Recently, I spent a week in the beautiful village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte Baume in Provence. Of course, the food, wine, and weather were fantastic, but I was amazed at the quality, variety, and quantity of tea available in the tiny hamlet.
Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte Baume is a small town of about 14,000 people located between Marseille and Aix-En-Provence in southern France. It is a typical Provençal village with old cobbled streets and charming stone buildings with blue shutters. On Wednesday and Sunday mornings, it has a lively outdoor market in the town square filled with succulent fruits and vegetables, aromatic olives and tapenades, amazing cheeses, and colorful fabrics. It also is the home of some exquisite tea stores.
I was impressed by the abundance of great teas available in such a small town. There was a salon de thé or tea store on every block of the city center and even a nice selection of fine teas available in the large supermarket. My favorite tea store was Tou’ Cha’ Thé : Maison de Thé, with a large selection of high-quality teas and an extremely friendly and knowledgeable proprietor. I spent over an hour in the store, smelling, sipping, and buying a myriad of excellent teas. He had a wide range of teas from around the world, but I was drawn to the jardin bleu green tea, the mon amore violette black tea, and the caramel butter oolong tea, which had all the characteristics of typical French tea.
Typical French teas are flavored with fruits, flowers, vanilla, and occasionally candy. Frequently, flavored teas can have an artificial and sweet taste that overpowers the natural essence of the tea. French teas, just like French cuisine, are flavored thoughtfully and perfectly. The flavors are natural and light and complement – rather than overwhelm – the natural character of the tea. I usually don’t like flavored teas, but have developed an affection for the sophisticated French brews.
Provence is known for its great food, abundant flowers, and quaint villages. It is not usually touted for its excellent tea. But I’m hear to tell all that it is a fantastic place for a tea lover. Everywhere I turned, I found a variety of teas with polished and intricate flavors. C’est si bon.