These are stressful times in Paris. A timeout for tea is recommended with two of the local brands that I particularly like: Kusmi and Mariage Frères. Favorites: Kusmi Detox, Mariage Frères De-Stress (a tea to escape the maddening world). I’ve purchased both at the Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette epiceries.
The story begins in 1867 when Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff opened his teahouse in St. Petersburg. By the turn of the century he owned eleven teahouses and sent his eldest son, Viatcheslav, to London to learn about tea. Viatcheslav took over the family business after the death of his father and then transferred the business’ operations to Paris on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He died just after World War II in 1946 leaving his son Constantin to take over a family business much weakened by the war years.
But Constantin didn’t have the same business acumen as his father or grandfather. He was a man who loved life and burned the candle at both ends. An artist and a tea lover, he just didn’t understand figures. On the brink of bankruptcy in 1972 he sold the business for a pittance. In 2003, Kousmichoff was bought by the Orebi brothers who now carry on the tradition. The colorful packaging will tempt you, so will the open tin displays. You’ll find this tea in supermarches, boutiques, department stores and the airport.
Mariage Frères – Rive Gauche, 13 rue des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris
District : Musée d’Orsay – Saint-Germain-des-Prés
24, 27, 58, 70, Balabus
Metro: Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame
Tea House: Address: 260 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008
If you’re looking for smooth, this brand with more than 500 varieties is a standout and the one I’m turning to as winter approaches. Start at their website for ingredients:
Their Secrets of the Himalaya line is full of allure:
“Un thé en majesté
Thé noir des hautes montagnes himalayennes aux belles feuilles torsadées, roulées à la main. Riche en bourgeons argentés, il délivre un arôme épicé doublé de senteurs de fruits exotiques.
L’infusion de couleur abricot offre un bouquet sensuel, un fruité malté presque épicé, une fragrance originale, chaude et opulente.”
Shop online or better yet, step up to the apothecary-style display counters at one of their outlets in Paris and tell the expert what you’re preferences are. Have him fill up a sachet and start your tea adventure. A little history:
The tea trade in France began to boom in the middle of the 17th century. At this time, King Louis XIV and the French East India Company encouraged the exploration of distant lands in the search of exotic goods. Around 1660, Nicolas and Pierre Mariage began voyaging on behalf of the royal court: Pierre was sent to Madagascar on a mission for the French East India Company, while Nicolas made several trips to Persia and Indiabefore being named part of an official deputation sent by Louis XIV to sign a trade agreement with the Shah of Persia. Successive generations of the Mariage family remained in the tea trade and in 1843, by then reflecting their experience and knowledge of the tea trade, members of the Mariage family opened their first wholesale shop in Paris.
Henri and Edouard Mariage, in June 1854, founded the present-day Mariage Frères Tea Company. For over 130 years the company was managed by four generations of Mariage tea merchants who maintained a wholesale-only business from their Parisian warehouse. The business consisted of importing premium quality leaf teas from the Orient, which were then traded to first class hotels and tea shops in France.
In 1983 the company transformed itself from a wholesale import firm into a retail company. Under the leadership of Kitti Cha Sangmanee and Richard Bueno, Mariage Frères started opening tea houses within central Paris. The first tea emporium and tea salon, located on rue du Bourg-Tibourg, opened in the same building where Henri Mariage had his offices over 150 years ago. The illusion with 19th-century colonial and exotic furniture, cash registers, counters and tea instruments is nearly perfect. But they all come from the historic former tea office and deposit in Rue du Cloître-Saint-Merri.
Today, the company operates over 30 Mariage Frères points-of-sale within France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. There are four Mariage Frères tearooms in Paris. DeanDeLuca carries it in New York.