Anytime Is Tea Time in Paris

photo: salon de the, le marche st catherine

A 'salon de thé' that looks like a bistro - in the
Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine.

Alternative Cafés - the Salons de Thé

Paris:- Wednesday, 10. March 1999:- You might not have noticed it, but if you shake a stick at this magazine, it would be pretty hard to hit a page without a photo of a café or a bistro on it. There are about as many of them as there are in Paris.

This is because walking around Paris is thirsty work, or Parisians are constantly thirsty for other reasons; but it should be remembered that cafés also have chairs, so if you are tired as well as thirsty, you can sit down too.

Most cafés have some other attractions or services as well - such as food, or cigarettes, or the Loto; or even off-track betting, and some cafés even run sessions of philosophy as a sideline.

So, Paris is essentially a café. Cafés that tend more towards food and meals are called bistros, but these can have all of the café characteristics too. It is hard to tell the difference sometimes. I don't think there is any special rule about when a bistrophoto: mariage shop, etoile can call itself a restaurant. I can tell you that some restaurants are not bistros, but I am not sure why they are not; except perhaps it is because they are somewhat slower with service.

This new Mariage Frères' salon de thé opened late last year near Etoile.

Paris is a café. Any time when you don't feel like standing up on the street, there is a handy café to go into. A café is nearly synonymous with having a drink; usually a thimble-sized cup of coffee made in an espresso machine. If you ask for an 'espress', you will get a small cup of coffee, and it will currently cost about a dollar, or six francs.

For people who don't want coffee, cafés also have wine, water, soft drinks and 'hard' drinks like pastis or whisky. In theory, cafés also have milk too; but it is used mainly for making café-au-lait or for the café's cat.

A lot of cafés also have a small selection of teas with strange names, and they can make a drink called an 'infusion' which I think can be had as straight steam, or with rum in it if you are feeling damp. I have never had an 'infusion,' so I don't really know what they are. I think Ernest Hemingway suffered from damp and probably described them thoroughly and truly but if he did, I forget what he said about them.

On the whole, if you read this magazine regularly, you probably think there are more cafés in Paris than any other sort of commercial establishment. If you do, you will not be far off.

I want you to understand that I am not going to write about salons de thé because cafés have anything wrong with them or are rough joints full of boozers and cigar smokers, althoughphoto: mariage freres, etoile some are and some do have some smoke in them. No. Most cafés are ordinary oasis' and are fine as they are.

Ah, this is sort of a public service I want to do here. Paris also has 'salons de thé' - Tea Rooms - in addition to cafés and bistros and restaurants.

A window full of samovars and tea pots is unusual in Paris.

To be frank, there are not many salons de thé and certainly fewer than one on every corner, but there are some. A lot of cafés and bistros will even have the words 'Salon de Thé' on their awnings, but there are also some really real ones.

Metropole reader, Allan Pangborn, who seems to have taken up residence here, tipped me off to the salons de thé today. If I were not always running into unusual things in Paris, I would find this tip unusual for two reasons. Allan is a professional wine guy; Champagne to be precise, and Allan's wife is a professional coffee shop operator.

But I am so used to the unusual that I don't begin to think it is odd that he thinks I should see this tea shop until we've walked a long ways and have gotten lost around Avenue Friedland. This happens because I think I am following him and he is following me.

Actually, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré does a trick around here and we've practically gotten to the Etoile before I notice.

The place we've come to see is called Mariage Frères. It is a big blond-wood shop on the corner of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Rue de la Néva, about a block east of the Place de Ternes on the same side as the Salle Pleyel.

Mariage Frères is a salon de thé, but it is also aphoto: mariage freres, marais tea shop, a museum and a restaurant; spread out over two floors. Inside, to the right is the way downstairs and just beyond, the tasting area. Straight ahead is an old-fashion cash kiosk and behind it is the tea shop with its 'wall of tea.'

The window above: near Etoile; this window: in the Marais.

This is a wall of 450 pots of tea, from 32 countries. In this area there are also other tea things; pots, cups, accessories, knick-knacks, gizmos and some very slinky-looking samovars - which could serve as a lot more than mere coffee-table conversation pieces.

This shop promotes something I've never heard of and it is called the 'Art Française du Thé.' I find it amazing that Mariage Frères not only has this concept but exports it to Japan as well. It is astonishing to me because what I know about 'French' tea would barely cover the bottom of one of those thimble-sized café coffee cups.

Yet it is true. Mariage Frères has three outlets in Tokyo and one each in Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka. For example, in the tasting area you can try out Gyokuro, a green tea, which is 'infusé' for exactly two minutes and 30 seconds in water at exactly 50 degrees centigrade.

If beer in cafés were handled with this precision, Munich would be in trouble. The fact that tea in cafés in Parislogo: mariage freres is handled with the same precision as beer, means that salons de thé like Mariage Frères not only survive but thrive.

With its Musée du Thé, its Salon Colonial, its Jardin des Poètes, its shop and its area for 'le brunch,' 'le lunch,' 'l'heure du thé' with the cozy Lloyd Loom arm chairs - from 12:00 to 19:00 - Mariage Frères is much more than a simple salon de thé.

It is refined, its decor is slightly exotic with a lot of natural materials, and it is a very calm place. Just perfect for tea time in Paris all day long. And, not the be forgotten - all tea shops seem to specialize in light meals, cookies and cakes.

If you don't want to make the long trek that Allan and I've done, Mariage Frères also has similar shops in the Marais and on the left bank in the Rue des Grands-Augustins.

Salon de thé seems to rhyme with cookies and cakes and 'Ladurée' on the Champs-Elysées - yes! on this Avenue! - is famous for these. Then there is 'A Priori Thé' in the 2nd arrondissement's Galerie Vivienne. The 4th arrondissementphoto: salon de theiere, marais has two well-known salons too; 'La Charlotte de l'Isle' on the Ile Saint-Louis and 'Le Loir Dans la Théiere' near the beginning of the Rue des Rosiers.

The salon de thé, Le Loir Dans la Théiere, in the Marais.

There are three salons in the left bank's 5th arrondissement: 'La Fourmi Allée' in the Rue du Fourarre, 'Daumann's' in the Rue Cardinal-Lemoine and 'Le Café Maure de la Mosquée de Paris' in the Rue Geoffroy- Saint-Hilaire; which is supposed to have touches of the Alhambra in it and which is across from the Jardin des Plantes.

Also on the left bank, in the 6th arrondissement, there are 'Tch'a' in the Rue du Pont-de-Lodi and the 'Restauration Viennoise' in the Rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine. Finally, in the 7th arrondissement, there is 'Pewoty's' which is supposed to be quite British - almost a lady's club which admits suitable 'gentlemen' - in the Avenue Bosquet.

There are other salons de thé around Paris as well. The way to tell them apart from cafés and bistros which have 'Salon de Thé' on their awnings, is real salons de thé seldom look exactly like cafés or bistros.

Tea was my drink of preference for ten or fifteen years, but I switched to coffee and have been happily c-c-chugging along on it for a good long time now without too many sleepless nights.

For this reason, if the rest of this issue seems a bit like tea time in Paris, next week's will be pure Café Metropole as usual; if for no other reason than to keep my eyelids above half-mast.

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