Tea pairings are not only about food. They can also be about narcissism, desire, fear, greed, excess. In that spirit, this week’s post is about deadly sins – and how to pair decadence with a fitting tea.
Every year since 1992, the International Garden Festival on the grounds of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire has been the site of startling garden creations by famed landscape architects and designers. The imposing Chateau overlooking the Loire River has a past shrouded in passion, jealousy, intrigue, and beauty. In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici (right) the unloved queen of Henri II, forced the king’s mistress, the elegant Diane de Poitiers (left) to give up her beloved Chenanceau in exchange for Chaumont after the death of Henri II.
De Poitiers, 20 years older than Henri and a beautiful, stylish and savvy noblewoman, was part of the inner circle of Henri’s father, King Francis 1. Widowed as a young woman and always dressed in stylish black and white, she became the mentor, at the request of King Francis, to the pre-adolescent and painfully shy Prince Henri. Even after Henri’s marriage to Catherine de Medici, Henri continued to be under the spell of dePoitiers. His devotion drove de Medici to increasing heights of of jealousy and brilliant, tortuous machinations. After Henri’s death, de Poitiers stayed at Chaumont for a short while, moving to her chateau d’Anet, where she died at 66. Reputed to be a great beauty who kept her youthful appearance by daily swimming, horseback riding, and milk baths, the secret of her pale skin could have been another source. In 2009, a lock of her hair kept at her chateau was analyzed by French scientists and published in a British medical journal. It was found to contain 500 times the normal levels of gold and high levels of mercury. Rumor has it that she drank a daily elixir of gold to maintain her white, youthful skin. Perhaps it was vanity after all that killed her.
This year’s theme of deadly sins capture today’s self-centered culture, planet-ruining practices and excesses as only can be accomplished in a beautiful setting. Created by an international roster of architects and designers, the gardens are beautiful, banal, innovative, imaginative; often emotionally stimulating and intellectually preposterous. In other words, very French, despite the international pedigree. The sin of pride is captured by a golden frame enclosing a reflecting pool. See below for the over-the -top description.
What kind of tea would you serve in this homage to narcissism? White tea of course! Not the stuff you can buy in a “sachet” i.e. teabag, but the stuff from the Song Dynasty where it was a tribute tea reserved only for the emperor. , Delicate tea buds were plucked in the spring, steamed and stripped of outer leaves, rinsed with spring water,air dried, and then ground into a white powder. It was later whisked in water and this celestial tea was served to the emperor.
Of course, you can only dream about that tea today. Alas, you will have to settle for a pricey Silver Needles (Bai Hau Yin Zhen), which is the unfurled leaf tip that only appears in early Spring. it takes more than 4,500 hand-sorted leaf buds to make a pound of this tea.
Watch out – because the leaves – plucked when young and frisky – means that the tea is probably highly caffeinated. Not the stuff of night time dreams. When you buy white tea, make sure the leaves are downy and light in weight and color. Stay away from anything that is in a sachet or is a ‘blended” with some fruit or whatever. Then take out your favorite and most expensive teapot and serve preferably in a thin delicate cup, preferable ringed in gold. For the full experience, glance in a nearby mirror and admire your visage as you sip.