The Story Of French Tea Culture

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When we think of French gastronomic culture we typically think of the stereotypical croissants, escargots, wine and champagne, and the like. However, it might come as a surprise that France has a very rich tea tradition as well, a tradition that goes back even further than that of Britain, but also a tradition that has been largely forgotten until recently.

Tea was first introduced to the royal court in 1636 by Dutch traders, even before tea found its way to Britain. Similar to many other regions of the world, tea was initially appreciated as an “Elixer of Health”, as botanist Dens Joncquet (1600-1671) put it, before being adopted by Louis XIV as a fad for the burgeoning aristocrat class of the time. During the 18th century French businessmen sought their own connections in Asia and started importing tea in large volumes. It would be remiss to not mention the impact of Mariage Frères Tea Company, a wholesale business founded in 1854 that started supplying Paris’ hotels, salons and stores with high quality tea. These days Mariage Frères has developed into a retailer with over 30 stores worldwide.

 After the French revolution at the end of the 18th century tea became more accessible to the public at large. However, by the 20th century the production and consumption of tea had dwindled significantly. This decline in popularity happened for several reasons. One is that tea still felt like a beverage for the Anglophile elite, and was rarely consumed at home. Another reason is that the French colonies were predominantly coffee producing countries, and tea was therefore much more expensive than coffee. In recent decades, with more awareness about our nutrition, tea has made a comeback because of its health benefits and as a suitable alternative to coffee.  

Copying their neighbors across the English channel, the French mostly drink black tea varieties, however over time the have refined their taste to a more delicate, more scented or flavored tea compared to the British. French tea is known for their sophisticated blends of flavors and scents, ranging from fruity to flowery to spicy, but with a great emphasis on using only the finest leaves and ingredients. As a result, French tea brands can be quite expensive for the average tea drinker, but to be fair, decadences has always had strong roots in French culture

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