The other day I couldn’t resist a visit to the Impressionists in Normandy exhibition at the Jacquemart André Museum in Paris. If you’re like me and adore art, you’ll especially appreciate this museum as a do-able size, plus Monet, Degas, Renoir and Caillebotte paintings are so close that it’s pinch-your-arm worthy. But the cherry on the Stohrer cakes is the museum’s Café. As I mention it in Teatime in Paris as one of my favourites, this time Monsieur Antoine couldn’t resist joining me in an afternoon teatime.
Antoine never takes tea but he saw the menu listing Rooibos. It was enough to see his eyes as he sipped; conversation uncharacteristically changed to tea, as he recognised the familiar Rooibos from the Cape and we made a note of the label: Cape and Cape. Before we knew it, we were reminiscing and dreaming of another trip to South Africa.
We first discovered Rooibos about ten years ago on my first trip to South Africa with Monsieur. Each guesthouse on our route had a tea tray with a kettle, and particular attention was drawn to the little jug of fresh milk in the room’s fridge. It all felt rather charming and colonial – until the conventional hotel sachets of regular black tea and herbal infusions were surprisingly replaced with this curious-looking Rooibos. When I asked the locals what they did with it, I was just to add a touch of milk. As a milk-in-my-tea Brit, this totally suited me. It tasted a bit like tea but it wasn’t with its woody undertones.
Over our holidays we both became infatuated with this drink – especially as its reputed health benefits (if not psychologically) helped outweigh the Cape wines we were drinking, which was the main purpose of our tour. With frequent returns to the wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hermanus (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley), Franschhoek, and north of Cape Town to Swartland we’re spell-bound by the dramatic scenery which changes around every corner.
While we were tasting Chenins to Pinotages, another couple, Matthias and Gervanne Leridon had fallen so much in love with Rooibos, the South African tea of the land. They had done the full monty, heading another 100km inland north to Clanwilliam, the centre of Rooibos land and eventually set up the Cape and Cape company in 2013, exporting the natural teas to Paris.
WHAT IS ROOIBOS?
It’s a small bush that grows in the wild in South Africa – about 200km north of Cape Town. Its name, Rooibos (meaning redbush), is a red tea that’s rich in antioxidants, naturally low in tannins and completely caffeine-free.
NOT THE SAME
Returning to Paris, gradually Rooibos has been easier to find in the supermarkets (UK too) but nothing can approach that specific taste of Rooibos we had in South Africa – until the other day in Paris.
I had heard of this new Cape and Cape in Paris before but hadn’t stumbled on the boutique. It’s a rather hidden secret behind Trocadero on rue Vineuse, with rows of brightly coloured triangular tins uncovering tastes that will “broaden our horizons”. They have a point. Maria gave me a most welcome tasting of their pure and “simple” Rooibos, Safari au Cap from the Terroir of Nieuwoudtville. I closed my eyes and, like Antoine, was instantly transported to the Cape, something that the rooibos teas to date from supermarkets (including organic in health food stores etc.) just hadn’t achieved.
MORE THAN JUST ONE PURE ROOIBOS
I thought there was just one Rooibos – but there’s a wide variety of pure Rooibos to taste, since with each unique area – like wine – the varieties depend on the terroir or soil where the fynbos (South-African maquis or scrub) develops specifically to environmental conditions: in the south, green rooibos is lightly citrus; in the centre, it’s more down-to-earth and more of a substitute to black tea; while in the high-altitude north of the Cederberg Mountains, there’s more of a taste of red fruits and cacao.
According to Mikaël Grou, Second Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and taster for the House, the Rooibos-growing area is the equivalent to both Burgundy and Beaujolais regions put together.
I’m particularly fascinated with their Green Rooibos as it’s a real detox and haven’t seen it before. Green Mountain is so delicate and both flavours come through: the green tea first then a delicate, almost smoky rooibos aftertaste. I loved the slightly “stronger” version, Stormy Joburg, with a hint of citrus too.
HOW TO INFUSE
As with red Rooibos, Sommelier Mikaël Grou explains that it’s important to infuse for at least 5 minutes, if not to 10 minutes using an extra-fine filter. The reason isn’t for the colour (which appears straight away) but for the total flavour to shine through. As with “normal” tea, it’s best to brew it using water just under boiling (90°C). He recommends pouring 4/5 boiling water from the kettle and topping up with cold water before adding the Rooibos or tea.
If you’re into flavoured teas, there are plenty to tempt the tastebuds. Flirt with sweet and spicy flavoured Rooibos with evocative names such as Citrus Kiss, Oh My Ginger, Miss Grey, Shap Shap! Bon Bon (Strawberry-Vanilla. Shap Shap is slang for good good – how you doing?) and Flirt with Scarlet (Rose-Mango).
AFRICA THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT
The teas at Cape and Cape don’t just stop at Rooibos. Calling themselves the “African House of Tea”, their third variety of teas are Natural African Teas.
As they say, AFRICA IS THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT. I was astonished to learn that Kenya is the THIRD largest global producer of tea after China and India (the fourth is Sri Lanka).
There’s still a lot to learn about African teas. Perhaps the best teacup forward is simply to try their unearthed range of delicate white teas to the strong black teas from the Congo with hints of chocolate; floral and tangy black teas from Kenya; medium-strength fruity black teas from Rwanda; and woody and floral green or black teas from Malawi. I hear that there will be a new Tanzanian tea end of May too.
COOKING WITH TEA
One of the Africaan ladies also explained on holiday that when her family gets sick, the first thing she makes is a rooibos infusion with rosemary. Needless to say, as soon as I returned home, I experimented with a macaron using a rooibos and rosemary-infused chocolate ganache (the family thought I was mad but it worked!) Try a blind tasting: it certainly has people astonished over such mysterious flavours!
Many chefs are infusing tea in their dishes these days. Have you tried this smoky beurre blanc with fish (using Lapsang-Souchong tea), or Theodor’s fragrant rice pudding? I’ve created a new Pinterest board, Cooking & Baking with Tea, and I’ll gradually add more recipes to this. I’m looking forward to trying Christmas Fireworks, a Rooibos filled with festive spices – a perfect infusion for desserts and macarons!
You’ll find Cape and Cape African teas not just in their hidden boutique at Trocadero, but gradually in more familiar locations in Paris, just like we saw at Jacquemart André. Gontran Cherrier, one of my favourite Parisian boulangeries also has realised its potential, as has Galeries Lafayette.
So next time you’re pushing the tourists aside to take a pic of the Eiffel Tower, head to the much quieter Avenue Camoens, take a different angle like above and walk just around the corner for a taste of African tea in Paris.
Cape and Cape
African House of Tea
19 rue Vineuse
Tel: 01-45 24 77 70
Part of this article is published on Bonjour Paris! Do pop over and say bonjour …