European Times: Paris

French resume their long-lost affair with tea
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The Independent Online

A nice cup of tea may seem as British as rain and stiff upper lips, with an image as comforting – and as trendy – as an old pullover.

Not in France. Tea drinking is booming in a country that once seemed addicted to strong coffee and red wine. Judging by an exhibition that ended in Paris this week, the converts to the British beverage par excellence are mostly young.

Consumption of thé has almost doubled in France in the past 15 years. The tea exhibition, Thé Expo, attracted nearly 200,000 visitors in three days.

Lionel Blanc, a representative of Thé magazine, which organised the exhibition, has an impressive collection of statistics. Up to 35 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women now drink tea in France, 14 million kilograms of tea were imported in 1999 and France now has more tea rooms (salons de thé) than Britain.

The French, he said, had been introduced to tea before the British, at the beginning of the 17th century. It was a Frenchwoman who first decided to drink it with milk. The fashion died out and it was overtaken in the nation's affections by wine and coffee.

According to Solange Cohen of Délices du Roy, which makes tea-based jams, the boom in tea consumption is due to concerns for health and, without doubt, fashion. She cited the 35mg of caffeine in a cup of tea, compared with 100-200mg in coffee. Green tea has seen a particular advance thanks to its anti-carcinogenic properties.

One visitor, Odile Bresson, 23, burst out laughing at the suggestion that tea drinking is the preserve of little old ladies. She said that she and her friends much preferred a salon de thé, where the whole ritual of pouring and drinking could be enacted, to the often dingier and smokier environment of the average Parisian café.

Odile – dressed all in black except for a mauve cloche perched atop a french bob – said that she and her friends especially enjoyed iced tea (of which 156 million litres were drunk in France last year), English Breakfast tea, and "tisanes" (what we would call herbal teas).

"You know that two cups of tea have as many vitamins as seven cups of orange juice," she enthused. She stressed that tea contained vitamins E and B, beta-carotene and fibre. "I have weaned myself off 10 cups of coffee a day by drinking teas," she said.

Odile conceded, however, that Britain still had a certain edge. Its tea bags contain an average of 3.125g of tea, whereas the French must content themselves with a feeble 2g (which may explain why a cup of French tea never seems quite right to British tea drinkers).

Comfort and familiarity may be what sells tea in Britain, but a "natural" image, vitamins and the excitement of a new trend are the driving forces over the Channel. In France, tea has never been so cool.