Tea at La Maison du Chocolat
by Elizabeth Knight
Even before The Dutch East India Company introduced tea to France in 1636, Alexander de Rhodes, a Jesuit priest who had lived in China for 30 years, credited tea as a cure for migraines and told his countrymen that individuals who drank tea enjoyed long lives. But in France, as in Holland, where tea was first sold in apothecary shops, doctors and philosophers passionately debated the merits of the exotic beverage just as they would with coffee and chocolate. Dr. Guy Patin labeled tea the “impertinent novelty of the age,” and that, perhaps, enhanced its appeal to the aristocrats, intellectuals, artists, novelists, and the fashionable elite who gathered in intimate salons to sip, gossip, and debate the issues of the day. Some adventurous souls reportedly smoked, as well as drank, moistened tea leaves.
By 1665, King Louis XIV’s doctors prescribed tea as a digestive aid, perhaps because royal minister Cardinal Mazarin claimed that drinking it had cured his gout. The Sun King reportedly drank the luxury beverage in a gold teacup, a gift from the King of Siam. Madame de Sevigne, a frequent visitor to court, wrote a letter to her daughter noting that one princess drank 12 cups of tea daily. This court correspondent was also the first European to record the taking of tea with milk, circa 1680.
Sevres produced exquisite porcelain tea wares for wealthy beau monde patrons who could afford to have artists, such as Boucher, paint portraits of them seated at their tea tables. Eventually, tea trickled down to the bourgeois, but the fashion really caught on about 1840 with public tea salons opened in Paris. Afternoon tea, which the French called le five o’clock, was traditionally served with a variety of patisseries (pastries), rather than cones and finger sandwiches. Sometimes, a cup of sinfully rich hot chocolate even replaced tea. Belle Époque English tourists were shocked, but today Paris boasts more tearooms than does London.
The French claim to drink the largest variety of teas in the world. If a flight to Paris isn’t in your immediate plans, you may enjoy an elegant French tea experience in New York City at La Maison du Chocolat. As suggested by the cocoa- and gold- colored décor, the main business of this Paris-based Chocolatier is the selling of delectable handmade confections, such as chocolate bars, truffles, ganaches, pralines, marrons glacés, chocolate-covered fruits, and rich pastries, among other soigné (elegant) treats. To guarantee quality and excellence, La Maison du Chocolat controls every step of production, from selection of the raw materials to the finished product. All its chocolates are made by hand, with exceptional savoir faire, in small quantities in the company atelier in Nanterre, near Paris, and are then sold worldwide. The team of pastry chefs prepares and bakes daily the pastries for the boutiques in Paris. The company’s international boutiques have their own ateliers with qualified pastry chefs trained in France.
All three New York City boutique shops provide petite circular tables and comfortable chairs where tea lovers and chocoholics may indulge in a delicious pot of freshly brewed Mariage Frères tea accompanied by decadent patisserie and chocolate confections. Non tea drinkers may enjoy hot chocolate or coffee.
The excellent tea menu offers these choices and descriptions:
Earl Grey Imperial—“This grand classic with bergamot is a springtime Darjeeling from the foothills of the Himalayas.”
Fuji-Yama Sencha—“A green tea with the superior sencha leaf cultivated on the slopes of Mount Fuji…”
The sur le Nil—“Unexpected alliance of citronella, citrus fruits, and red fruit berries.”
Jasmine Mandarin—“…green tea with delicate jasmine flowers…”
Metis (rooibos)—“…red tea from South Africa…balance of floral bouquets, and flavours of raspberry and vanilla. Caffeine free.”
French Breakfast Tea—“Alliance of black teas with notes of chocolate, caramel, and vanilla. “
Darjeeling Himalaya—“…summer flush…black tea with woody notes reveals refined flavours of walnuts and roasted almonds.”
Marco Polo—“Invitation to the Mediterranean with a delicate union of black tea, and bouquets of red fruits, caramel, chocolate, and vanilla.”
Empereur Chen-Nung—“….Black tea with the subtle aroma of smoky orange peels…”
The pastry collection, sold exclusively in the boutiques, consists of the following:
Macaroons (mak-a-rons)—small cookies made of almond paste or ground almonds mixed with sugar and egg whites. The flavored ganache is nestled in the soft shell.
Éclairs—chocolate pastry cream tucked in delicate choux pastry dressed with chocolate glaze.
Cakes and Tarts—Lemon pound cake, Pleyel (chocolate and almond cake), chocolate tart, Salvador (chocolate cake, lemon-zest cream, and truffle mousse), and Bacchus (chocolate cake, raspberry confit, and truffle mousse), and Dèlice (chocolate cake layered with chocolate ganache), among others.
Company chefs also create special seasonal pastries such as Yule Logs for Christmas, Galettes des Rois in January for Epiphany, desserts or tarts for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day.
As in the 17th century, cocoa, tea, and coffee again cross paths at special Parcours Initiatique tasting sessions where customers explore the “intertwining of complementary flavors.” Several times per month, three teas selected by Paris-based Mariage Frères and two coffees selected by La Columbe Torrefaction are sampled with chocolates. To inquire about available dates and prices, phone 212-744-7117.
For more information about La Maison du Chocolat, go to lamaisonduchocolat.com, or visit one of the three New York locations:
Midtown West Boutique
30 Rockefeller Center, between
Fifth and Sixth Avenues
Upper East Side Boutique
1018 Madison Ave., between
77th and 78th Streets
Wall Street Boutique
63 Wall Street
Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the information listed above was correct. However, please be sure to verify this information before making plans to visit to ensure it has not changed.