Thursday, 3 April 2008

Taking Tea in Paris

One day, some enterprising person will open a chain of charming tea shops in London - the coffee chains are everywhere. You can choose between a coffee shop with a blue logo, or a red logo or the omnipresent green logo. If you want a cup of tea, you wind up paying 20 pounds in a hotel or drinking out of a paper cup in the National Gallery cafe.

No such problem in Paris. The French love tea shops, love the whole ritual of 'le the a cinq heures'. (For some reason they have moved it from four to five.) And the capital is full of tea shops - some chintzy, some opulent, one or two even cosy. Here are some favourites:

1) La Duree - Rue Bonaparte

When I first moved to Paris in the 80's La Duree was an old dowager of a teashop across from the Madeleine. They served their speciality macaroons - the baffling macaroon hysteria that has blighted 21st century teashops had not yet hit - and were generally considered a nice place for older ladies to meet. A few years ago, La Duree spread its wings and can now be found on the Champs Elysees as well as this opulent address on the Rue Bonaparte. Take a table in the room that looks like an Indian prince's tent- worth it alone for the jewel-toned brocade on the banquettes - and order, oh order anything you fancy - it's all excellent and an hour or two in here, is a magical escape from the slightly weary bohemia outside the doors.

2) The Restaurant at the Musee Jacquemart Andre - Boulevard Haussmann
Jacquemart and Andre were a 19th century power couple in the Parisian art world. She was a painter. He was a banker. They collected amazing art- a whole room upstairs in their palatial home is dedicated to Renaissance painters. Downstairs is a restaurant that is all red velvet, gilded mirrors and chandeliers. A favourite of the French ladies who lunch.

3) Musee de la Vie Romantique - Winter Garden tea room - only open in summer! Rue Chaptal in the 9th
Another speciality museum - this time inspired by Chopin's paramour, the novelist George Sand. Like the English George Eliot, this woman gave herself a man's name. The little museum is devoted to the Romantic era - it looks like a French country cottage and has a 'jardin d'hiver' where they serve tea in summer.

4)A Priori The - in the Galerie Vivienne near the Place des Victoires. An American owner - bright and light. A stop for tea here is a good excuse to wander in the Galerie Vivienne - one of several romantic covered passages in this part of Paris. More about them in another post.

5) Angelina at La Maison de l'Afrique on the Rue de Rivoli. An old-established stop - more for the rich, dark hot chocolate and the fabulous French Riviera mural than tea perhaps. My French friends swear by the Mont Blanc - for my tastes a rather sickly mix of sweet chestnut puree, whipped cream and meringue. Go on a late winter afternoon, gaze out at the silhouetted figures in the Jardin des Tuileries and order the phenomenal chocolate. The French, ever concerned about our livers take care to serve a carafe of water along with the thick dark mix.

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