These days, ‘classic Parisian afternoon’ cannot be found in the industrialized tourist cafes, but rather in the hidden tea spots that actual Parisians frequent.
Vast forests have been felled in the manufacture of guidebooks telling you where to eat in Paris.
They decree that if you visit, you simply MUST visit Ladurée and Angelina and Brasserie Lipp...
And for 20+ years, visitors to our glittering food wonderland spilled out of the Charles de Gaulle airport and marched in lockstep, building these brands into empires.
Travelers to Paris demand local experiences and are turning their backs on lining up to be a part of a crowd of outsiders.
But now it's 2023 and things here in the world's desserts capital have changed. (Hell, the world has changed...) Now, many visitors don't want to follow the well-worn path and only experience the most heavily-publicized places.
If you are curious about the real Parisian living, I invite you to scratch from your list all those places hyped up in the guidebooks of yesteryear (they’re good, but you can pick some of their stuff up for your aunt that stans Rick Steves directly at the airport).
So, why not cozy up to my curated ‘playlist’ of original and fetching little indy tea joints instead (and see my expanded map of 'worth it' tea spots around town below)?
Because why should coffee lovers have all the hip hangouts?
Here I have curated for you a few of my favorite tea places: hidden gems where locals while away the hours beguiled in conversation in that uniquely French way that makes you understand that living comes before working.
These are the places where you can experience the art of pâtisserie which is so important to our sparkly metropolis.
These are places where you can be Parisian for a few hours, but on a handcrafted scale.
Because these days, the ‘classic Parisian afternoon’ cannot be found in the tourist cafes. Sorry, Rick Steves.
Why over-hyped places lose their edge
When something blows up on the internet and in the guidebooks, investors flock in. Then, to meet demand for a whole chain's worth of cafes, airport kiosks, etc, 'handmade genius' is diluted into factory-made efficiency, and that certain something is scaled up and out. Au revoir...
In the following ‘salons de thé' (tea salons), attention is placed on standing out with something special, like rare teas, new pâtisserie creations, or a 'secret' vibe. It's how they have earned the love of the locals — it's the regulars who sustain them year-round after all.
And, of course, you have the right to choose by yourself, it is a free country after all. But here, in Paris Defined we believe that the touristy places are never the best option. Not in your town and especially not in Paris. Don't say we didn't warned you.
These are the places locals go in Paris for a relaxing tea experience
In France, we produce all kinds of food and drink. One-third of the world's cheese is produced in France, and since 2019, we even make saké in Paris! But tea leaves are still only grown outside the country making tea one of our beloved indulgences that somehow remains unconquered by French culinary colonialism. Not that we aren't making a go of it (sort of like chocolate).
That Paris is beautiful, even in the rain, is evident. But the secret to living here is often a hot cup of something luxurious.
Below are a few of our top picks, and at the bottom of the page, an expanded map of tea spots around the city so that you can easily point yourself towards a hot (and curated) cup wherever you are.
Across from Square du Temple — one of our lushest mini parks where you'd be tempted to take things to-go — there's a Paris’ hidden tea garden: Bontemps. Place so beautiful that even the real Parisians, known from their aloofness, tend to react with a (not-quiet-enough)'c'est ouf, ça'when they pass the threshold.
At Bontemps, you can soak leisurely in the mythic Paris; that dulcet place of our dreams, the Paris that was promised to us on postcards and photoshopped tour brochures; a pastel confection—delicate, graceful, and refined.
It is here that I seek refuge from the real world in the form of luxe cakes and pastries served on dreamy china (nothing fixes a bad day like 20€ worth of tea cakes and soaking in aspirational-girly interior design for a few hours).
And Bontemps’ careful collection of teas served steaming from clear glass teapots in their hidden garden (or plush salon) will make you appreciate pâtissière and owner Fiona Leluc's discerning taste. Nothing is an afterthought at Bontemps.
In fact, the whole experience is a confection.
But they don’t stop there. It makes sense that one of Paris’ few prominent lady patissieres is the owner and creator of something entirely novel in the French Patisserie canon, that is, their signature treat named simply, ‘Bontemps’.
These Bontemps treats, naughty little diet saboteurs they are, are made from two thin sablés (the French version of butter cookies) with a heavenly flavored cream resting in the center, and a touch of fruit, chocolate, or nuts on top depending on the variety (the chocolate hazelnut is an experience). Betcha' can't eat just one (sue us, Lays, and make us go viral, we dare you).
The citrus Bontemps (like clementine and Sicilian lemon, as well as all those ephemeral seasonal variations), taste like a dream-version of the fruit, all without synthetic flavoring — just a careful coaxing out of the natural essence of fresh citrus. Or the hazlenut, for those that want to go deeper...
But don’t lose yourself in the Bontemps. Leave room to taste the iced lemon cake which pairs well with their opulent blue tea.
This is the Paris of your dreams, so resist the urge to eat in the park.
Address: 57 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd Arrondissement
Neighborhood: Straddling the bottom of Republique and the top of le Marais
Metro: Temple (line 3), Arts et Métiers (line 3, 11)
I go to Kodama for the real tea-geek experience. As written on the sign at the front of their tiny shop, they are more than just average tea specialists. No no, they are 'Alchemist Infusers'. I like the attitude. Is it a coincidence that they are just a few minutes walk from the (former, by a few hundred years) house of Nicolas Flamel who supposedly had something to do with transmuting lead into gold? I guess we'll never know.
