Although Paris is known for its cafes and cafe culture, where French people relax daily with their strong cups of espresso, there’s a hidden tea culture in Paris. Though not as touted as cafes, Paris has an impressive list of tea salons or salon de the, high tea service at luxury hotels, and casual cafes serving high-quality tea.
Tea has always lived in the shadow of coffee in France even though it arrived in 1636, 50 years before coffee. Considered an exotic treasure at the time, tea was imported from China and Japan, becoming popular with the royals and the aristocracy, beginning with Cardinal Jules Mazarin, a French statesman who drank tea to cure his gout. Word got out that tea helped cure common maladies and ailments, so Louis XIV, the Sun King, began drinking tea in 1665 because he learned the Chinese and Japanese rarely had heart disease. He lived till the ripe age of 77, a miracle at that time.
King Louis XIV thought tea was so essential, in 1692 he bestowed Francois Damame the exclusive license to sell tea in France and the first tea brand was born, now called Dammann Freres. In 2008, Dammann Freres opened a flagship boutique on the historic Place des Vosges, stocking over 150 tea flavors plus a selection of teapots, gift sets, and teacups.
Here’s a full range of tea service in Paris, from the no-holds-barred high tea at five-star hotels to more casual and less expensive options.
1. Hotel Ritz Paris
What could be better than having high tea at the Ritz? Not much.
The historic Hotel Ritz Paris on the Place Vendome, the pinnacle of French luxury hotels, was recently refurbished from top to bottom to the tune of 200 million euros, which took close to four years to complete.
One of the best new additions to the renovation was the Salon Proust, a lounge and tearoom dedicated to the legendary French writer Marcel Proust, a frequent guest at the hotel.
Proust was from the Parisian upper class and used to the finer things in life. Salon Proust reflects Proust’s fine taste with plush lounges and club chairs, a selection of books behind handsome, wood doors, elegant sconces, a marble mantle with a working fireplace, and a painted portrait of the handsome and sophisticated Proust.
Even the most discriminating tea snob will be astounded by the long list of the highest quality teas on the 17-page menu, which includes black, green, white, and fermented tea plus herbal teas from India, China, and South Africa.
Pastry chef Francois Perret has devised a departure from the expected British high tea menu of tea sandwiches and scones, with a decadent, all-sweets menu. A three-tiered, silver tray arrives with a dazzling selection of cakes, sweet breads, cookies, and meringues.
When you are done, the check discreetly arrives inside a burgundy leather-bound book by Proust. You also receive a memorable souvenir: a mini-tin filled with tea packaged in a blue box embossed with an illustration of the hotel.
High tea is served from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily and is just under 70 euros per person. For an extra 20 euros, you can enhance the experience with a glass of champagne.
2. Shangri-La Hotel Paris
The Shangri-La Hotel Paris has the distinction of the only place in Paris that serves a vegan high tea menu.
First built in 1896 as a palace for Prince Roland Bonaparte, a relative of Napoleon Bonaparte, the massive space was transformed into the five-star Shangri-La Hotel Paris in 2010. Since the building was designated a historic structure, the hotel still retains a good deal of the original architectural elements from the Louis XIV, Empire, and Greco-Roman periods.
Shangri-La Hotels is a Hong Kong-based company that is decidedly Asian inspired. The tea menu features three black Grand Cru selections from Ceylon: Ran Watte with notes of peach and citrus; Meda Watte with notes of caramel, figs, and thyme; and Yata Watte, with notes of bay leaf, spices and dried apricot. There’s also Uda Watte with notes of hazelnuts, almonds, dried fruits, and caramel.
I was a pastry chef and baker in New York before I moved to Paris and was skeptical that the taste of the pastries made without butter, cream, and eggs would live up to my standards. I was pleasantly surprised! The apple and raisin scones were dense and delicious and served with so-called whipped cream so authentic, I prodded the waiter about what ingredients they used to make it so good.
