Yesterday we had this season’s first snow in Brussels: the time for cocooning has officially started. Christmas markets are popping up around the continent and restaurants start mailing their New Year’s menus. For me, this is the time for gulping down liters of tea. I drink tea all year round, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t give you the same warm fuzzy feeling in summer. When it does get hot outside, I make iced tea a fresh green tea, sweetened with a bit of honey.
Drinking a lot of tea means having a decent cupboard stock of tea to me. Some people are content with some black Lipton tea all day long, but I like to diversify a bit more – you can’t drink liters of the same stuff all day every day, now can you? Since my moving to Brussels, I’ve set out to discover the best tea stores in Brussels. So far, I have three favorites that sell a variety of delicious brands. Here’s my top three, in random order.
Perhaps the most known brand that has recently popped up in the world of tea is Le Palais des Thés. Founded in Paris in 1986, they now have stores ranging from the USA to Norway and, fortunately, Belgium. Apart from the stores, their tea is also served in fashionable lunch places like Exki. The Brussels store is at Oud Korenhuis/Place de Vieille Halle aux Blés number 45. Next to a wide choice of tea they also sell some accessories like paper tea bags, tins etc… Le Palais des Thés has specialists traveling around the world to find teas and buy directly from the planters. According to their website, this personal relationship with their suppliers enables them to demand compliance to a code of ethics, including no child labor, decent wages and respect for the environment. However, I couldn’t find out if they participate in any official labels or trademarks such as Fair Trade (which doesn’t necessarily mean their ethics code isn’t true, of course).
My favorites from Le Palais des Thés are:
–Thé des Lords: a wonderful Earl Grey tea with bergamot and safflower aromas. Great breakfast tea.
–Montagne Bleue: a black tea with lavender, blueberries and rhubarb. Has a very sweet smell and a nice balanced flavor.
–Thé du Hammam: Wonderful green tea with rose petals, green dates and orange flower water. A very popular blend for a warm cup during the day, it also makes a great iced tea. In summer, Exki sells it chilled with fresh mint leaves, lemon wedges and sweetened with honey which is absolutely delicious (and totally doable at home).
–Thé des Fakirs: another green tea with spices such as cardamom nad clove, which also makes a splendid iced tea. For me this one is on equal par with Thé du Hammam.
La Maison du Thé, located at Plattesteen 11 (near Anspach) is a gem among traditional Brussels shop interiors. The shop window is as exotic and quaint as the dark but charming interior. The owner blends his own teas. I hapazardly entered the shop one day and – as these things go – was so charmed by the interior that I bought some tea at random. The blend I bought was Darjeeling Earl Grey (their most popular mix apparently). I tried it for breakfast the next day and… this is possibly the best breakfast tea I’ve ever had. It’s subtle, wonderful mixture of darjeeling and earl grey and perfect for waking up gently. Since then I’ve also bought Earl Grey Fleurs d’Orangier (orange blossom), which is a touch sweeter but also delicately blended. I can warmly recommend this wonderful House of Tea!
My top three is concluded by L’Heure Bleue, a cute little shop on the Avenue des Arts (close to metro station Kunst-Wet/Arts-Loi). They sell tea, jewellery and scarves. They carry a few fancy tea brands including Løv and Theodor. I got a beautiful tin (they really are beautiful) of rooibos with cinnamon and orange zest organic Løv tea as a gift. It’s perfect evening or afternoon tea and has a very nice sweet touch. When I went there myself I discovered they have Theodor tea. A small anecdote is in place here. I didn’t know Theodor until a few months ago, when I went to a fair called Tea World in Tour and Taxis with another tea-crazed friend. There we were offered iced Theodor tea mixed with Hennessy cognac – apparently this used to be a popular type of cocktail. The barista was funny and charming, so we stuck around for a few more free tea cocktails… needless to say we were hooked on this new concept! Unfortunately, my wallet doesn’t permit me splurging on bottles of Hennessy cognac (Christmas gift, anyone?) but the Theodor tea is delicious by itself. I got a package of October Revelation, a Russian blend of black tea with bergamot and agrum. The smell is so delicate and yet full, reminding me of childhood sweets. The taste is casual yet refined. It’s become the tea I serve when I have guests over – it’s ‘normal’ enough for those who prefer regular black tea, but special enough for true tea fanatics to appreciate its aromas. L’Heure Bleue also sells other brands and blends (some of their own) which I have yet to try. Anyhow, it’s a nice little shop which also has very pretty jewellery – definitely worth a visit.
So, these are my favorite tea addresses in Brussels. One more tea deserves a special mention: the Turkish tea you can buy by the kilo in Turkish supermarkets all around Schaarbeek and Sint-Joost-ten-Node (or in any Turkish supermarket in Brussels). I have fond memories of our team’s tea breaks during excavations in Sagalassos, Turkey. Properly preparing Turkish tea right is a true art: to do it right, you need a special double tea pot. In one of the pots, you brew water with tea (no pads or bags, just the tea in the water), the other pot contains boiling water. Small Turkish tea glasses are set up and filled up with 1/3 of tea (or more, if you like it very strong) and then topped with water. You are then asked how much sugar you want (this can go anywhere from zero to six or more cubes). This tea has a very distinct taste and, even though it’s boiling hot, is very refreshing when you’re sweating away at 35 degrees Celsius. I recommend trying it in any of the numerous Turkish tea and pastry salons at the Chaussée de Haecht. If you have any other suggestions for tea brands or tea shops in Brussels, please share!