France has a long history of tea drinking, but it never gained the popularity it did on the other side of the Channel.
Tea first came to France, via the Dutch in the 17th century, a few years before it arrived in London. At the time it was seen mainly as a health tonic – Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister to the young Louis XIV, took it for gout.
A little later, as Louis XIV seized power from the council of ministers dominated by his mother, he set up a system where the aristocrats were kept in line by having to pay him court at Versailles, where fashion fads abounded. Tea drinking was one of the fads encouraged by the King.
For years afterwards, tea remained popular in France among the aristocrats and the rich.
However, by the first half of the 20th century even they were starting to drink less tea – until around 20 years ago when the full circle was completed and tea became popular again for health reasons, this time as an alternative to coffee.
Do not expect to buy something like English tea from a French tea house. They have a long tradition of expensive fine tea, and perfumed varieties. British builder’s tea will have most French tea drinkers react like children forced to take bitter medicine!
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