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Mariage Frères
The French tea company in Paris

Article added on August 1, 2004
 
The French tea company Mariage Frères in Paris was established in 1854, which makes it France's oldest importer of tea. Members of the Mariage family where active in the colonial trade as early as the 17th century. For instance Nicolas Mariage made several voyages to Persia, the East Indies, and the Moghul Empire around 1660. He was part of a deputation dispatched by the French King Louis XIV and the French East India Company to sign a trade agreement with the Shah of Persia.

Today's Mariage Frères tea company was founded by the brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage in Paris on June 1, 1854. The tea company traded with China and Ceylon, supplied exclusive retailers, delicatessen, tea rooms, and hotels (today, you can for instance find Mariage Frères teas at Claridge's).

People traveling to Paris may know at least one of the three Mariage Frères tea rooms and boutiques in the French capital. However, only a few may know that the oldest tea room in Rue du Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais, as the traditionally Jewish quarter is known, was only established in 1986. The illusion with 19th century colonial and exotic furniture, cash registers, counters and tea instruments is nearly perfect. But they all come from the historic former tea office and deposit in Rue du Cloître-Saint-Merri. Until the 1980s, Mariage Frères was not into sale by retail and operated no tea rooms. A closer look at the chairs and tables, which harmoniously fit into the colonial picture, shows that they have been made in the late 20th century.

The last owner descended from the founding family was Demoiselle Marthe Cottin. Born in 1901, she headed Mariage Frères until 1983. The year before, she found two young and enthusiastic foreigners, ready to carry on the legacy of Mariage Frères.

The thirty year old Dutchman Richard Bueno was in search of a fulfilling activity which would earn him a living and allow him to travel. One of his grandfathers owned a tea plantation in Indonesia. The other young man to join Mariage Frères was Kitti Cha Sangmanee, a Thai student of political science. His father was a doctor and owned some fruit plantations near the Thai capital Bangkok.

Against the advice of all their friends, these two young friends with no prior knowledge of the tea business began to work for Marthe Cottin, who introduced them into the tea trade and culture - in the first months without any pay. This relation and the hard work of the two young businessmen quickly began to pay off as they took Mariage Frères as well as tea culture worldwide to new heights.
 
Sangmanee traveled around Europe in search of the famous tea culture. In England, the country which had invented the tea time, he was disappointed to find always the same handful of teas of average quality. He realized the market potential of the quality teas of Mariage Frères, which viewed tea not as an ordinary daily drink, but rather like French wine, as a product of luxury and quality.



The two young men enlarged the direct contacts with tea producers worldwide - the reputation of Mariage Frères opened doors for them and helped to establish new contacts. Since 1982, Mariage Frères have enlarged their number of tea blends to some 250 from around the globe. - Unfortunately, Richard Bueno died after a terrible illness in 1995. Kitti Cha Sangmanee now heads the company alone.

Among the best recent blends created by the team of Mariage Frères is the Sakura, a perfumed green tea. The "Sakura 2004" is a combination of a refined sencha flavored with cherry blossoms. Each year, the formula of this celebration of the season's is slightly changed. Therefore, you can only get a "Sakura 2004" as long as the company can provide exactly the same quality of sencha and cherry blossoms.

Taking the French quality wines and wine culture as an example, Richard Bueno and Kitti Cha Sangmanee have created an unmatched tea universe. The team of some 200 people working for the company operates three tea rooms in Paris and two in Japan, has opened up Mariage Frères to the retail business, has some 1500 sales points worldwide and has created over 1500 recipes on the basis of tea. In addition, Mariage Frères sells a number of products based on tea, often a happy marriage of the culture of the Far East and the West. Already the founding family patented their tea chocolates in 1860. Since 1982, many new products including poudre de jade (a green tea powder) and tea salt, which can be used as a spice, have been created.

Most importantly, Mariage Frères has revolutionized the tea culture. They have established a previously unknown vocabulary, again taking the French wine tradition as an example. Last but not least, they have established guiding information on the art of making fine tea, and this for all of their hundreds of teas: selecting water, selecting a teapot, temperatures, infusion times, quantities of tea to use, etc. In short, they have successfully established what they call The French Art of Tea.
 

Photo © Extrait du livre Thé Français, Flammarion, Photo Francis Hammond.


Photo © Extrait du livre Thé Français, Flammarion, Photo Francis Hammond.
 

Photo © Extrait du livre Thé Français, Flammarion
Photogaphy by Francis Hammond.



Sakura 2004. Photo © Mariage Frères.

Sources for this article, tea literature, further reading
 
In English:
- The French Art of Tea, Mariage Frères, 2004, 107 S. ISBN: 2951346182.
- Alain Stella: French Tea. Mariage Frères. Photos Francis Hammond. Flammarion, 2003. Get it from Amazon.com.
- The Tea Council's Guide to the Best Tea Places in England. The Little Bookroom, 231 p. Get it from Amazon.com.
- AA Britain's Best: Afternoon Tea. 2004, 192 p. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de.
 
In French:
- L'Art Français du Thé, Mariage Frères, 2003, 107 S. ISBN: 2951346174.
- Alain Stella: Thé français. Trois siècles de passion. Mariage Frères. Photos Francis Hammond. Flammarion, 2004, 275 S. Amazon.fr.



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