Did you know that tea was actually more popular at one point in France before ever reaching England? It’s true, back in the 17th Century, tea was introduced to Europe and became a huge hit in France. Tea actually arrived in Paris about 22 years before ever entering England. In the year 1636 tea wandered into Paris, first becoming popular with the nobles.
In those times, King Louis XIV (14th) was in power, and the most powerful man under him was Cardinal Mazarin, and he drank tea regularly. Cardinal Mazarin was said to have started drinking tea thinking it would help his gout, as did King Louis XIV (16th) many years later in 1665. He had been told that the Chinese and Japanese never suffered from heart problems, and reasoned that tea was responsible for it.
At those times, Madame de Sévigné recorded the doings of King Louis XIV and his associates in what would later be a famous series of gossipy letters to her daughter. Madam Sévigné often mentioned in her letters about tea. She even wrote in her letters (roughly translated into English):
“Saw the Princess de Tarente who takes 12 cups of tea every day…which she says, cures all her ills. She assured me that Monsieur de Landgrave drank 40 cups every morning. ‘But Madame, perhaps it is really only 30 or so.’ ‘No, 40. He was dying, and it brought him back to life before our eyes.’”
French doctors got excited about tea seeing it as a possible medicine. As early as 1648, a Monsieur Morisset published a treatise claiming that tea was mentally stimulating. When bringing up the concept before the faculty of medicine at the University of Paris, some enthusiastic defenders of another medicinal plant – sage, had the treatise burned.
In 1657, the scientist Jonquest praised tea as the “divine herb”. By 1685, Philippe Sylvestre Dufour published the ‘Traites Nouveaux et Curieux du Café du The et du Chocolat’ (New and Curious Treatises on Coffee, Tea and Chocolate) which was one of the first books in French to address tea. It praised the leaf for its ability to cure headaches and aid digestion as well as offering prescriptions and such.
However, popularity among the upper classes may have been the kiss of death for tea in France. In 1789, a screaming mob, enraged by a noble class that did nothing but levy crippling taxes and make war, attacked the notorious Bastille prison. By the time the violence stopped, the king and queen had lost their heads and so had a good amount of counts, dukes, and those in high positions.
Tea, once a symbol of royalty, died with those royals. Tea’s story was not over in France, however. Only 50 years after the Revolution, and Anglo-mania swept the country. Everything English was all the fashion and it again became stylish to take tea, often in the evening after dinner and accompanied by small pastries.
If the royals and nobles had shared tea more openly from the beginning, tea may have survived through the French Revolution giving tea a much more powerful effect in France now opposed to what it is today.