Today was the day of Mariage Frères.
Mariage Frères, for those of you who don’t know, is quite possibly the most wonderful tea store I have ever been in – and this coming from a lady who grew up with Murchies and Silk Road. Not only are the tea blends delicious, but the whole feeling of the shop is like walking into another time. The clerks are young and clean shaven men dressed in slightly rumpled, cream coloured linen suits. Dark wood and artfully arranged tea pots create a cosy but aristocratic atmosphere. Wafts of incredibly scented teas fill the nooks and crannies as canisters are carefully opened and closed.
I have been in twice before – once for afternoon tea and curiosity’s sake, and once to buy tea for myself so that I can start my winter mornings properly with a smokey black tea.
Today however, is a little bit different. Today I have a list tucked into my purse from Judy and Pascale for all the tea either of them will need for the next year. I start by telling my particular smartly dressed clerk that I don’t speak french very well – I’m improving but I don’t have a lot of vocabulary for tea equipage. We proceed in a mixture of french and english, something that is becoming more and more common as I get more comfortable with speaking and asking questions. I’m getting the knack of using french even when the shopkeepers speak english, and only switch when I don’t know the right word.
If you buy five hundred grams of tea at Mariage Frères you get a ten percent discount. I dive in: five hundred grams of Marco Polo (green), five hundred grams of Sakura 2000, five hundred grams of…I can feel the eyebrows of the clerk inching closer to his hairline as my stack of tea grows – he is however also clearly enjoying himself. Half way through my order we move counters to one on the side where there is not quite as much traffic.
The tea is weighed using an old fashioned scale and counterweights. Glass display cases show sugar spoons, tea strainers, and elaborate china. The customers who come in know, for the most part, quite definitively what they want. For those who don’t know there is a list: to be honest it’s more overwhelming than helpful as there are so many choices.
I finish by buying myself a small amount of rooibus to drink in the afternoon and at night. Not knowing where to start with the list, I simply ask what is recommended, and leave with not only a floral and fragrant tea for everyday, but two samples of other ones to try. When I finally say, “C’est tout,” my assistant looks at all of the tea he has bagged and raises his eyebrows for real this time, and I feel like I can sense a wink even though his eyes don’t twitch.
The bag I leave the store with is not only large but heavy. I’ll be back at least once more before leaving Paris, this time to stock up my own cupboard before heading down south. Maybe even for another scone and the sheer experience of Marriage Frères.