The ‘Art of Tea’ at Mariage Frères

The luxury tea purveyor and tearooms, Mariage Frères, is celebrating the 170-year anniversary of its founding. In honour of this milestone, I was invited to its Covent Garden, London, tearoom for the launch of its celebratory tea blend, ‘Birthday in Love,’ as well as its summer menu, which included an iced tea named ‘Paris in Love’. 

France’s oldest tea house, Mariage Frères, opened its first maison de thé in Paris in 1854, building on the family tradition of tea importing and trading since 1660. Then, in 1984, Mariage Frères opened to the retail trade, and continued to open further locations across Paris, Japan, London and Germany. 

The Covent Garden location I visited opened in 2018, after the success of its Selfridges boutique in 2012. It is a beautiful building set over two floors for the public, consisting of a ground floor tea shop, with displays of patisseries to take away, as well as their myriad teas, and exquisite tea paraphernalia. There is also a floor above containing the tearoom, where visitors could sit and enjoy its edible offerings, accompanied of course by a vast selection of Mariage Frères teas, overlooking the shop floor below, or out onto the busy street at the front. 

Out on display, front and centre, was Mariage Frères anniversary blend, ‘Birthday in Love’, which is a handpicked Darjeeling, with additions of bergamot, rose petals and jasmine, which comes in a red, pink and gold box of 30 individual tea muslins. And, as part of their summer launches, there was also the newest addition to the Mariage Frères iced tea portfolio, many of which are themed to specific locations or cities, and so it was apt timing for the Parisian tea company to launch ‘Paris Summer.’ Housed in a large jar, the loose-leaf tea is designed to be cold brewed, and consists of green tea with yuzu, mint, green bergamot and rose petals. Also in the summer launches, were the tea infused and inspired patisseries, such as the ‘Bon Anniversaire’ cream cake and ‘Tea Ice-Cream Sandwich’, both flavoured with the ‘Paris Summer’ tea. 

In between sampling the new offerings, I spoke to Mariage Frères’ Covent Garden store manager, Benjamin Biget, about the launches and the company’s ethos. He emphasised that quality is everything, and they are entirely immovable on that fact. They negotiate directly with farmers, not just to ensure a fair price, but also to ensure the highest standard of quality, including that they are organic. If an ingredient used in one of their teas or blends is no longer available at the high standard Mariage Frères requires, then the product it is used in will just be no longer available for however long it takes, explained Biget. Mariage Frères won’t compromise by subbing in an inferior ingredient just to keep the product line available for customers. This is especially essential since many are very often ‘made to measure’ exclusively for Mariage Frères. All Mariage Frères teas and infusions are rigorously tested for compliance to strict standards of quality and organic practices, and the Mariage Frères  ‘Jardin Premier’ stamp, certifies that they meet the standard. Biget added that, while this is a very expensive process for the company, it is non-negotiable. 

This sense of fastidiousness and tradition is part of the fabric of Mariage Frères, said Biget, and transparency is everything. Little has changed in the company since it first opened its doors to the public, yet it continues as a steadfast brand associated with French elegance. Mariage Frères achieves this, explained Biget, by staying in its own “bubble,” not looking at what competitors are doing, only focusing on themselves and staying true to its purpose and way of doing things. 

Most of the news we receive at Tea & Coffee Trade Journal can be rather coffee-oriented, and I think that is because tea is so much more steeped in tradition, as evidenced by Mariage Frères and its “bubble.” The tea world seems to want to do things the way it has always done them, and doesn’t feel the need to be constantly reinventing itself the way coffee sometimes does. This mentality clearly works, with tea being the most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water, beating its coffee counterpart. Tea is associated with tradition and propriety; you only have to look at the huge popularity of afternoon tea services that places such as Mariage Frères and many prestigious London hotels provide. There is an appetite for the experience as well as the tea, and this is something that Mariage Frères felt acutely aware of on my visit. Something I will continue to ponder, over the ‘Paris Summer’ iced tea I took home with me! 

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