Walk around much of central Paris – especially near Notre Dame – and you’ll see so-called ‘Salons de Thé’ everywhere. Most of these are basically just bars like any other in Paris – very nice they may be, but they hardly constitute what we would know as a ‘tea room’, and I’m sure they are labelled as such mainly to draw in desperate British tourists gasping for a cuppa after the long wait to get into Paris’s most iconic church.
At the other end of the scale, Paris does have its fair share of tea merchants, often in the posher parts of town, mostly retail outlets where stopping for a cuppa might set you back 9 Euros a pot – hardly the average place we normally frequent, even for a bit of High Tea in England.
So we were delighted to find The Tea Caddy, which fits somewhere between these two, where you can actually have a pretty British cream tea, and it’s perfectly placed just round the corner from Shakespear & Co and within spitting distance of Notre Dame, but not on the island itself.
The Tea Caddy was established in 1928 by a wealthy English couple whose name I forget but who apparently retired to Paris to set up this tea room, which is still going today. The timing makes you wonder how many of the literary celebs may have had a cuppa here in the 1920s and 30s. Was Hemingway or Fitzgerald into tea? I’d guess Sartre and de Beauvoir were mixing in a more left wing set that might have found the world of tea a tad too conservative for their taste, which leant more to coffee and ciggies.
They say this is the oldest tea room in Paris. Amazingly it still has much of the décor of the original shop (oak beams in the ceiling and dark wood panelling in the walls) and has had just three owners in its 86 years of existence.
The present owner is French, though we didn’t get to meet her as she was out the back preparing the food for the room full of people taking lunch or afternoon tea.
There’s a great selection of loose leaf teas here and, yes, there are still ‘devon scones’ on the menu. These were pretty good given the baker is no longer from Devon, though they come ready creamed and jammed, so don’t start expecting a debate over what comes first. Our only gripe was that there was a little less cream than I’d normally dollop on my scones, though we were told that when they used to serve them separately, customers would regularly leave lots of cream behind and they didn’t like to waste…
We were joined for this session at the Tea Caddy by Gloria from La Caféotheque (which happens to be just over the river on the right bank). She clearly shares our taste for quality and, amazingly, guessed immediately where we were heading when we told her we had somewhere planned for tea over lunch!
What’s nice about this place is the warm welcome and its open approach to all sorts. There were elegant ladies out for a refined luncheon, but also – as we left – two backpackers from England drenched to the skin with rucksacks bashing against the door, but drawn in by the board advertising scones and tea. Good call on their part. And this is our top tip for tea in Paris if you’re anywhere near Notre Dame.
We had less success with the rest of our search for tea in Paris (though I should say that Loustic – one of our coffee places – did do excellent tea, too).
We had set our hearts on Oisive Thé, down in the 13th arrondissement. With its fairly unique combination of tea and yarn, it was exactly the kind of place we’d love to have blogged about. Sadly, here, we were the victim of that very French (or is it Parisian?) phenomenon: the August holiday closure. Yes Oisive Thé would be re-opening after its summer break the day AFTER we had to leave for Luxembourg, so we didn’t get more than a look through the front window outside.
Then came our encounter with what I think of as the darker side of Parisian society, a reminder of why I actually disliked living there 30 years ago: the arrogance and snobbery of the upper middle classes there.
We walked into one tea room not so far from Oisive Thé (though I shan’t name names) and within a minute we had walked out again.
Was it the fact that I wanted black tea (with milk, heaven forbid) rather than some speciality Chinese or Japanese high end brew? Was it the fact that we wanted a sandwich with our tea, when this place only did sandwiches at the weekend (at 17 euros a go, I might add)? Or was it more that we didn’t have the right look? Or the right accent in spite of my pretty fluent and courteous French?
I wonder even now what it was I said that made the owner so unwelcoming. And I’m sure they have great quality tea there, but there is no way I will tolerate such a reaction when I walk into a tea room. Quality is important but if you’re running a tea or coffee business – in my view – you need to be open to all sorts of people and welcome anyone with open arms. After all, she would have had no idea that I write about tea and coffee shops.
Still, we saved ourselves quite a few pennies by not staying there for lunch and her attitude was a nice reminder of my time in Paris all those years ago. So on that level, I’m glad we went there, even for 60 seconds.