Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tea 'En Direct' : Le Palais now has U.S. online store

Those of you who truly know your tea have known about Le Palais des Thés for many years and that their tea offerings and commitment to better sourcing have made them one of the top names for quality tea in France as well as other countries around the world since their start in 1987.

Some of you may have already ordered directly from Paris, and others may have already scooped up your own favorite blend at one of the U.S. boutiques where they've been sold here-and-there in the past. Personally, I've enjoyed reading and hearing about their efforts to educate the tea-drinking public about the different varieties and have been envious of their tea sessions posted and discussed by the French TeaTerati for the past several years. (They even have an 'aroma specialist' in their employ!)

I'm pleased to let my readers know that you can now order your favorite Le Palais des Thés variety directly from their new U.S. web site. No need to keep checking Orbitz for that off-season airfare discount to grab your favorite (but a visit to any of their 5 locations in Paris would be worth the trip alone!)

If you haven't yet discovered Le Palais des Thés - this is a great chance to branch out a bit from your tea routine. They don't offer an enormous catalog of tea blends (called 'creations') or singular teas (grands crus) compared to some U.S. large-scale vendors, but that's because what they do offer is crafted so well, there's not a demand for eight different kinds of strawberry blended tea (ahem...just for example.)

And beyond their staple blends and pure teas, they have specially-selected tasting sample gift sets. You simply pick which region or genre you or your giftee is interested in exploring, and you have 12 different impeccably-sourced teas packaged not in pouches, but in tin tubes (which makes storage a breeze!)

I'm particularly intrigued by their China, Vietnam, and Taiwan set, and have it ordered to share with my family and guests hopefully in time for Thanksgiving in a week or so. You can literally tour the tea world in one evening with these tasting sets.

Francois-Xavier Delmas is one of the founders and the chief of operations who sources the tea each season. He's been keeping a blog in English for the past year, which is an interesting read if only to see what a day-in-the-life is like for the people who meet the tea producers around the world. His articles are organized by country.

If you're up to the challenge, try a Google search of Monsieur Delmas and Le Palais to see what's been written about the tea in French. The company was founded as a type of cooperative effort between a group of passionés, tea lovers, with Delmas at the helm. They organize tea tastings, tea education, as well as operating boutiques and online offerings in 26 different countries.

It's not the least expensive tea available, but it's not overpriced for the quality. Definitely worth checking out! The only caveat I would offer is that there are still aspects of their U.S. website where the translation appears to still be a work-in-progress, but I had no issues placing an order this week. It's a good sign that they're being careful and translating as-they-go!

And now they've landed officially in the U.S. Welcome Aboard!

Here's a peek at my personal favorite: Thé des Moines - Tea of the Monks

It's described as being based on a Tibetan recipe, hence the name and the reference to Buddhist monastic life. The Tibetans have long had a tradition of enjoying strong black teas (pu-ehr often flavored with warmed yak butter, a regional nutritional staple). But this tea is a departure from the strong, and I can almost imagine that it was blended as it was to suit the 'zen' motif of the monk's lives. Black tea blended with green tea and a slight hint of vanilla - it takes the middle road rather than the extremes of being too strong or too weak to be enjoyed. Storage conditions and availability may have also played a small role in how the tea oxidized to be a mixture. Nothing wasted, every green or black leaf is precious.

Le Palais offers the tea in the standard pouch or tin, but Thé des Moines is also offered in a traditional clay container, which is how the monks would have stored the tea. It's a special price to order it in the clay pot, and one wonders what the monks would have charged to share their tea with visitors, but it's an authentic experience.

Tasting notes:

How do you say...nice? It's smoother than you would expect if you were judging it from the dry leaf alone. It toes the line between a medium-astringency black and a lightly-oxidized green. The green leaf almost approaches an oolong in appearance and taste, which gives it a floral note in aroma and as an aftertaste. The vanilla flavoring is subtle and non-chemical, and helps to round things out. In the cup, it steeps into a nice medium-dark brown, favoring the black leaf.

Steeping time:

I had my best steeps around 3 minutes. You don't want to overdo the temperature or time on this one because it is a mixture of green and there's a balance to be maintained. Just slightly under boiling, about three minutes.

Other thoughts:

The only thing that would make this tea absolutely heavenly and perfect would be the inclusion of whole vanilla bean for that creamy edge, but there's nothing at all lacking in this tea as a unique and soothing choice for your evening cup.

Laissez le bontemps buvez!


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