up his dream world whenever he sips it. Ah, love…