French Tea: The Pleasures of the Table: and a delight for the senses

Jan 26, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Beautiful photographs, great listing of shops for anyone in France.

Cons:Lack of information for non-European shoppers, not many recipes.

The Bottom Line: Nice little book on the history and style of drinking tea in France.

Ask someone about countries that are associated with tea drinking and the answers are likely to be names such as England, China, Japan and maybe India, Russia or Ireland. But France? I had always thought of the French as coffee-drinkers, but in Carole Manchester's book, French Tea I was very quickly educated in how the French view tea and tea drinking.

And why not? After all, the French have become masters of refinement and elegance, crafting some of the most beautiful ceramics and silver and naturally, in the culinary arts. This slender book -- it's less than 150 pages -- is full of some of the most beautifully photographed arrangements of tea, teaware, and places to sit and enjoy.

The book starts out as most books on tea do -- with a history of the discovery of the brewing of tea in China in antiquity, and the arrival of tea drinking in Europe in the seventeenth century. All of this is quickly covered in the introduction, and then Manchester moves on to the two places where tea is taken in France -- namely in public, at Salons de The, tea salons, and in private The Chez Soi, tea at home. Finally, there is a section that has some delicious recipes to enjoy with tea, and listing of both tea salons and places to buy tea and teaware in France. The book winds up with an index.

Salons de The are a place to meet, to gossip a little, to have a respite from a day's shopping. You won't be able to get a full meal, but rather it's the art of the snack taken to the heights of luxury. There is usually a wide assortment of teas, along with many varieties of pastry -- usually very rich with butter and whipped cream, or jewel-like petit fours. Many salons still have the same interiors from the late nineteenth century, with marble tabletops, comfortable chairs and crystal chandeliers. Others have an ethnic flair with Japanese or Moroccan themes. In this section there are a glossary of French terms for all things tea, and a listing of where the principal tea growing regions and the varieties that they've produced.

And then there are more private indulgences. There are descriptions of sumptuous feasts of baked goodies either made at home or from the local patisserie, or it can be as simple as a tarte tatin fresh from the oven. What's nice about this section is that the author talked to various tea conossuiers and collectors, and got their suggestions for various occassions where tea is part of the celebration. There is a glossary that describes various sorts of French pastry as well.

The recipe section is fairly sparse, focusing mostly on sweets, such as tartes -- I especially recommend the lemon or upside down apple -- and small delights such as financiers and palmiers, and with only two recipes for savory dishes. The fougasse or flatbread is made with olives, and there is one for quiche with zucchini.

The listing of various places to take tea is very extensive and include addresses and telephone numbers. Most of these locations are in Paris, so if your travels are taking outside of that city, it may be harder to find a place for your tea break. The same thing with the suppliers -- we have addresses and phone numbers, but alas, there are not any urls or websites given. This makes it very difficult for anyone here in the States from creating their own little bit of French heaven.

While Manchester's writing isn't very evident in this book, it's the photographs that sell. They are beautifully lit and arranged, with mouthwatering arrays of not just tea and treats, but also fine silver and china, all arranged to make even the most hardened nonromantic have an urge to stop and linger for a while. Another lovely touch are the literary references that the author uses from classical French literature such as Balzac, and of course, Proust.

This makes an elegant little addition to the tea-lover's bookshelf. The author has also written a book on tea-drinking in the Orient: Tea in the East. Recommended.

French Tea: The Pleasures of the Table
Carole Manchester
1993; William Morrow and Company
ISBN 0-688-11355-9

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