It is quiet with dimmed lights. The shelves are full of tea on one side and teapots and cups on the other. They greet me with a glass of cold brew black tea. I did not know you could make that. I am finally at the legendary Palais des Thes tea school, a sacred place for tea lovers.
While tea paradise Palais des Thés was founded in 1987 by François-Xavier Delmas, L'Ecole du Thé was founded only 12 years later in 1999; it is the very first tea school in Paris and France. At the very beginning, this was the headquarters for the small team that started the tea company, but it was time to let go and set up the school. There is a Japanese tea ceremony room (I wish to be there someday) and a large room I drank my cold tea in.
There are three ideas behind this school. The first is that this school is for everyone who loves tea and would love to educate themselves about the world of tea in a more profound sense. Anyone interested can come (site.....). You can hear everything here about preparation, mixology (cocktails), tea from China and India, different grand crus, and the different ways to make and serve it. There is even a class for kids. The second goal is to educate the Palais des Thes staff: they have to go through five courses of studies before being allowed to serve in the shop. Last but not least, it welcomes clients – specifically restauranteurs, chefs, bartenders, mixologists – to discover the world of tea.
I sit there while Anna, the tea sommelier, prepares the first set of tea and wonder about how many types of tea are in the shop. I have been there countless times, always admiring the number of jars they have. How many types in the shop? They usually have about 300, and they change, especially in the Grand Cru section as it depends on territory, season, harvest and all the aspects of growing and harvesting.
Grand Cru teas are discovered and chosen by the father of this company, François-Xavier Delmas, while the rest of the teas are selected by various people in the company. In a world without any borders, Francois finds tea in many ways – knowing what to look for, knowing the local people and the producers, and welcoming producers that reach out to him. He is one of the most excellent experts in tea, spending eight months of the year in plantations searching for Grand Cru teas that sometimes are delivered not more than 20 kilograms per all shops. He has gone so far as finding amazing Grand Cru tea even in Africa that are available in the shop from time to time when the season comes around. And they are fabulous and very extraordinary. While I wait for my tasting to start (read here), she reveals all the details about the tea world.
We have come to understand that we can pair wine, beer, cognac, and cocktails with coffee, but we do not talk about pairing tea with food very often. That is what Palais des Thés is aiming for because they have discovered the beauty of Comte cheese melting in the mouth with a sip of Pu Erh or summer Darjeeling or caviar served with Japanese spring-harvest tea. As in wine, there are a few ways to do the pairings:
- food and tea close in taste notes, saying the same things.
- compliment each other. That is when different elements are put together, delivering the perfect combination. Comte and green tea, for example.
- fusion – mix the tea and food and make something special, not tasting the individual tea or other ingredients.
As with coffee, there is a cold brewing method for tea as well. You need not boil tea to make a cold tea with many tannins or requiring sugary syrups and additions. Cold brewing, done right, is simple and brings out more notes than you would expect. Cold brewing methods:
- the colder the water is, the longer the brewing time.
- pour room temperature water over the tea, put in the refrigerator before going to bed, and enjoy in the morning.
- brewing at room temperature is quicker. For green tea, it’s 30 minutes, black – 1h. But the balance is up to you and you have to find your best methods.
Essential oils are more concentrated in buds, less in leaves.
Tasting set – a tool that is used in professional tea tasting, which you do in these sets. Two grams of tea is poured over with water and then you flip it. You observe the leaves, you inhale the aroma, and you drink and enjoy. These 2 grams are quite a lot and give lots of rich taste that reveals all the good and bad, if it is there.
Rolling black tea helps break the structure. The leaves and essential oils and tannins will come into more contact with air. They are rolled quite firmly before oxidation. The more you roll, the more you work, the stronger it is.
Every French person knows what Grand Cru is, as it is everywhere, but it is less known for tea, which is still classified the same as other products. It is a balance between the territory where it grows (the characteristics of the place) and the talent of the grower. They are limited and don't last long because they have to be harvested in specific conditions. The tea will never be the same from one year to another as it grows in the mountains; mostly, they have to be plucked by hand.
Japanese don't analyze tea like we like to do. For them, tea must be beautiful and leaves should be uniform, dark green, and have umami.
Brewing ratio is on average 16 g tea per 1 liter of water. Of course, it always depends on your taste, and if you like lighter tea, then reduce the amount. The usual spoon is 4 grams, more or less.