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85

When I buy teas, I generally pick them out myself, going on scent alone – this is why so many of my ratings are clustered in the 80-90 range; I know what I’m going to like in the cup. When I procure tea in a different manner, though, anything can happen. For my latest Mariage Frères batch, I used reviews to put my list together. When I then smelled the actual teas, some of them were really surprising – the Marco Polo blends more than any other.

Overripe, boozy plums are what I get from the dry tea. This carries through into the cup, but not overwhelmingly so, and with a stronger addition of florals. Not well-behaved cutting flowers, however – cryptid, deceptively lovely plants alive only as rumours in the journals of long-dead explorers, maybe.

This really is a very tipsy blend. It’s walking around the orchard in the fall, trying not to crush fat, juiced-up wasps feasting on rotting fruit underfoot. It’s an autumnal tea, echoing that brief half-mesmerizing, half-terrifying time of year when the death throes of decaying summer are balanced perfectly by the crisp, clear freshness of impending fall.

Balance really is the key word here – this is a tea that could easily have gone wrong, in spite of all its velvety smoothness. But go wrong it doesn’t.

It’s exactly what it should be.

[Surreptitiously acquired from Mariage Frères in London, August 2013.]

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 1 min, 30 sec

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Bio

I’m going to try all the teas.

Then I will choose a lucky few perfect specimens, and we will live happily together in my tea cupboard.

Forever.

  • * *

2014

This year, all bets are off. I am going to drink both peppermint and chamomile and possibly suffer a little. But it’s okay – it’s for science.

I’m doing Project Jasmine, Project Peach and Project Unflavoured Green.

In terms of flavoured teas, Lupicia and Mariage Frères have become my massive favourites, and I have learned that Dammann Frères/Fauchon/Hédiard and Butiki aren’t really for me.

The O Dor, Adagio and Comptoir des thés et des épices are all on this year’s I’d like to get to know you better list.

2013

Getting back into tea drinking last fall, I was all about rooibos. This past spring has been all green tea, all the time, with some white additions over the summer. Currently attempting a slow, autumnal graduation to black teas. Oolongs are always appropriate.

The constant for me, flavour wise, is the strong presence of fruity and floral notes. Vanilla is lush, as long as it’s not artificial. Peach, berries, mango. Cornflower, rose, lavender.

No peppermint.

No chamomile.

No cinnamon.

Ever.

  • * *

My ratings don’t reflect the ‘What does this tea do for me?’ standard, but rather my own ‘What would I do for this tea?’ scale.

100-90
My absolute favourites. Teas I would travel for – or, in any case, pay exuberant postage for, because they simply have to be in my cupboard. Generally multi-faceted teas with complex scents and flavours. Teas with personality. Tricky teas.

89-80
Teas I wouldn’t hesitate to buy again if and when I came across them. Tea purchases I would surreptitiously weave into a travel itinerary (Oh! A Lupicia store! Here?! My word!).

79-70
Teas I enjoyed, but don’t necessarily need to make any kind of effort to buy again.

69-0
Varying degrees of disinterest and contempt.

Location

Rome, Italy

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