Next up was a selection of nut and chocolate tartlets and not-too-sweet meringues. In case that wasn’t enough, three more desserts arrived: pastry cream with a butter cookie crust, vanilla pastry cream, strawberry marmalade all ensconced in a ring of organic strawberries, a pavlova with meringue, jasmine-scented pastry cream, and poached pomelos with vanilla, and, last but not least, a chocolate and salt shortbread with caramel mousse and soft chocolate interior.
The Shangri-La experience is currently 45 euros per person (80 euros for two) every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
3. Mariage Freres Tea Salon And Tea Shop
Mariage Freres is one of the most beloved and oldest tea brands in France. The story begins in 1854 when brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage open a wholesale tea business, importing teas from Asia and India that were sold to high-end hotels and tea shops. The business successfully continued for four generations of the family and in 1983, Mariage Freres extended into retail outlets and tea salons. The flagship shop in the Marais district is located in the same building where the brothers first had their offices.
Designed to resemble an Old-World European tea counter, the charming boutique has authentic wood plank floors, lead glass lanterns, and dark wood shelves lined with their trademark black canisters and yellow labels filled with the most aromatic teas. The staff is dressed in the store uniform, a crisp linen suit, and they diligently cater to the customers, climbing up ladders to the highest shelves to retrieve the ideal tea suited for them.
The delightful tea salon in the rear of the shop offers a full lunch and afternoon tea menu. Tea is served in their signature teapot, which has a silver body with a white porcelain spout and handle, plus a tea cozy to keep it warm. You can purchase the same pot to take home in the boutique.
Over 1,000 teas are offered on the menu and they use only purified water to make the tea. You have three serving options: hot tea, cold infused tea, and iced tea. Tea-infused pastries and desserts are available including frosted madeleines flavored with Earl Grey and matcha green tea, cheesecake flavored with fruit tea, dark chocolate cake with Black Magic Tea and decorated with 24 karat gold leaf, creme brulee with Tibetan Marco Polo tea, and an iced macaron with fresh fruit and rooibos syrup.
Before you leave Mariage Freres, make time to visit the Tea Museum on the second floor, which houses artifacts, books, and objects telling the story of the Mariage Freres tea company.
The restaurant is open from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and tea service is from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
4. The Great Mosque Of Paris Tea Room
Did you know Paris has an authentic mosque? Grande Mosquee de Paris was built in honor of over 100,000 Muslim soldiers who fought for France in WWI and is located in the Latin Quarter. The mosque has stunning mosaics, a garden with flowers and fountains, a hammam (a Turkish-style steam bath), and a Moroccan restaurant and tea salon.
The outdoor tea salon resembles a Moroccan cafe, decorated with colored mosaic tiles and carved wood tables. Tea is served in a glass embossed with gold, lined with fresh mint. Moroccan and Middle Eastern pastries such as baklava, gazelle horns, chebakia, and date cookies are available to order.
The restaurant serves excellent versions of classic Moroccan dishes such as couscous, tagines, bastilla, and harira.
The most popular macaron maker in France and probably in the world, Laduree started off as a single pastry shop opened in 1862 by Louis Ernest Laduree.
In the early 1900s, his wife, Jeanne Souchard, came up with the idea to wed the Parisian cafe with a pastry shop, thus opening the first tea salon in Paris. It was a place where women could freely meet other women for tea during the day without having to be escorted by a man, which was the custom in that time period.
Laduree brought in artist Jules Cheret to decorate and paint the tea salon. Cheret was inspired by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the new Paris opera house, painting the ceilings with cherubs and gold paint.
Today, the opulent tearoom is still intact and a wonderful atmosphere to have afternoon tea with Laduree’s prized macarons.
6. George Cannon
A high-quality tea purveyor since 1898, George Cannon imports teas from Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. In the shop on the Left Bank near Montparnasse is a quiet tearoom, a calm oasis to enjoy a cup of tea and delectable pastries flavored with tea. Loyal customers claim that George Cannon makes the best scones in Paris.
For more Parisian dining inspiration, consider visiting the seven best bakeries in Paris according to a former baker as well as these five superb pastry chefs and chocolatiers in Paris. And if you still want a strong espresso after reading about all that tea, don’t miss the nine best cafes to experience in Paris.