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A little tour in Paris.

The great city of light and love is also emerging - although some may find this an incredible statement - as a capital of tea and coffee. Actually, I would vote Paris as the international tea capital, in terms of the number of stores in it that offer a wide range of exceptional teas and due to the potent presence in Paris of a large and devout population of tea connoisseurs. Surely it need no longer be a secret that a good share of the best teas offered in other European cities originate from Paris. Tea lovers can be well advised to look for what they crave in Paris; if it's not there, they probably won't find it in the Western world.

While not so ethereal, the city's coffee atmosphere has markedly improved over the past decade. True, the hotels for the most part still serve abominable beverages that m.align the good name of coffee, but the city has been blossoming with coffeehouses and boutiques, with roasteries and espresso bars where fine coffees can be savored and purchased.

The businesses profiled below all offer interesting teas and coffees, or related products, of established quality. They are not necessarily the very best in Paris, but they are indeed representative of the city's enduring passion for good things to eat and drink, a savoir faire that is turning to tea and coffee.

Verlet

The small serving room is crowded - a tourist or two only, the rest are Parisians. It's the middle of the afternoon and all the seats are taken - they are always taken here. This is Cafe Verlet, a tradition in coffee and tea for more than 115 years on the rue St. Honore. Some of the faces seem familiar, actors out of makeup perhaps, as the Comedie Francaise is only a few steps away.

This is one of the city's most prized locations. It is an address well-known by coffee and tea lovers, not only in Paris but across France. The atmosphere is definitely cozy, the feel is old-timey but friendly - antique without snobbishness.

Cafe Verlet is owned by Eric Duchossoy, a youngish man who knows a lot about coffee and tea. He bought the place two years ago from Pierre Verlet, grandson of the founder, and a highly respected roaster Verlet, who is retired, comes in everyday to keep up with customers who, through the years, have become as close to him as family.

Duchossoy is a roasting master. He roasts each morning at a working location a few streets away from Cafe Verlet, this in keeping with one of the tenets of Cafe Verlet - that the store sell only fresh roasted coffee.

"You should know I was born in a coffee bean," jokes Duchossoy, referring to the fact that his family has long been in coffee - his father and grandfather roasting coffee - and that he played in the coffee sacks as a young child. His father still roasts at the family business in Le Havre. Eric himself branched off on his own several years ago and, in addition to Cafe Verlet, owns another coffee roasting company in Le Havre - Brulerie de la Porte Ocean.

But currently the Paris company occupies him full-time. "I believe we've kept standards as high as ever here," he explains. "Perhaps even raised them just a bit in trying to live up to Pierre's reputation. To do so is a duty, a promise to my customers who come in faithfully expecting the very best."

Facing the serving area is a long, well-worn coffee and tea retail counter, high and rich in wares. Concerning coffee, the philosophy here is to offer one-of-a-kind plantation coffees to discriminating consumers. Cafe Verlet is so committed to acquiring rare coffees that in many instances it is buying the entire production of specific producers.

In addition to four famous house blends - each with its own loyal following of ardent consumers - Cafe Verlet always offers more than 20 single origin coffees. These vary throughout the year as a matter of policy to allow customers to further explore the universe of coffee tastes, and also as a reflection of availability and cup quality.

"I work with the leading green coffee specialists in France, at trading houses dedicated to fine coffees," says Duchossoy. "But I also know the coffees selected intimately. I purchase on cup approval only. I accept on cup approval. Also, I travel to origin and sometimes know personally the specific plantation or farm where the coffee comes from.

"For example, I know the farmer by name who grows my Colombian coffee," he says. "In Cameroon, I know the Catholic monks in the Bamoun region who produce for me a wonderful washed Arabica Peaberry."

The current menu of coffees at Verlet also includes rare offerings from Brazil, Ethiopia (Sidamo), Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uganda (Bugisu), Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Venezuela, Australia (Queensland), and two from India (one from the Mysore area and the other a monsooned Malabar).

About 70% of the turnover at Cafe Verlet is in coffee, 80% of this is in take-home business. The company does a brisk trade in tea as well, accounting for 25% of sales. Depending on the time of year, Verlet offers an array of between 40-50 different teas, ranging from the rarest garden teas to blended and flavored entries - all teas are in bulk.

Cafe Verlet sees 70% of its sales in the store itself, another 15% is in out-of-home markets including some of the most exclusive restaurants in Paris. The remaining 15% is through a thriving mail-order business.

