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Tearooms in Paris
By Georgina Gordon-Ham

Oliver Scala, managing director of George Cannon and chairman of the French Tea Councils takes Georgina Gordon-Ham to explore the vast world of French tearooms.

We began our stroll around the center of Paris, which soon confirmed the numerous comptoirs and tearooms complete with their fusion of scents, colors and flavors. A number of the most renowned and well-established tea rooms are all within walking distance of each other and stand in one of the most elegant and fashionable areas in France’s capital, La Madeleine.

The outstanding streets that line Place de la Madeleine beautifully display France’s leading brand names and tearooms, where 1000s of tourists flock daily. When you walk around, you will notice how each tearoom contains something special and unique whether it is the inside with gorgeous interior decorating or the outside architecture. Designs reflects both in the style of the comptoir (shop) and the salon (restaurant and tea room), where a virtuoso in the art and arrangement quickly catch the eye. We stop at various tearooms including; Fauchon, which is something of a modern young model with her perfume and colors, onto Hédiard the mature elegant woman, and finally Ladurée the gracious elderly lady.

Fauchon, originally a family operated business was established as a grocery store in 1886 by Auguste Fauchon. The business later expanded to include other products such as tea that has now expanded to 30 shops.

Today, Fauchon is recognized worldwide that looks more like a modern French fashion shop wrapped in black, white, touches of gold and deep pink being the predominant color depicting French flair in style and colors along with a touch of perfume.

Catherine Chow, Fauchon’s, tea & coffee manager, discussed the companies new ideas and future prospects. “This is a magnificent place allowing us to have clients from all over the world. One of our important customers today is Japan thanks to Fauchon’s reputation and launch in Japan of ‘Western style tea,’ such as black tea and in particular ‘French style tea’ such as flavored teas unknown to Japan,” commented Chow. However, Fauchon’s customers are very varied: “There are customers who like to follow the fashion for tea drinking, and customers who are a bit ‘Bourgeois Bohemian.’” “Tea is becoming more and more a favorite drink in France as opposed to coffee and this is for health reasons. We have a ‘multi-segmented’ clientele. There are also the ‘amateurs’ who visit Fauchon because they always get quality and exclusivity. These three categories of people represent our core faithful customers.”

What could not escape the eye of Fauchon were France’s taste for apple and its derivatives. Cider and crèpe are a typical choice of the French diet. “Our best seller is still Thé à la pomme (apple flavored tea), which was created 40 years ago. When it comes to the world of flavors the taste of apple as a fruit is difficult for the palate to capture. Apple is easy to smell but more difficult to taste in the mouth,” commented Chow. Apple tea was Fauchon’s ‘atout,’ success card when introducing flavored teas to Japan. Flavored tea is perfumed and exotic.” Chow described it as the companies “Ambassador to Japan” describing the extent people would travel to purchase it. “The product has been our ‘light-house’ and given us a name in Japan.”

“Their French clientele are interested in a wider range of products and prefer flavored teas which distinguishes the national taste from an international one. The current trend is focusing on great origins of teas (such as Darjeeling). Tea drinking in France has much evolved regarding the quality of tea. The general tea culture has developed more and more in the French market. However, the way of consumption is roughly similar,” Chow explained.

Tea drinking is becoming more popular among the young. According to Chow, “Tea is becoming fashionable, especially thanks to the green tea influence. “Apart from fashion, young people are also drawn towards tea for health reasons.”

Dynamism, Exclusivity, Creativity
“ When I started at Fauchon my main mission was always to insist on exclusivity, by enhancing quality and propose new blends, that is not just for flavored teas,” commented Chow.

“We launched a 100% Fauchon style tin tea box in November 2005 in an exclusive shape and design. We also launched a new concept based on what we like to call the final Fauchon touch,” Chow stated.

In regards to the packaging, Chow designed a new tea box by understanding the current French market as well as the dynamics of what is French tea and what French people like in their tea. She infused concepts from a contemporary French style by adding some of the old elements including Western style tea in the past used to follow the British style. “I am not British. I am not interested in the square shaped tea box. What is the shape of the tea box in China? The shape is rather round. I have chosen an in-between the round and the square. It has a fine smooth delicate shape and depth. It is French. What I have tried to do is create a bridge between France and China. It represents quality,” stated Chow. They also used a different opening where customers could slide the top out and then find a small lid, which opens up. This idea was inspired by the philosophy of the tea ceremony explained Chow “In the tea ceremony one loves to take one’s time. There are certain gestures involved before the actual tasting: one touches, one places, one discovers, one feels and then tastes. When I designed the box I wanted all our senses to be awakened. Hence it is a very beautiful box to the eye, it is exclusive, it respects quality in taste and perfume and one has to touch it. The dynamic element also lies there. There are three colors of boxes because at home you either want natural tea or flavored tea.”

Our next stop is at Hédiard ‘Comptoir de Thé.’ We noticed that Hédiard adheres to the more traditional tearoom model with a subtle modern touch. Originally a family operated business Ferdinand Hédiard was the son of saddle-makers. At the age of 13 he left home to become an apprentice journeyman joiner. During a visit to Le Havre his life changed completely when he was walking along the docks watching ships and fascinated by the goods being unloaded. After he completed his Tour de France, Hédiard decided to settle in Paris and trade in exotic goods.

