The evidence of Third Wave coffee abounds; gourmet roasters, shops and festivals are sprouting up all over the globe. But another caffeinated drink is getting its own dose of attention — tea. Upscale specialty tea shops are also gaining popularity, focused on developing relationships with farmers around the world and offering quality loose-leaf teas. Even market dominator Starbucks recently got in the game with its first tea bar in New York.
From Berlin to London (of course), the classic tradition of tea tasting can be enjoyed in many major European cities. But we aren’t talking about tea bags, which are primarily filled with tea trimmings and shavings; instead, these shops specialize in hand-picked leaves from around the globe that are as high-end as any fine wine. Add a stop to one of these three illustrious shops onto your travel itinerary and you’ll not only walk away more caffeinated, but also with a better understanding of the basics of brewing and you’ll know which teas should be sitting in your pantry instead of Lipton.
Paper & Tea, Berlin
Inspired by his uncle, a tea trader for German luxury hotels and restaurants, Jens de Gruyter opened his West Berlin boutique Paper & Tea in late 2012 as a way to present the drink in a new light. Inside his airy, open shop, the teas are in museum-like displays, but you can touch, smell and read the informative cards when exploring the store’s 70-plus offerings. “The cornerstone of the P&T experience is a manner of presenting and communicating tea that breaks with the conventional over-the-counter shop model,” de Gruyter says. “At P&T, you are encouraged to browse freely and familiarize yourself with our broad selection of fine teas.”
Two small traditional Japanese areas are also available, where the helpful staff will brew and further explain the selections, providing you with a deeper understanding of the teas before purchasing. But the real specialty of P&T is the regular seminars, which are in-depth looks at the tea-tasting processing, including information on the history, brewing and nutrition of many of the shop’s products. P&T also carries a variety of handcrafted, traditional Asian teapots and service ware, as well as artisan papers and stations. And thanks to a new collaboration with New York store ABC Carpet & Home, these fabulous teas and products are available stateside, too.
No country comes to mind more than England when thinking about tea culture — the Brits drink an estimated 165 million cups daily — but there is more to a cuppa, than the tea bags. With an emphasis on exceptional loose-leaf teas, husband-and-wife team John Kennedy and Tomoko Kawase opened TeaSmith in London’s Old Spitalfields Market in 2006. The shop stands out because it takes a fine-dining approach to the experience. Everything is done in front of you, from prepping the leaves to brewing. You can go a step further at one of the Thursday master classes, where the flavors and technique behind the art of a proper cup are discussed in informative lectures. The shop offers a menu of 25-plus choices, expanding far outside of England’s comfort zone of black tea from India, and also includes pastries and chocolates from well-known pastry chef William Curley.
Another capital of tea consumption, Paris serves the hot beverage in fine cafés and tea parlors. But at Jugetsudo you’ll find the Japanese traditions on display. Owned by a Tokyo tea wholesaling company, the ground-level floor of this intimate shop offers a minimalist space with bamboo décor and soft lighting, and a collection of fine Japanese teas (such as sencha haru and gyokuro) and confections, as well as tea sets and accessories. The basement level is a stone cavern-like tearoom and Cha-Zen gallery, used for ceremonies and crafts related to Japanese tea.
Photo Courtesy of Ludger Paffrath