"We can't actually expand the store concept," says Duchossoy. "The quality here is so high that it would be impossible to replicate; you just can't franchise with one-of-kind coffees and teas. So we're now focusing on the hotel/restaurant/cafe trade and on mail-order. That's where our growth is, where we can control the quality."

Asked if he sees any particular trend in taste among his customers, Duchossoy laughs. "These teas and coffees are so rare, they are a trend in themselves," he says. "Such good things are always new, always a discovery."

Pause Cafe

Across the heart of the city and in the old quarter along the rue de Rivoli, there is another kind of Paris - far from the haunts of the famous. Here, in search of an intriguing product called 'Pause Cafe,' one finds the small company Confiserie Rivoli. Inside the door, instead of coffee, one gets a traditional candy wholesale operation; amid heaping stacks of boxes, ladies in matching smocks are popping sugar candy eyes onto sugar candy bunnies.

Confiserie Rivoli is owned and managed by Didier Richard and his son Patrick. Ten years ago, they created a coffee candy that they trademarked under the Pause Cafe name. The candies are coffee bean replicas - roasted bean size, shape, and color. Each 'bean' is a confection of sugar, glucose syrup, and dry extract of soluble coffee. Coffee content is a respectable 6%, explaining why these bonbons do taste like a cup of Parisian cafe espresso; their appeal, however, depends on preference. The candies contain no other flavorings, no colorings.

Pause Cafe has been sold mainly in France, although there has been a trickle of exports to Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and some indirect sales to Japan and Israel. The company is small, however, and there are language problems to overcome. But Patrick Richard is still hopeful that the product will take off internationally. He is very proud that it won a blue ribbon last year at the International Confectionery Tradeshow.

Each bean contains approximately 0.19% caffeine, so about half a dozen beans give you the stimulation equivalent to a cup of coffee. This means there are about four 'cups' worth of coffee to each tube of Pause Cafe. The product is packaged in hermetic, soft plastic tubes, in 20 gm. weights. It is offered in counter display boxes - 36 tubes to a box.

In France, Pause Cafe is marketed as a mild, natural stimulant for drivers, athletes, and students. It is sold nationwide in truck stops, pharmacies, and supermarkets.

Richart

If you want chocolate with a difference, or, for that matter, a chic specialty retail store with an attitude, then check out one of the Richart establishments in Paris. There are two of them, with the flagship store on Boulevard St. Germain.

A noted name in chocolate making since 1925, the Richart family has also more recently launched a successful upscale retailing enterprise that now extends to six stores in France plus eight abroad - two in Monaco, two in Barcelona, one in Zaragosa, one in Hong Kong, one in New York, and the just-opened store in Zurich. The stores are operated under various auspices - wholly owned, in partnerships, under franchise. No matter, they all carry the unique and extravagant line of Richart artisan chocolates - made at the company's plant in Lyon - plus a few carefully chosen products deemed appropriate companions to the chocolate masterworks. These include most particularly a line of coffees and teas.

The Richart selection has recently expanded from three to five teas - each tasted and approved as complementary to fine chocolate: Orange Amere, Old Man Tea, a Yunnan & Darjeeling, a strong breakfast tea, and a Keemun. The coffees are Kenya AA, Nicaragua Maragogype, and a house blend (origins undisclosed). The coffees and teas are produced under contract specifically for Richart.

All the coffees and teas, like the chocolates, are packaged in white, discretely designed to delight the minimalist, and with distinctive shapes. The tea, for example, comes in a white cube of cardboard, only a square cut out of the front to show the word 'THE.' The effect is understated elegance for affluent young aesthetes who shun the traditional.

The St. Germain store has recently been redecorated, having been opened in 1987. The store has kept its main characteristics - clearly delineated, and simple displays of white packaged chocolates and related products stark against soft gray walls. The individual displays are lit up like artifacts in a modem art museum. The store does in fact seem more reminiscent of a swank art gallery than a chocolate shop.

The arrangement of the newly redecorated store is interesting because teas and coffees have been brought up front to the display window area, and are thereby given far more prominence than before. Obviously, Richart foresees more business in tea and coffee to come. According to the company, the new Zurich outlet is in fact a tea and chocolate store, with half the space given to fine teas.

More than making their own diverting shapes and imaginative, non-traditional designs in chocolates, Richart also packages small selections of their production under private label for second party contractors.

