I adore tea (some things never change!), and I always look forward to opportunities to try new varieties—particularly in lovely settings! Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be in Paris, and I convinced some family members to take a trip to Mariage Frères. I can’t quite recall where I heard of this company… possibly from a friend in Japan, as there are several tea salons from the brothers Mariage throughout the country. Our experience in the Paris tea salon remains a fond memory, so when I realized we’d be taking a trip to London I wanted to see if there was a Mariage Frères location even though it’s a French tea company rather than a British one.
I was lucky to travel with several extremely indulgent people who enjoy desserts, so not only did we visit—we returned! The tea emporium in Covent Garden deserves its name: it’s a large and well-appointed shop with a few museum-like areas and a restaurant. I believe it’s quite new; a few articles I read implied that it opened in 2019. (This article has some beautiful pictures of the emporium!) The tea shop sections on the first floor have an elegant dark-wood apothecary feel while the upstairs restaurant is crisp white with a somewhat tropical impression. A large skylight and tall front windows flood the emporium with natural light. I felt quite thankful that the hours are generous (10am to 10pm while we were there), as it enabled me to dart back for one last purchase before we headed home.
Although they do offer a full tea service, both times we opted for pots of tea and a few desserts. The desserts varied each time, and our selections (a small citrus cake and a cherry blossom-themed cream dome) tasted marvelous and looked beautiful. A set of two tea-infused madeleines, a staple item on their menu, were so well-received that we ordered an additional set the second time. The tea infusions included Earl Grey—golden brown and so aromatic, the rich emerald tones and grassy notes of matcha, and bright pink floral fruitiness from a tea called “Happy”.
The teas themselves stood out as highlights. I could not have felt luckier to be in London for the sale of 2019 first flush Darjeeling—it’s probably my favourite varietal of tea, and all the shops were selling their new harvest! Mariage Frères offers Darjeeling from several different estates from the region. I loved being able to select from so many options and compare the tastes. (In the end, I brought home some from Monteviot… and considering that I can’t find it on the website, I’m particularly glad that I went back for it!) I wish I could have tasted them all; the Castleton, Monteviot, and Namring King Upper were all absolutely lovely. 🍃
Although I’ve enjoyed Darjeeling for many years, I didn’t really know as much about it until I started reading a few articles in my 2019 first flush excitement! I wasn’t aware that it’s a particular plant as well as from a specific region—Camellia sinensis var. sinensis instead of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (called “Assam”). It has smaller leaves and is harvested by hand. It’s grown at a higher elevation than most teas. It’s also subject to a significant amount of fraud: 40k tons are sold per year and 11k tons are produced per year. (I’m reminded of counterfeit concerns regarding olive oil and balsamic vinegar…) I feel even more appreciation for this tea now that I’ve done a smidge of reading about it! I plan to continue learning more.
I wish there was a Mariage Frères tea salon closer to my home… I’d love to be able to take a book there, order a pot of tea, and read. The setting, service, and quality of tea (and sweets!) definitely impresses me. Maybe someday the United States will get a location, but until then I’ll have to keep an eye out when I’m traveling!
At least I can now brew a few cups at home in my own tiny Mariage Frères tea pot! It was a gift, and one I am enjoying quite a bit more than I expected! It serves just under four teacups worth of tea and has a usefully wide opening at the top, as well as a generously-sized metal steeping basket. I’ve owned other petite tea pots that are more a of a nuisance to clean than they are worth or which don’t have enough brewing space for the leaves to open. The silver tea scoop is extremely pretty, as well, and I no longer feel anxious about using it since I learned how to properly polish my silverplate!
Of course, we didn’t stop only at Mariage Frères—I plan to share a few thoughts about the Twinings and TWG shops as well. 💕 Please look forward to it! ☕