Learning about tea at Mariage Frères in Paris
Learn more about tea with Mariage Frères at its nostalgia-evoking 17th century residence in the Saint Germain or Marais district of Paris. The first is located on the corner of the narrow Rue des Grands-Augustins, in a building listed as a historical site, where the learning experience about tea is transformative not only knowledge-wise but also refreshing one’s spirit.
Mariage Frères became a Parisian tea institution over the centuries of its existence. Today more than ever the company offers a complete tea experience – from selling tea, savouring it, cooking with it, to education for its customers and professionals alike. There are a number of locations across Paris, yet only some also became the “Ateliers de Dècouverte et de dègustation“, therefore it is always good to check ahead where each class is taking place. Anyone can participate of the “Tea Club” soirèes – weekly tea themed events at one of the Mariage Frères’ tea salons. The only challenge is the language – you either will need to refresh your French or book a private class as most of the employees speak English.
The PRIVATE CLASSES accommodate up to two people and last for three hours (€300/1 person – €360/2 people). These cater to client’s personal needs. From history, customs, preparation, degustation and gastronomy to diversity of tea around the globe, during the private session one learns anything that he/she is interested about.
A tea master or a specialist guides you through the tasting and answers all questions that may pop out in your head. Jean-Christophe Cornillon was the specialist guiding our SMALL GROUP (€65 per person). Usually between four-to-nine people can participate on these Saturday morning classes lasting for about 1.5h. Although my French is very basic I was able to understand most of the theory and discussion (my specialist knowledge about tea helped too). We were introduced into the class with a short overview of tea’s history, the culture which evolved around tea from China through Japan to Europe as well as the gastronomy surrounding tea consumption.
The tea selection during our class themed as “La première approche” – the first approach – was extensive (12 teas of different origins and types) so we could understand the diversity of tea, its properties, preparation, taste, health properties and mainly how to approach its taste from smell to aroma. It was the perfect way to explore and find teas that flatter your palate the most. You might by surprised and find your new favourite where you would not expect it. During this class your stereotypical views such as ‘all black tea is bitter and needs lots of sugar and milk in order to taste good‘ may be broken as you will learn about some smoky pu-erh from China, partially fermented oolongs that are more mild and some of the aromatic and complex Indian Darjeelings that may be enjoyable without sweetening!
Yet, these intense teas are not good to start with. The right approach is to begin with unfermented delicate white teas, then move to grassy green, partially oxidised yellow and blue oolongs, and finally to fermented black teas reaching the climax of intense taste with aged teas of a pu-erh type. With each tea we were recommended an ideal food or dessert pairing. My favourite was a chocolate macaroon with the Yunnan Imperial black tea from China. Its aromas of tobacco, wood and cocoa created a perfect harmony with the sweet cocoa flavour of the macaroon.
There are other classes offered by Mariage Frères such as “Secretes de jardins” – garden secrets when grand cru teas are tasted; “All green” – comparison of green teas from divers terrors or “Compositions parfumèes” – scented teas such as jasmine and all time favourites at Mariage Frères (the Marco Polo is the best seller).
Whether you just drink tea on rare occasions or are a true connoisseur, you will surely benefit from these tea classes. After my participation I appreciate and drink even more of this healthful beverage and I have clarified my taste preferences since tasting so many teas next to each other at the same time guided my palate in the right direction.
Marais: 30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, Paris 4e; +33 1 42 72 28 11
Saint Germain: 13 rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris 6e; +33 1 40 51 82 50
Tea Club registration: +33 1 43 47 18 54
Other locations across France, Germany, London and Japan.