Brulerie Doree

For the common man, one of the best addresses in the Paris coffee and tea scene is Brulerie Doree. This store is truly a neighborhood kind of place, a 'morn and pop' coffee, tea, and chocolate emporium, without mom or pop, that is. The man in charge is Simon Bitton.

Situated in a workaday quarter of western Paris, Brulerie Doree is more of a coffee, tea, and chocolate bazaar than anything else. It is a dizzy jumble of wares - an entire display case of imported Belgium chocolates; a whole wall full of bulk teas in dotty canisters; a file of Plexiglas roasted coffee silos identified by hand lettered signs. The display windows spill over with every imaginable accessory. Inside the store, you can barely move - items are heaped at every hand, covering every surface.

Here there is no effort at alluring customers: no marketing, no art, no seduction. This is crude plenitude. There are actually two Brulerie Doree stores, one in Paris, one in Boulogne. Bitton also sells at open air markets. In the Paris store, tea prevails, not only in the wild display of items but also in terms of turnover. Bitton has 45 teas on offer, all in bulk. He himself is a tea connoisseur. The choice and qualities he makes available draw tea drinkers to his door from across the city, and are the basis of his reputation.

By contrast, the coffee is far more restricted. Bitton has five blends, including an espresso and a decaf, plus two single origins - Colombia and Nicaragua Maragogype (ah, how the Parisians do love their maragogype beans). The coffee is sold under an "Oncl' Sam" label eccentric but fun.

The down-home emphasis here is on supplying a practical array of conscientiously produced traditional blends, based on quality green beans, roasted to please local tastes. And please they apparently do, because the coffee has been a great success - with its three operations combined, Brulerie Doree sells more than 1,800 kilos a year of roasted coffee. Bitton himself directs the roasting at the Boulogne store, using an old Parisian-built Virey & Garnier roasting machine.

La Maison des Trois Thes

The Latin Quarter would seem an unlikely location for one of the city's most elitist establishments. Nevertheless, that is where La Maison des Trois Thes, the house of the three teas, is found. But perhaps the radical nature of this unique business justifies the Bohemian locale. This is not just any tea room, but in fact acts as a temple of sorts to the exquisite aromas and tea ceremony arts of the world's most precious teas.

Coming in from the street, one finds a simple, unpretentious serving room in pine wood paneling with matching tables and chairs. The lady greeting you is Tseng Yu Hui. She is as unusual as her tea house, having devoted her life to the study of the rarest China and Taiwan garden teas. As a result, her tea house is the first to feature Taiwan teas in Europe - and may well be the only one of its kind to be found anywhere outside of Taiwan. Certainly as to its offering of rare teas, both from China and Taiwan, it is said to rank among only four or five such tea houses in the world.

Tseng would rather discuss the nuances of aromas and flavors, which is her private world and one in which she is a revered expert, but for us to understand how rarefied her stock and trade is, we must talk of money.

La Maison des Trois Thes has two tea menus - one with a tea serving, in tiny thimble fulls, starting from Fr50 (about $9) and going up to Fr150 ($27.00). The other menu, however, in the same delicate portions, has servings that cost from Fr1200 ($220) up to Fr2000 (about $365). The latter includes such wonders as a Taiwan Oolong that fetched $1000 for a kilo, and an even rarer Gao Shan Cha that was purchased for $1500 a kilo. Beyond this, the tea house is stocked with priceless teas that have been aged for as much as 55 years. These are teas demanding an incredible degree of handiwork and expertise in production - as much as 60,000 hand motions for a kilo weight, whose sum annual yield may not reach 60 kilos, or for that matter, even 10 kilos.

Such rarity means that La Maison des Trois Thes exists for the highest strata of tea devotees, a clientele that comes here from across Europe just to linger, for hours perhaps, over a single tea ceremony. Some people travel to Paris solely to taste these teas.

The most habitual and serious clients acquire their own private tiny teapots, which Tseng sources and authenticates herself during her frequent trips to the Far East. Each is handmade in the exact region of a particular Chinese tea tradition. The pots are so small they can be held in the palm of one's hand.

Like the tea they are made to infuse, for a period of no more than 10 seconds, the costs involved are mind boggling - Tseng sells pots for from Fr8,000 up to Fr40,000 (from near $1500 up to more than $7000). She has known of a particularly rare, aged tea pot to sell for more than $35,000. Needless to say, these pots are never washed, only brushed after use. They are also kept under lock and key.

