I sit there, while Anna (Palais des Thes tea sommelier) prepares a tea tasting starting with Grand cru tea. I have been to many tastings in my life, including slurping coffee, trying to mix air with wine at wine tastings, and trying to feel the differences between grand cru chocolates.
This is my first tea tasting, and before I can start the whole process, she makes me do an exercise of flipping tasting cups. She makes it seem so easy whereas I try to hold my tea in the cup. We talk and talk, but as it is crucial to try the tea at the right temperature, we get to the tasting in an order of smell, look, and taste.
The tea that she has prepared is made only from the buds. The bud is the youngest leaf. When it grows, it opens a bit but mostly stays closed. The young buds are a bit hairy, yet very beautiful. It has the highest concentration of caffeine that does not bloom in cold brew, but in hot preparation it works to the maximum.
Still, we have to keep in mind that caffeine in tea works very differently. Caffeine from coffee goes straight into the blood, but the tea (together with tannins) travels more slowly leaving a long term feeling, sometimes even 10 hours. Perfect for physical or intellectual work. Much better than coffee.
I have flipped my cup, and I put my cup closer to my nose. I have no idea what I am tasting, but all I can sense are the aromas of a wet sauna and birch trees that take me back to those cold days when we go into the sauna. I wonder what I have in that cup. The fresh birch tree leaf smell is there, and I cannot wait for Anna to reveal the tea. She tries to convince me that here are flowery notes and vegetal notes mixed with honey and sweet spices when all I can smell is birch, but finally, step by step, I sense what she has been talking about. There is a sweet flavor, oily texture, and it is smooth and round. And finally, I think – and the birch steps back. I find out that the leaves and buds are packed with essential oils, and the sun is crucial for this process. She reveals the secret: it is a tea from Fujian in eastern China, just across from Taiwan. There they grow and manufacture all kinds of tea ranging from white to green to oolong.
I have my second tea boiled to perfection, and I am only one flip away from trying it. The tea full of little hair from the buds, which shimmer in the tea. Lots of hair from Grand Cru tea means that the tea is excellent, not that the cup is dirty. I sense jasmine but I don’t know if that is true. This beautiful, round, pearl-shaped tea is hand-rolled: every bud is rolled into a pearl. Silver needle tea is rolled by hand and put together with jasmine flowers for seven nights in the summer when the jasmines are in bloom. It is done by night as it is at night when the flowers open and give their mesmerizing aroma to the world and tea. The flowers are changed every day with fresh ones. The texture of the tea is round with sweet flavor and no astringency. Very delicate and light, like a warm summer night – not too cold or warm.
This one is rolled to give it its shape and aesthetic look, and it also helps the buds to open progressively, giving us the possibility to boil it more than once. There are various jasmine teas, and most are not rolled, but the best ones will always have pearls that have been sleeping next to jasmine flowers.
While we wait for the third tea, Anna keeps telling me about tea, and I cannot stop wondering about a world this interesting. I have discovered the world of cheese, wine, even coffee, and I know what I love about tea – telling the difference between a good or a bad one, but she reveals so much that I start wondering if maybe I should join the team.
We have our third tea in the cup, I flip it over and try to guess what I have. She explains the family of notes we use to describe tea (vegetal, fruity, spicy, etc.). It is a dictionary of notes you have in your head only after many tastings.
I look at the leaves, and they look dark, almost oxidized, giving me a hint that this one is black, but I have no idea what I have been served. It is a very rare black tea from South Korea – they don't produce a lot of tea, especially black tea. It is one of the only black teas you can find in South Korea. It has a sweet flavor, notes of caramel, cocoa, freshly harvested potato, nuts, woody notes, and sweet spices like vanilla. Chocolaty and dense. It stays on my tongue for a longer time than other teas making me want the chocolate cake, which is supposed to be a perfect pairing.
We move to their signature teas, packed with flavors and loved by many.
The first one she pours (trying to surprise me) is one of my favorites - Le Thé du Hammam (hammam means Turkish bath). The recipe was inspired by the travels of Mr. Francois and ....... in Turkey, wandering around the markets packed with flavors. It is one of the first recipes created in Palais de Thes and the most iconic. Green tea with berries, green dates, orange blossoms, and roses. Sweet and flowery. A best-seller for a long time, stepping back to second place for tea, I will try the last one. This tea is ideal brewed cold or in cocktails, and I'm ready to try it at home.
Since it is a month before Christmas, the second tea in my tasting cup is The de Noel 2019. We sit there, tasting the 2019 tea with almonds and .... thinking about the tea of 2018, which was tonka and chestnuts. Annual teas are changed every year, offering unique tastes and are a great surprise when the festive season comes.
3 Anna pours Le Earl Grey for me, and although I am not a big fan of Earl Grey, I've always loved theirs. It is light and balanced, leaving me with the feeling of black tea with bergamot, not bergamot with black tea. It is very subtle, made with a base of Yunan tea that is very mild and round, made with essential oils and orange blossoms.
4. I have new tea in my cup created especially for Thés du Louvre and sold in the Louvre and Palais des Thes shops. It was created for their 30th anniversary; each tea symbolizes different things. Côté Jardin– green tea with apple, plum, and quince. Côté Cour– black tea with citrus and blackberry.
Finally, I have the new bestseller in my cup. I have no idea what it is until Anna reveals the secret – Scandinavian detox with birch and berries (sea buckthorn, cranberry, elderflower, blueberry). In this collection, every tea has a story behind it. It has a bright pink, ruby color, and the taste is sweetish and light. It is just one of the few in the Detox collection. The concept is trendy these days, but the PDT team believes that a detox tea has to be detox not only in name but in its properties. So, they made detox keeping in mind the identity of the tea house by looking for a country and territory in every tea and of the benefits. There is a balance in all – taste, health, and enjoyment.
Texture – you feel it by the tannins created in the mouth. It can be smooth, astringent, round, and/or balanced. Astringency can be very different when it is too much; then, it's not right. It is challenging to separate astringency from bitterness. So, you have to be careful.
Smell – tea can be sweet, bitter, sour, fresh, and umami, but never salty.
Umami in teas can be found especially in Japanese teas and matcha. Also, in some fermented Pu Erh, but not that often.