zondag 25 januari 2009

Tea and the Guillotine - part 3



However, popularity among the upper classes may have been the kiss of death for tea in France. In 1789, a screaming mob, enraged by a noble class that did nothing but levy crippling taxes and make war, attacked the notorious Bastille prison.
By the time the violence stopped, the king and queen had lost their heads and so had a goodly number of counts, dukes, and the like. Tea, a symbol of royalty, went the way of royalty.

Tea's story was not over in France, however. Only 50 years after the Revolution, an Anglomania swept the country. Everything English was all the fashion and it again became stylish to take tea, often in the evening after dinner and accompanied by small pastries.

It was around this time that the famous French tea importer, Mariage Frères, began to expand its business. Jean-François Mariage had been running an import firm featuring teas, spices and colonial goods in Lille, a city to the north of Paris, since the late 1700s.
He trained his four sons—Louis, Aimé, Charles, and Auguste—in the family business. Aimé's sons, Henri and Edouard Mariage, in turn took up the family trade.

On June 1, 1854, they founded the Mariage Frères (Mariage Brothers) tea company in Paris, today the oldest in France. Mariage Frères quickly demonstrated what has become its trademark—interesting blends.
In 1860, the company came out with "Chocolat des Mandarins," a tea/chocolate blend touted as a healthy way to consume chocolate, which was considered difficult to digest.
Today the Mariage Frères catalogue lists 213 blends among its selection of more than 500 teas. Also available are tea-flavored cookies, tea candy, tea-scented candles, and tea jellies, a French invention now found in shops from Kyoto to New York.

And it's only a beginning. Tea is growing more and more popular in France, especially in Paris. Three "tea drinkers' clubs" meet regularly to drink and talk about tea. French tea aficionados can study their passion at the "Université du Thé" (University of Tea) and the "Ecole du Thé" (School of Tea).
Nearly 145 tearooms do excellent business in Paris and more open every year. Four-star chefs even use tea as an ingredient in appetizers, main courses, and desserts. French drinkers of tea pride themselves on their diverse tastes, from English-style blends to Japanese greens to Chinese whites. They practice what they call the "French art of tea," which simply consists of quality ingredients, careful preparation, and elegant presentation. Removing the leaves from the pot immediately after the tea is infused is especially considered the first principle of French tea preparation. A marked interest for teas grown on specific estates is another hallmark of the French approach to tea. Sound familiar? You're right.
The French are bringing to tea the same seriousness they have always devoted to wine. In short, tea may finally have recovered from the French Revolution and be rightfully taking its place in France!

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