Generally, the tea house can do no more than serve its treasures, eking out its precious reserves small-pot by small-pot. However, when supplies permit, Tseng will sell a few grams of her teas. Now, for example, she has five teas with enough stock on hand to justify selling them to those who need not bother to ask the price in advance.

La Maison des Trois Thes has been in existence for two years. Is it a success? Tseng gives her most winning smile. Not at all, she explains. This is a passion and not a business. Profit is not the goal. How can it be when sometimes she travels all the way to China just to buy a single kilo of tea?

Turning from such talk, which obviously does not please her, she returns to what does - sharing another pot with you. She pours the tea into individual serving vases. She sniffs the little vase carefully, repeatedly, every few seconds, naming for you a dozen times all the different and ever-changing aromas that it offers. Then she pours the vase of tea into the teacup and again savors it for yet more exotic aromas. At last she sips it, taking small sips until the treasure is gone. This is the Gong Fu Cha ceremony, and it dates back to the Ming era.

Lapeyronie

If there was a contest among Parisian roasters for the person who revels most in his work, Bruno Saguez might likely be the winner. This is a man who loves to roast coffee.

"I had a career for many years as a professional roaster for a big company" Saguez says, referring to Dannon, which is now Segafredo Zanetti France. "When I left that, I wanted most of all to be able to roast the exact kind of green coffee I chose personally, in exactly the way I wanted it to turn out. I wanted to mix my own green blend by hand, from the sacks themselves, scoop by scoop, to my own recipe. I wanted to be able to stop the roasting just before it ought to be done, and let the last of the heat finish the batch slowly and to the color ! was looking for. I wanted to take the still-hot beans from the batch and grind them no more than two steps away on a little kitchen grinder and then brew them up for cup testing with the roasting machine right there in sight."

With his roasting shop and coffee bar Lapeyronie, Saguez has gotten precisely what he wanted. And it seems to have made him a happy man, as well as earning him a large and very loyal following of Parisian coffee drinkers. The clientele pay homage to the unusual coffees available at Lapeyronie - as to origins, blends, and roasts.

Lapeyronie has an ever-evolving coffee menu. Each month, a new origin is featured - in April, for example, it was an El Salvador SHB. Saguez is difficult to please in green purchasing, so he's quick to disqualify what he finds lacking and banish it at least temporarily from his roster. Most recently, he offered two coffees from Ethiopia, a Sidamo and a Harrar; a Maragogype from Mexico; a Papua New Guinea Sigri; a Kenya AA; a Colombia Excelso; a Costa Rica SHB Tarrazu; and a Guatemala SHB Antigua. In addition, he has eight house blends, including a decaf.

What immediately sets Saguez's work apart, however, is the roasting. He offers two shades of roast for the Mexico and the Sidamo, light and dark, displayed in silos side by side for the shopper to chose between. They can also cup the roast before buying. For his espresso blend, he has an astonishing range of eight roasting shades for the customer to select from.

"I believe taste in coffee is a personal matter," says Saguez. "The roaster's art is to coax the different tastes from the green coffees and from the blends. When this is done well, in carefully established shades from light to dark, the consumer has a universe of taste to explore. I have clients who work systematically through all my coffees in their different roastings."

Although the store features a complete espresso bar and a sidewalk cafe, by far the business centers on take-home purchases. A full 60% of the turnover is in roasted coffee, 25% is in tea - the store stocks 60 teas in bulk including an exclusive full range of non-smoked China teas.

Lapeyronie is located a short walk from the modem art museum at the Centre Georges Pompidou. It's not the best neighborhood in Paris, but when one arrives, the location seems insignificant.

Cafe Verlet, 256 rue St. Honore, 75001 Paris. Tel: (33)(1) 42 60 67 39, Fax: (33)(1) 42 60 05 55.

Confiserie Rivoli, 17 rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris. Tel: (33)(1) 42 72 80 90, Fax: (33)(1) 42 72 96 19.

Richart, 258 Boulevard St. Germain, 75007 Paris. Office Tel: (33)(1) 42 46 34 12, Fax: (33)(1) 48 00 03 97.

Brulerie Doree, 73 Avenue du General Michel Bizot, 75012 Paris. Tel/Fax: (33)(1) 43 45 56 33.

La Maison Des Trois Thes, 5 rue du Pot de Fer, 75005 Paris. Tel: (33)(1) 43 36 93 84.

Lapeyronie, 3 rue Brantome, 75003 Paris. Tel: (33)(1) 40 27 97 57.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:May 1, 1997
Words:3585
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