Thanks to a very generous scholarship from the US government (thanks again US government!), I lived in Japan this past summer. While most of my time was spent hitting the books or honing my language skills, I did embark on several quests of personal significance.
One of these was a trip to the Mariage Frères teashop in Ginza, a district of Tokyo. After returning from my stint in France, I realized that this most amazing of teas was very hard to acquire in the United States. The company’s only stores are in France and Japan, with a sprinkling of new shops opening in Germany and the United Kingdom. International shipping fees hike up the prices in the United States, and the only mail order importers which sell the tea charge exorbitant shipping fees. In sum, Mariage Frères costs three times more in the USA.
Luckily, there are almost as many Mariage Frères teashops in Japan as there are in France, a happy coincidence which has always intrigued me. After navigating a maze of trains and unnamed streets, I landed in the intimidating Ginza district. One of the most luxurious shopping quarters in the world, it rivals Paris’s Champs-Élysées. While I do enjoy admiring the creative things advertisers do with the sprawling windows and budgets of companies like Chanel and Dior, it is easy to feel out of place as an impoverished bookworm.
Mariage Frères sits as an oasis of familiarity amidst the dazzling skyscrapers and Haussmannian-inspired buildings of Ginza–an almost exact replica of the Parisian flagship. Even the street sign adds an extra touch of authenticity (look above the right-hand corner of the teashop).
I spent a good hour inside, soaking in the sights and smells of my favorite teashop. After an extended talk with one of their tea experts–which involved a great deal of sniffing, ooo-ing, and aahhh-ing–I settled on a tea to bring home from Tokyo.
Mariage Frères Héritage Gourmand is a black tea perfumed with citrus, spices, and blue cornflowers. It is simply delightful and perfect with a sweet afternoon treat. With careful rationing, I hope mine will last me until my next international expedition!