"Adding sugar, milk, English-style — this is not tea," says Madame Yu Hui Tseng, whose Paris teahouse is the epicenter for refined palates. Indeed, French taste buds shudder at the idea of milk masking the delicate flavor of exotic, scented teas.
The Paris tea rush has spawned a rash of sleek teahouses and revived forgotten gems. There are new Japanese, Korean and Russian houses, and classic French addresses such as Hédiard, Dalloyau and Mariage Frères are newly fashionable. Even Sorbonne intellectuals sipping Moroccan tea under the sprawling fig trees at the Paris Mosque have had to make way for a chic new crowd.
French women have always preferred a tisane as the last drink of the day. They claim it stimulates the kidneys, dissolves fats and speeds digestion.
The teas seem expensive (sometimes $10 a cup), but these are tea temples where you learn how to steep it properly, sit and sip for at least an hour and unwind in this relaxing, almost therapeutic ritual. But taking tea requires one sacrifice — lunch or dinner — because you can't possibly add tea when the cakes are so very Versailles.
Mariage Frères' glossy black canisters with tea from 35 countries are exported to connoisseurs all over the world, but it saves the best for this tiny salon in the fashionable Marais. The mood is colonial Indochine: sunny yellow walls, potted palms and tables set with silver and linen.
A waiter offers a choice of 500 teas (black, green, red, blue and white). In summer it serves enormous, stemmed bowls of frigidly cold tea like Tea sur le Nil ($9.62), a green tea flavored with citrus. It's delicious with Full Moon ginger cake or Tibet tea panacotta ($13.75 each).
There are pretty gifts to buy, such as lacquered wood tea canisters in cyclamen pink, orange and teal blue. Before you leave, take five minutes to go upstairs to the tiny museum of 19th century weighing scales, tea chests and caddies.
10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. 30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 011-33-1-42-72-28-11, www.mariagefreres.com.
Ladurée's emblematic creation is the sugary, round macaron — in 20 flavors. The old-is-new-again teahouse is a temple to Marie Antoinette. Do as Parisians do and go upstairs to the cushiony banquettes set against wood-paneled walls, mirrors and painted murals.
How can you possibly have anything but the Marie Antoinette tea, which is Chinese tea infused with extracts of rose, jasmine, dried fruit and honey? And what would the queen have selected to eat? "St. Honoré à la Russe," says a waitress in a floor-length apron. It's a confection of filo pastry, rose petal custard, Chantilly cream, miniature éclairs, raspberries and rose petals.
If you choose macarons with your tea (a selection of four is $8.40) the favorites are violet, raspberry, rose petal and orange blossom.
8.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. 16 Rue Royal, 011-33-1-42-60-21-79, www.laduree.fr.
Dalloyau, in the heart of chic shopping, has been around since 1802. The fashion crowd loves it because teas are carefully matched to each season, and the cakes are iconic.
Dalloyau was the first pâtisserie to put gold leaf onto chocolate-topped cakes and the chocolate pyramid, Le Louvre ($6.25), is named for the entrance to the museum. The first-floor tearoom shimmers with turquoise silk cushions against chocolate brown, and on a midsummer's day the aromatic Fruit Tea is delicious: flavored with grapefruit, orange and rose oils ($9.62). Choose a St. Honoré pastry with it.