I never drank much tea when I first lived in France in the late 1970s, but that was mainly because nobody drank tea in the eastern outpost I was based in out near the German and Swiss borders. My German colleagues at the time introduced me to those fruit teas which are still popular today in Germany, and I even came to like the little pots of tea kept warm by candle light on dark winter evenings.
I had a reminder of those distant days when we changed trains in Metz on our way from Paris to Luxembourg this week.
When I asked for two teas at the Metz Station café, I was offered ‘Verveine’ or ‘ tilleul’, which were precisely the teas everyone drank all those years ago as after dinner alternatives to schnaps or whisky. In fact, those two words were among the earliest things I learnt in French as I began my year abroad.
So, general tea awareness doesn’t seem to have changed much in 35 years. That said, the helpful waitress in Metz tdid scout around in the kitchen and find two tea bags which had a vaguely reassuring ‘thé’ written on them.
But then came the classic problem of wanting milk in our tea.
Health & safety dictates that French cafés are not allowed to unwrap the individual cellophane-wrapped bags (we had found the same in America, to be fair), so when I asked for cold milk, what I ended up with was a take away cup of hot water (at least it was hot), with cold milk added to it and a wrapped tea bag in the other hand…
I couldn’t face taking a photo, knowing that any reduction in milky water temperature would mean an even more disgusting cuppa than it looked like I was getting anyway…
All things considered, and maybe because we were desperate at around 5pm, those teas were not bad. But it just showed how, while tea in Paris might have reached the snobbish classes, eastern France has not yet got the bug.
In both Luxembourg and Germany, it is clearly more usual to have a cup of tea at home than to go out for a pot. There are far more tea shops (in the retail outlet sense) than tea rooms or places where you can sit down for a really good quality cuppa.
Tee Geschwender in Luxembourg is part of a big German chain, but with a fantastic range of teas and very helpful staff, keen to help us find good tea in town.
In Trier we passed a lovely looking tea house (called something like Tea for Two), but this was not only closed still as we walked past at 10am, but it looked like another retail place, with no seats or tables.
In Nuremberg, we found the fantastic Wurzelsepp, which sells tea and spices, and has been doing so since 1933. It’s certainly seen a lot of changes since then, but it still – on the spice side – sells things from pharmacy-style drawers which are clearly for medicinal purposes, and it has its own blends of tea, but yet again not for consumption on the premises (fortunately they also helped us find a tea room which served them and that will come in the next blog post).
The family and friends we were staying with or visiting were more coffee than tea drinkers so we didn’t get a chance to check this, but I imagine German tea drinking habits may not have changed much since those cosy evenings with a pot of fruit tea bubbling away on a tea light.
What I can confirm is that Kaffee Kuchen at home is as good as ever in Germany, with fantastic home-baked tarts and cheesecakes appearing at every house we entered.
And, as we’ll reveal in the next blog entry, we did find really good quality tea wherever we went. Ironically, given the amount of coffee Germans drink, we struggled to find top quality specialist coffee in either Trier or Nuremberg, and some of the places that looked a bit like boutique coffee joints were closed for summer holidays (like in Paris) till the 2nd week of September! Who said Germans were all about work, work, work?