In 1994, Hédiard’s new owner, Michel Pastor made a point of keeping with the companies original standards and values. The presence of the brand overseas aims to transmit Hédiard’s “good French taste,” which is behind the company’s reputation all over the world.

Hédiard not only sells tea as a product, but also offers the ‘spirit of tea,’ encouraging those unfamiliar with certain blends to try a little. Visitors are invited to undertake a voyage of discovery. They are proud to say that the skills of their expert tea master, whose rigor and refinement are acknowledged by the industry the world over, enable Hédiard to offer a range of delicious teas: black tea, green tea, blue-green tea, white tea, smoked tea, flavored tea, from China, India, Ceylon and Kenya.

At each harvest, Hédiard selects the varieties, which will be sold under its brand name. And also here creativity is one of the vital elements. Didier Caron, tea specialist of the tea & coffee department discussed how Hédiard constantly adds and improves their tea products.

Mélange Hédiard, A Special Blend
The most popular tea at Hédiard is their special blend Mélange Hédiard. The blend is a fusion of Chinese and Ceylon tea flavored with bergamot, sweet orange and lemon. Caron explained, “We have around 200 to 220 varieties of different teas. Our customers are very varied. In France we have a clientele of ‘amateurs,’ we have the more mature customer who prefers black tea, smoked tea, flavored teas, and then other customers who prefer green teas and finer teas who are educated and have a palate for the subtleties of tea. This allows us to have variety in perfume and aroma in the types of quality of teas from the different regions.”

“The customer base at Hédiard is a compulsory route for tourists in Paris and we have the reputation of having excellent tea both among foreign customers and locals,” said Caron. Some of their customers “have been coming back to us for over 50 years, while others come to us in search of new products and even come from outside Paris.” Some like teabags but loose tea is still in great demand especially by Japanese customers. People know there is an ongoing turnover of fresh tea on sale in the shop in a variety of flavors including the aromatic ones, which are always natural.

What Makes a Good Cup of Tea
When asked which are the most important ingredients for a good cup of tea, Caron commented, “The way it is picked, the way it is dried; if it is green tea it should be dried quickly; if it is black tea, it should be well fermented without impurities. It is the quality of the tea, which makes a quality product. If you have a bad quality leaf you are going to have bad quality tea. Then come infusion time, the warmth and the quality of the water.”

Tea drinking is becoming more popular even among young people who are learning to appreciate tea more and more. “This is certainly due to fashion and the benefical health factor. They begin to learn the different flavors and tea has a natural flavor.”

When asked about his forecast for the future of tea and tea drinking, he said: “It is a natural product which has a positive aspect and that is what people are currently looking for. People look for natural products. It is important for health.”

In regards to France there has been a very distinct change over the past five years, “We noticed a 20% increase in demand every year on the French market. Abroad, “Curiously enough there is a demand for our products from the Asian markets (firstly Japan, South Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia and the Middle East). There is not much business with the U.S.”

Tea Advice
“Often customers come down to the shop after tasting our tea in the tea rooms, and Hédiard is always ready to offer advice.” What Hédiard offers their customers in the tea room: starting from flavored teas with Mélange Hédiard, which is a Hédiard’s blend between Chinese and Ceylon teas, sweet orange, lemon and bergamot, traditional Earl Grey with bergamot; Mélange mystérieux, Hédiard’s mysterious blend which is a mixture of Chinese and Ceylon tea with strawberry and rhubarb. Then there is a choice of origin tea, such as Ceylon tea, Yunnan GFOP, Darjeeling Jungpana, Lapsong Souchong, Assam Mangalam, Keemun; then come what Hédiard call their Blue Green Teas, such as Oolong Fancy from Taiwan, Ti Kan Yin Oolong which is a slightly fermented tea; their Green Tea, such as White Monkey, Chung Hao Jasmin tea; an exceptional Ying Zhen white tea, fruit flavored teas, green teas and white tea; in other words teas for all occasions.

Caron noted, “This year I am introducing about 20 novelties. We received four - five spring first flushes from Darjeeling, which are exclusively for Hédiard. In about a month’s time we will receive a second flush from Darjeeling. Then in September we hope to find something else; we are continuously seeking new choices in tea. We have teas for most occasions, like for instance we had a special blend tea for the anniversary celebration. We have Christmas tea. Most of our teas are imported from India, Ceylon and China, including a little from Japan. We have not yet found an exceptional tea from Vietnam. Then a small amount comes from Kenya. We are always looking for something which others do not have.” What counts for Hédiard is quality “Even when it comes to Darjeeling I am only interested in quality. Quality comes before quantity. Customers often ask us when are you receiving some new ‘first flush,’ or a green tea, a white tea?”

Through our stroll of some very distinctive tearooms in France one was able to learn not just about tea but the intricacies and genuine admiration these tea owners have for the world-renowned and one of the most amazing beverages.

Tea & Coffee - October/November, 2006

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