I’m in hell. The cigar experience yesterday has induced flu-like symptoms today. In addition, Jules and I only managed about two hours of sleep – she, suffering from transcontinental insomnia, and me, due to an inability to breathe. I feel like someone stuffed my head full of cotton today. It’s probably about as much brain as I’ve got anyway.
I’m so exhausted and out of sorts I couldn’t even haggle with one of the booksellers along the Seine. I half-heartedly began by offering her €3 less than the price she’d marked. She beamed and said, “Ah non, ce n’est pas possible. C’est un livre nouveau. C’est un bon prix.” (Sorry, can’t; it’s a new book. That’s a good price). I took a breath and couldn’t bring myself to engage. I reached into my bag and gave her the asking price. She looked both stunned and disappointed. I think I let her down. Hubby text messaged me and asked if I was feeling better? I wrote back that I couldn’t even bargain with a street vendor. Mon Dieu, he answered. Now I know you’re sick.
Too tired to do anything adventurous, Jules and I went to the Mariage Frères tea room and shop in the sixth arrondissement. In fact, it’s located down the street from Les Bouquinistes, where we had dinner the other night. The tea rooms are decorated in the French colonial style – rattan chairs, bamboo wood, large shutters, ceiling fans, and potted palm trees. Think Indochine and every Saigon-at-the-turn-of-century-under-French-rule-before-Dien-Bien-Phu movie you’ve ever seen. I’ve been the main store in Marais, but my new favorite is definitely this one in the sixth. It’s much quieter, and the window overlooks a lovely little street off the rue des Grand-Augustins. The servers and tea masters are all dressed in crisp, white linen suits with vests.
Mariage Frères was founded in 1854 and is the oldest tea company in France. Tea came to France about 20 years before England made tea its national beverage. The French king, Louis XIV, was said to be quite fond of tea and one of Madame de Sevignés letters refers to the habit of adding milk to tea. The Mariage family has a storied lineage in dealing teas. Ancestors Nicolas and Pierre Mariage first traveled to Persia in the 1660s as part of a trade delegation under Louis XIV. It was they who initiated and signed trade agreements to deal in teas and spices for the French East India Company. In 1845, their descendents, Aimé and Auguste were still chief tea and spice dealers to the French court under the banner of Auguste Mariage & Compagnie. Nine years later, Aimé’s sons, Henry and Edouard, founded Mariage Frères. The company sells over 500 teas, and are well known for unique blends with romantic names like as Lu Yu, Thés des Poètes Solitaires (Tea of Solitary Poets) and Thé Sur le Nil (Tea on the Nile). Mariage Frères developed tea-infused jams in 1986. Made with lemon juice, sugar and pure tea, they come in yummy flavors like Marco Polo, Earl Grey, and Podréa, which we had this morning with a campagnète au grain (whole grain baguette).
I’m a huge fan of Mariage Frères teas – the Marco Polo blend is my favorite. It’s a black tea with very distinct Chinese and Tibetan floral and fruit notes. Hubby’s favorite occasional weekend indulgence is cream tea: warm scones, Devonshire cream and a pot of tea. Once, I offered him a choice of Marco Polo or Vanilla Almond from The Republic of Tea. He asked for Vanilla Almond. When I brought in the Marco Polo, he accused me of hoarding the “good French stuff!” I reminded him I had given him a choice. “Yeah, but if you’d said it was the good French stuff, I’d have chosen that!”
I haven’t found a purveyor Stateside for Marco Polo yet. Somehow I can’t bring myself to buy in the States either; it’s far less expensive in France (even with the horrible exchange rate) and I’m of the (biased) opinion it’s fresher here.
Jules ordered the Thé des Impressionistes (Impressionist Tea) – a much lighter green tea base with floral notes, and I had Marco Polo. We also ordered a plate of sorbets, infused with three different Japanese-inspired teas. After incredibly fortifying tea and sympathy, we went downstairs to purchase teas and jams and other items to bring back. You can order the teas in distinctive little black tins with the yellow Mariage Frères emblem (the French do packaging incredibly well – everything is attractively put together), buy tea bags, or buy loose teas by the grams. I’m partial to the loose bags by grams because it’s more economical, but also because I can never bring myself to throw away empty tins and my house doesn’t need to become a pack rat’s dream.
There’s something oddly soothing about watching the men behind the counter move quietly and confidently, efficiently measuring out your tea selection with old fashioned iron weights. Their process is as much a ritual as the tea service itself.
Armed with a fresh supply of tea and jam, I’m ready to head back home and revisit my afternoon in Paris.