I’ve just returned from Europe and on every street, signs beckoned me to tea as I walked past on my way to meet up with relatives or friends or visit a sight. The weather was beautiful (only 2 days of rain in 3 weeks) and there was so much to see. I purposefully avoided a busman’s holiday and walked on by.
Most European and UK bistros, tea rooms, salons de thé still serve teabag tea and scones (UK) or cakes, so perhaps I wasn’t missing much. In Britain, “teas” usually indicated, in the generic sense, a place to eat.
I didn’t make time for formal teas, because the beautiful summer weather influenced our itinerary. Why sit indoors when we could explore markets, museums and gardens. I did however visit a few exceptional tea establishments in London and Edinburgh and I will be writing about them in subsequent posts.
England and Scotland
Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, was built in 1446 and recently made famous by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. New-found interest generated over the past decade has turned the sight into a major tourist attraction. I was amused to find Rosslyn Chapel Tea on shelves next to Rosslyn Chapel Strawberry Jam, tea towels, etc.
Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow was only a passing photo op as the bulk of our 4 hour stopover on the way to Edinburgh was spent in the beautifully built “House For an Art Lover”, reproduced in the 1980’s from Glasgow architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1901 drawings (more on that in a later post).
August is ‘vacance’ for much of Paris. Shop keepers lock their doors and head to the beach for weeks. “Fermeture Annuelle” was posted on every shop door in the lovely neighbourhood near our hotel and the sides streets were quiet. Thankfully, most brasseries were open and the touristy areas were alive and abuzz.
I’m not sure what it is about Parisian shop clerks, but I found myself both intimidated and discouraged by them whenever I tried to communicate. I have five years of high school French which helped with everyday phrases, but when discussing tea, or what I might like to purchase, I had to switch to English, which of course diminished my credibility. I had the clear impression that I was taking up their time. Such was my experience at Mariage Frères where the shop person’s steely glaze could have been masking his desire to roll his eyes and tap his toe with impatience. “One must purchase a minimum 100g of any tea” and “payment must be made at the glass booth”. I purchased Xin Yang Mao Jian and Thé Des Poètes Solitaires – both excellent teas. Perhaps it was my mood, but what is regarded as a tea mecca to some tea lovers, left me feeling chilly. I was anxious to make a retreat into the sunshine.
In the pursuit of sights and destinations it is challenging to negotiate public transit, fiddle with maps and lose direction (occasionally), so in the late afternoon, it was comforting to recognize familiar streets as we approached our hotel.
My best experiences of tea in Paris were the post meridian hours in our 6th floor hotel room with the french doors swung open. We could refresh, plan the evening and rest our feet. I brought tea with me from last year’s trip to China and Korea and prepared it in a bamboo flask, eating pan tao peaches and sipping from porcelain cups that I carried in our luggage. We could peer down at the sunny garden balconies across our narrow street, content to listen through the wrought iron balustrade, to the sounds below, circling seagulls and bells of the nearest church tower.