Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Moment in Le Palais

I'm one of those people who loves France, and particularly Paris, truly, madly and deeply. It's a culture that has perfected the art of subtlety in nearly everything it does. Wine, spirits, perfume, cuisine, fashion - they are able to layer simple flavors, scents, colors, textures in such a way that draws you in and holds you tightly without your ever being aware you've been ensnared.

My first trip to Paris (age 21)
Front row: P and me (yes, I went totally blonde)
Back row: L'Hotel national des Invalides 
I've found French tea, and particularly tea from Palais des Thes, is no different.

It's fair to say that, in general, there are two types of tea that I would consider near-necessities: Assam and Milk Oolong. Assams come in a grand spectrum of single estate leaves to multi-faceted breakfast blends, and I most often love an Assam that shouts from the rooftops rather than whispers its virtues. Assams typically start my day. Milk Oolong, on the other hand, is a relatively new discovery for me. I was first introduced to it about five or six years ago. This is a tea that I would consider my guilty pleasure. When something is particularly difficult or I'm in need of a little TLC, Milk Oolong is typically my equivalent of comfort food. It's not for every day. It's for special occasions.

And so, when I opened a package from Palais des Thes with an Assam and a Milk Oolong enclosed, I felt like I was opening a gift from my best friend who knows me so well.

While I admittedly love my Assams strong and brash, I loved the quiet strength of Assam Bazaloni. Smooth and just the slightest bit peppery, it made its presence known without bulldozing my palate. And the color, a rich and regal red, had such clarity of tone, I can only compare it to listening to that moment when a tenor hits and holds that perfect note - it causes shivers to go up and down your spine.

Again, the tea is a feast for my eyes as well as my tongue. Called Milky Oolong, this tea is sheer luxury. I love reading that this tea was "created by a Chinese community that has been growing tea for decades in the village of Mae Salong in Northern Thailand." I can just imagine the pride and care taken with these leaves.  The scent is a creamy mixture of light honeysuckle and vanilla, and while the creamy nature of the tea is present as you sip, it is delicately in the background, layered with floral notes. Even when you've finished the cup, there's a pleasing essence that lingers with you, so like a Parisienne who walked by a minute ago but you can still detect her signature fragrance.

For those of us who like our teas big and bold, know that French teas truly are more restrained. Savor the nuanced layering of flavors and scents. You, like me, will look at some "old favorites" in a new light and with new appreciation. Vive la difference!

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