I love talking about tea – almost as much as I enjoy drinking it. I started a new job recently, and as I get to know people, I find myself sharing stories, tips, and places related to drinking or buying tea. I’m always drinking tea, and when people ask me what I’m drinking, I’m happy to tell them and offer them some. Laziness has kept me mostly using tea bags, but I’ve managed to keep to loose-leaf tea in sachets from some of the better suppliers.
One of my colleagues is heading to London for the first time, and I was very excited to recommend one of my favorite, albeit somewhat over-the-top, tea places in London – the Dorchester Hotel. It’s a great place to go if you’re celebrating something, or if you just want to be pampered for a bit. The decor is heavy with marble and shiny with chintz – you feel as if you’re a Lilliputian as you take tea in the grande salon, with its soaring ceilings supported by grand honey-marble columns. They treat you much better than Gulliver was treated, though, bringing the traditional three-course tea service and your choice of tea in a beautiful porcelain pot.
Then I noticed that a friend of mine from high school was posting on Facebook about the adventures he, his wife, and daughter were having during a trip to Paris. I sent him a quick post on his wall, telling him that if they wanted a great place to take a break and recharge over a cup of tea, Mariage Freres and Laduree were just the thing. Since they have shops all around Paris, they would be easy to find. A couple of days later, I had a post back, complete with picture; they had stopped at Mariage Freres at the Louvre, and absolutely loved it. I don’t know what they ate or drank, but whatever it was, I know it was good. Mariage Freres is like a temple of tea to me – old-world luxury and charm, with more tea than you could drink in a lifetime. Laduree is an oasis of calm and relaxation in the midst of the bustle of Paris, with decadent pastries complemented by delicate teas. I look forward to returning to both of them on my next trip to Paris! (However, Laduree has also opened a location in New York City, for anyone lucky enough to live or visit there!)
I’ve also told many stories about my experiences in tea shops in Asia – very different from their European descendants, but even more fascinating. While the settings may not be as luxurious, the attention that is paid to the customer is at a level rarely seen. Shop owners or tea sommeliers draw you through a Gong Fu tea service, explaining the nuances of the different steepings. One of the best experiences I had was in a shop in China, owned by a friend of my colleague. The staff there took great care of us, steeping a range of different teas, including an exquisite Jin Jun Mei black tea – one I had never tasted before nor since. Jin Jun Mei is a rare black tea made purely of tea buds, which has a beautifully light, sweet flavor. This was a treat that I hadn’t expected, and felt privileged to have been offered it.
Of course, just making a pot of tea before work in the morning can also be a wonderful tea experience. I love the wide variety of tea experiences that are available, and I look forward to continuing to explore the world of tea.