The passion for tea is a mystery to the uninitiated. Devotees can taste the difference in leaf, harvest, drying, fermentations and size of the leaf. The temperature of the water must be exact, though slightly different for each type and classification of tea. When brewing, pots should be used exclusively for one and only one category of tea so as not to pollute the purity of flavor. For initiates, tea is the portal to a state as near to grace as one can get without the help of God.
Le Palais des Thes in Beverly Hills is a temple to the passion for tea. Unlike fusty English tea shops, Le Palais des Thes is sleek and orderly. Wood and glass let in a lot of light. Large canisters of tea line two walls. If you are curious about a tea, the staff will pull down the canister and open it for a heady inhalation. Along two other walls, there are prepackaged 100-gram bags of loose tea. Under these are smaller glass beakers with stoppers filled with popular blends. Customers can sniff their way to tea heaven.
The blends are what drew me first to Le Palais des Thes. I am a fan of French tea. In France, tea is drunk at meals with food, and so the flavors of tea blends is more nuanced than that usually found here in the US. The idea is to add to the palate of flavors at the meal and not to overpower everything with a drink drenched in the fruity or spicy equivalent of cheap cologne. The flavors of the French melange tea blends are usually as subtle and orchestrated as the flavor notes of wine. Every person I have shared my stash with, be that person a tea aficionado or philistine, has gone into wide-eyed raptures at the first sip. In my opinion, the best melange to introduce someone to the sweet rapture of these French teas is the Palais des Thes' T he du Hammam or the Mariage Freres' Marco Polo.
Even though it is not, strictly speaking, tea, Le Palais de Thes also carries blended rooibus teas. Native to South Africa, the Aspalathus linearis, called Rooibos, has a mild flavor with no caffeine and almost no tannin. It takes the flavorings of fruit, flower and spice in the French blends beautifully. As an introduction to the subtly flavored blends, I can suggest the red Melange du Cap. If you like a powerful overlay of flavors, they have a citrine rooibos that is bright and lemony.
Le Palais des Thes
401 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Store hours: 10 AM-6 PM Monday through Saturday ; 12 PM-5 PM on Sunday