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A Temple of Tea

by Laura Grimmer
Contributor
Tuesday Feb 26, 2013
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Never let it be said that the French do anything halfway when it concerns food or drink. From their extensive classifications of wine to their protected status of certain foods (including a chicken), they are a people with a purpose to seek out and define "the best."

The latest French entrée to the United States is an homage to tea. Le Palais des Thés was founded in Paris 26 years ago by François-Xavier Delmas, a tall, elegant Frenchman with a contagious passion for tea.

Since November 2012, Delmas and his team have opened two shops in New York City. Spearheaded by Aurélie Bessière, his niece who shares his elegance, and her husband, Cy, Le Palais des Thés locations in Manhattan reflect the refined Parisian sensibilities of the company’s roots.

New York City customers first see a wall of tea bins and boxes featuring more than 100 varieties including samples for seeing and sniffing. They are then welcomed with a complimentary cup of tea and a helpful guiding hand deciphering the vast selection of teas, blends and grand cru teas from the most renowned tea-growing regions in the world.


Are We Ready for Real Tea?

You may recall the United States’ history involving tea and our break from Great Britain back in the day.

In 2011, for the second consecutive year, the United States imported more tea than the United Kingdom, according to the Tea Association of the USA. Tea drinkers here consumed more than 3 billion gallons of the beverage in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available.

The teabag and iced tea originated in the United States in 1904, and that is still how we tend to consume the beverage today - 65% of the tea drunk in the United States is prepared using a teabag, according to the tea association, and 85% of all tea drunk here is iced. Another 25% is made from a powdered tea mix or consumed as a ready-to-drink beverage. Instant and loose tea made up the remaining 10%, though that is rapidly changing.

With a U.S. market estimated at $15 billion by the World Tea Expo, the greatest areas of growth are being seen in loose tea.


Le Thé, C’est Très Sérieux ... et Toute Simple

A post from Le Palais des Thés founder Delmas’ blog, www.discoveringtea.com, and featured in his book of the same title, illustrates the dual nature of the beverage drunk by an estimated 2 billion people worldwide (and about half of all Americans).

"Tea is a serious matter, it requires much hard work and science to grow it, harvest its leaves, wither them, heat them, roll them, oxidise them, dry them, sort them, and more. But tea is not just about that. It is also a simple drink, an everyday act, an affordable pleasure."

Le Palais des Thés tea professionals take the tea seriously. From the water temperature to exact timed steeping, a cuppa is akin to a wine tasting. From touching and smelling the dry and wet leaves, to describing its brewed color, the taste profile, its length and finish, you could be sampling a Burgundy instead of a Darjeeling.

"Tea is always evolving," Delmas says. "It’s just like perfume. It is a question of harmony. The tea has to be harmonious in your mouth."

Delmas also speaks of the concept of terroir, that the soil, climate and location play an important role in determining quality. Le Palais des Thés focuses on the traditional tea-growing parts of the world, most notably China, the Himalayas region, India, Japan, Korea and Sri Lanka.

"We are only interested in quality," Delmas says. "It’s important that tea has been a tradition, a permanent part of the culture and the people’s knowledge."

Trust the staff’s knowledge and easy manner at Le Palais des Thés to make your own journey a pleasant and interesting one. From single-estate black, green, oolong, Pu-erh and white teas, to exceptional limited-edition "grand cru" teas sought by connoisseurs, to flavored teas and blends, Le Palais des Thés has something for everyone.

Tea prices begin at $6 for 3.5 oz of loose tea, tea bags with whole tea leaves coddled in hand-sewn muslin bags, and a range of beautifully packaged tea gifts.

The New York stores bring the company’s now-global presence to 30 establishments while an e-commerce site and blog offer Delmas an outlet to share stories from his extensive travels.


The Search for Tea

Le Palais des Thés teas are available online and at the two New York City locations at 156 Prince Street in SoHo and 194 Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. There is also an in-store extension of its famed tea school in Paris, with an ongoing series of classes.

Le Palais des Thés products are also sold at fine stores around the country, including The Gourmet Table in South Florida; Monsieur Marcel in Los Angeles; in San Francisco at Tout Sweet Patisserie and Gump’s San Francisco, and at Central Market throughout Texas.

Other Specialty Tea Shops:
DAVIDsTea is a Canadian tea purveyor with multiple locations in Boston, Chicago and New York.

Teavana is another tea specialty chain with locations around the United States.


Tips for Preparing Tea at Home

Courtesy of Le Palais des Thés.

1. Start with the best. Use good-quality tea - loose tea or muslin tea bags. Disposable paper tea filters are easy to use, neat to remove, and give the tea leaves plenty of room to unfurl.

2. Filtered water works best. For the freshest tasting tea, start with filtered, room-temperature water.

3. Watch the water temperature. Keep in mind that different teas require different water temperatures.

4. Don’t re-heat the water. Once the water has boiled, the oxygen in the water is emitted and does not return, which affects the taste of the tea. If you don’t make the tea right away, start again and heat fresh, room temperature water.

5. Mind your infusion time. Pour hot water over the tea leaves and time your infusion according to the type of tea you are preparing. Remove tea filter or tea bag promptly to avoid bitterness.

6. Smell, taste, enjoy. Add a touch of sweetener or milk if desired. Many people find that correctly prepared, high-quality teas need no additions.


Laura Grimmer is a private chef and trained sommelier based in New York.

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