Here at Kodama, they transmute dry leaves from faraway into relaxation, refreshment, and a provocation of the senses. You will find Kodama hidden just around the corner from Rue Montorgueil, the old-school, cobblestoned, foodie neighborhood of Paris throbbing with cheese shops, the oldest pastry shop in Paris (Stohrer, founded in 1725), and primeurs (greengrocers). These stands look like they came from a coffee table book on Paris.
If you spent all morning basking in art at the Louvre (so much art that it becomes, at turns, invigorating and numbing), take a short walk to Kodama where you can melt into a chair and reboot the afternoon. Drink a cup of something both bracing and refreshing and you'll be back on your feet for the next adventure in about 2 hours (take it at the Parisian pace).
I usually choose one of their smoked Japanese teas like Ryū, emperor of the sky to contrast with a square of their sweet lemon poppy seed cake.
Or if you prefer something more delicate, Pai Mu Tan white tea with notes of peony and hazelnut needs no dessert accompaniment (but get one anyway, you're in Paris. You can pick back up where you left off with keto when you get home).
Now, I'm a bit of a matcha snob. I don't like matcha drinks too sweet (like Starbucks makes them) or diluted (like any amateur-hour excuse for a 'matcha latte'). I like to be able to taste the green, as it were. The Matcha Latte at Kodama remains my favorite in Paris.
Pair one of the above tea options with their chocolate sesame cookies. Don't worry, you’ll walk it off ogling fancy Frenchy cheeses on nearby Rue de Montorgeuil.
So pop into this little shop with a Japanese vibe played out in white stone walls and blonde wood decor on Rue Tiquetonne (teektohn) to recharge before a nearby cheese tasting or hunting architectural gems on Rue Reamur. Many food tours begin or end near Rue Montorgueil, so it’s well-located to find your reverential pause in a moment of tea-induced zen.
If you have never visited a mosque before, now’s your chance to visit one of the most beautiful in Europe; The Grande Mosquée of Paris at the very edge of the Latin Quarter.
In the tea garden that is a part of the vast complex, waiters zip about whilst Parisians recline among wisteria vines, olive trees, and effervescent fountains tiled with North African mosaics sipping minty-sweet Moroccan-style tea in glass cups.
While there's only one type of tea available, I find myself having several refills paired with the choose-your-adventure flight of Algerian and Tunisian pastries which are sprinkled with sesame seeds and the greenest Iranian pistachios I’ve ever seen.
This tea garden is very close to the Arab World Institute, so you can have — what I think is — the perfect Parisian museum afternoon (the more stimulating the museum, the more I will need serious revival afterwards). It goes like this: one to two hours taking in exhibits, then a Moroccan tea and sweets pause in the tea garden followed by a ‘hammam’ (for ladies only); a steam bath with ambrosial North African black soap (to keep things ultra-hygienic, they provide the towel, sanitized sandals, soap, and locker. You just show up ready to purify, so bring your makeup bag and face potions).
It’s the antidote to the staggering, all-you-can-see art buffets that leave one foggy and groggy (all museum days should incorporate a spa treatment afterwards, don’t you think?).
The history with Europe and Islamic Orient goes way back to croissants. In fact, the staple of French breakfast was created by Viennese bakers turning their ‘kipferl’ desserts into crescent shapes to celebrate repelling the Ottoman invaders. It was then a series of French kings who established alliances with the Ottomans starting in the 1300s, scandalizing Christian Europe.
Today, about 5.7 million French are Muslim which has a deep influence on Paris in particular. It can even be found in the language as young Parisians mix Arabic phrases into their slang.
Parisians use Arabic words as argot — slang. Je me kiffe.
GRANDE MOSQUÉE DE PARIS
address: 2bis Place du Puits de l'Ermite
Neighborhood: the Latin Quarter
Metro: Saint-Marcel (line 5), Jussieu (line 7)
A L’heure du Thé
Just steps from the Latin Quarter (or in it, depending on whom you ask) is À L’Heure du Thé.
Enter the hushed environs with a book and prepare to melt into a comfy chair (angle for one of the armchairs if you plan on lingering) . Order a few of their cakes as a complement to the tea.
Here, they only speak French, but you came for immersion, right?
With a focus on teas from China and Japan, they have a connaisseur-level selection to enjoy in their hushed salon or to take home in a packet. Their pastry game is tight, has the vibe of homemade, and their selection is based on the whim of the baker in the kitchen in the back of the shop.
Their Tarte au Citron (lemon tart) is what they are locally known for, so I recommend you start with that. Then do a dessert after your dessert with a wedge of their chocolate cake. I'm one of those people that has to have a chocolate dessert if I'm having sweets. My judgement is clouded when cacao is involved.
À L’Heure du Thé is the essential rainy-day spot to get your energy back up for visiting the Cluny museum or other Latin Quarter sights like Eglise Saint Julien le Pauvre and Eglise Saint Severin.
A L'HEURE DU THÉ
address: 23 Rue Lacépède
Neighborhood: the Latin Quarter
Metro: Place Monge (line 7), Cardinal Lemoine (line 10)
Indecorous Culturevore and Polychrome Chow Virtuosa Kat Walker likes nice things.
She once went to a job interview for that was supposed to be for sales but was actually for prostitution (the high-class version, she hopes lol) at a fancy hotel in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (article coming soon) and, another time interviewed for a position as a phone psychic.
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When she's not writing about croissants, love, culture, and lovable, sexy croissants, she is a gonzo performance artist whipping up a (usually) political ruckus. Her rabble rousing has provoked the attention of various public forums, like the time she appeared in the movie The Yes Men Fix the Worldas Russian journalist Laika Gagarina or was featured in RollCall's Heard on the Hill for her mockery of the U.S. senate. Other efforts have landed her in the Le Nouvel Observateur, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Reader.
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