To be honest, I am as crazy about the idea of tea as I am about the beverage itself. It’s steeped in history (pun intended), inextricably tied to stories of exploration and colonisation, and the world wouldn’t be the same without it. Mariage Frères is one of the oldest tea companies still operating and it represents many of these fascinating aspects of tea.
The Mariage Frères tea company was formed in 1854, but the Mariage family had been trading and shipping tea and spices since the 1660s. I’ve heard that the wooden beams in the company’s Paris emporium exude the scent of hundreds of years of tea storage.
I hadn’t ever had a chance to taste a Mariage Frères tea, although I had hovered my nose over numerous blends. Pigeon Hole, a Hobart cafe that I’ve spoken about before, sells one variety by the cup so I took a special trip there to try it.
The Marco Polo blend is described as a “merveilleux”, or marvellous, flowery and fruity black tea. It smells out of this world in its tin; warm, floral, complex.
The very lovely woman who served me suggested I add a tiny amount of sugar to help the flavours to emerge, and after testing it without, I took her advice. It took the slightly bitter edge off the black tea, and perhaps enhanced the flowery taste. The fruits that contributed to this blend added only subtle hints and I couldn’t guess what fruits they were. It didn’t have, for example, a citrus tang.
The poured brew was a honey-yellow colour, and the quantity of tea had been perfectly measured by the staff at Pigeon Hole. I let it steep for only a short time (because I had an impatient audience).
So my verdict? I didn’t love it, in the same way that I don’t love Earl Grey tea. I find the taste combination of tea and flowers and fruit to be disconcerting. Or dishwashy. Perhaps I need practice.
I wasn’t disappointed, however, because it was clearly high quality tea. I’m excited to try other blends by this legendary tea house. And if nothing else, I really enjoyed another visit to this sweet cafe and the delicious chocolate fondant that accompanied my tea. As always, the tea was not only about the drink itself.