Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Tea de France: week four and the Tea GC

July 22, 2012

Stage 19, Saturday 21 June
Bonneval – Chartres (ITT), 53.5km
Winner: Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
Brew: Fruits Rouge Wu Long
They say: “Raspberry and wild strawberry flavors. Low in caffeine.”
We say: Yeah, sure – it’s just raspberry and strawberry, like Wiggins’ time trial victory was just pedaling and a funny helmet. The brief description above doesn’t do justice to the full, rollicking ride this tea takes you on. Open the sachet and whompf – we’re rolling down the ramp with a fizzing raspberry aroma. Empty it in the pot, pour in the water and you’re settling in to the scent of wet earth. Then comes the long, steady brewing section (at a recommended time of seven minutes, this was the longest wait of all our teas) followed by a woody taste hitting the finish line at the back of your palate. Bravo!

Stage 20, Sunday 22 July
Rambouillet – Paris Champs-Élysées, 120km
Winner: Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Brews: Pu Er Imperial and Dong Ding
They say: Pu Er: “A very fine crop, with many buds for this very particular type of tea. Its powerful scent is reminiscent of damp soil and bark. Its name means ‘trouser bottom’. A Chinese folk tale tells how the tea pickers keep the best leaves for themselves, hiding them in their pockets before taking them home with them. Pu Er tea is highly regarded in Chinese medicine for its curative properties. It lowers cholesterol levels, they say, it dissolves fats, helps digestion, improves blood circulation and lowers the effects of alcohol. This tea improves with age, owing to the specific type of fermentation that affects the tannins.”
Dong Ding: “This tea which grows on the eponymous mountain, means ‘Icy peak’. It is considered by tea lovers to be one of Taiwan’s best. The leaf, which is pearly and moderately fermented, gives the liqueur a particular yellow-orange colour that is unique in the world of tea. Its scent is both silky and lively, its taste recalls the flowery side of the little fermented Wu Long (oolong) teas and also that of the fruitier, woodier Fancy teas. An exceptional crop.”
We say: The final day of the Tour is supposed to be simple: a procession into Paris, a crit on the Champs Élysées and we’re done. If only the last section of our tea odyssey had been as straightforward. Pu Er, while in the packet, smells more like ordinary tea than all the other brews we’ve had. Add hot water and the scent is transformed: we’re in a wood-paneled room that retains the oddly comforting aroma of old cigarette smoke. A sip reveals that it actually tastes like tobacco, too. A few more gulps of this red-tinged oddity and we’ve acclimatised. I have a second cup; Jen passes. We decide to give Dong Ding a spin and our opinions become more sharply divided: I think it has a gassy odour, while the taste reminds me of farts and wet, miserable afternoons in Balham; Jen smells the perfumes Opium and Amarige and tastes… well, nothing really. But at least we both agree that Dong Ding is a bit of a clanger.

The Tea GC
It’s been a historic three weeks of racing, and an incredible four weekends of drinking teas. Now we reveal which brews are our Wiggins, Froome and Nibali.
Third place: Thé des Moines. Light, calming, floral. A delight.
Second place: Thé du Hammam. Creamy, vanilla-like, echoes of Earl Grey. And it leaves a mild tingle on your tongue.
First place: Margaret’s Hope. Malty with a rich, woody aftertaste. Deep and enriching. A classic.

So there you have it. Our tea journey has been drained to the very dregs. If you fancy some of the brews me and Jen have been tasting, have a look at Le Palais Des Thés. Happy supping!

Tea de France

July 4, 2012

Tea and cake: they go together like helmet and head, or spoke and nipple. It is cycling’s perennial double-act of refreshment and sustenance. Yet many cyclepeople consider cake to be the star rider and tea the humble domestique. Well, not in our gaff, buster.

My romantical partner Littlejen is Queen Tea. A Zimbabwean by birth, she settled in this country partly because of its love of the old Rosy Lee. So when it came to choosing a hotel for our recent trip to Paris, we were pleased to stumble upon one that specialised in teas from around the world. You could say we were – yes! – absolutely tea-lighted.

And now we can share that delight with you, valued readers, because Jen has purchased a selection of the teas offered to us on our trip to the French capital. They’re all from a French company called Le Palais Des Thés, and co-incidentally there’s a bike race on across the channel at the moment. So naturally I thought, why don’t we sup a different brew for each of the six weekend stages of that famous bicycle race, then express our opinions about them? We could call it Drinking Teas From France While Watching Men Racing On Bicycles In That Same Country. Then I though, no, let’s call it Tea de France instead. Come with us now as I reveal what happened, tea-wise, at the opening weekend.

Prologue, Saturday 30 June
Liège-Liège, 6.4km
Winner: Fabian Cancellara
Brew: Thé des Amants
They say: “Rich and sensual, Thé des Amants is a heady, fragrant blend of black tea, apple, almond, cinnamon and vanilla, spiced up with a hint of ginger.”
We say: You’ve been waiting 49 weeks for the Tour to roll around again – so there ain’t no way you’re not going to enjoy the prologue. Similarly, I reckon it’s impossible to dislike this light, buoyant tea. Ah, cinnamon – lovely cinnamon: the giddy fragrance of joy. Just sniffing the pot will put a smile on your face, and days later I can still recall the breezy taste. The only possible downside of this brew is that, like a GC contender with a series of early-season victories, the trajectory of our tea odyssey – or ody-tea – may have peaked too soon…

Stage 1, Sunday 1 July
Liège-Seraing, 198km
Winner: Peter Sagan
Brew: Thé des Fakirs
They say: “A tasty, scented blend of green tea and spices (cardamom, clove) with a hint of citrus fruit. Delicious served either hot or iced.”
We say: Sagan, the steely Slovak sprint sensation, locked onto the wheel of good-natured time trial legend Fabian Cancellara within sight of the finishing line – and this tea is also very much a coupling of two distinct halves. The green tea dwells stolidly on the bottom of the palate while the fruity bits sit lightly on top. Pleasant, but nothing to delight or amuse. Also, it looks a bit stew-like in the pot.

So that was the Prologue and the first stage. Who knows what teas we’ll be downing this weekend? Well, I know, obviously, and so does Jen. You’ll just have to pop back soon to find out…

French horns

June 29, 2012

Hello again! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And as a discerning consumer of webular content, I know exactly what you’re after: a succinct and reasonably diverting explanation for my absence. Well, your luck’s in, sunshine, because that’s precisely what I am about to furnish your eyeballs with. In a nutshell, I was preparing for a trip to France; I then travelled to France; and now I have returned from France. That means there’s going to be a lot of French stuff in this post. So, Francophobes, treat this paragraph as your sortie and leave, as they say, toot sweet. (Sortie means ‘exit’, which is a True French Fact what I have learned. Another True French Fact lodged in my head is that quotidien kind of means ‘quotidian’. This pleases me: their word for everyday is far from everyday. And it makes me wonder how you, the French-despiser who is about to depart from this blog, can possibly dislike a language that rejects the humdrum so emphatically. Begone! The French are simply too good for you.)

I’ll begin my account where our trip ended: at Luxembourg Gardens, sheltering from a sudden downpour with Littlejen and a couple of dozen Parisians. Young children are screaming with delight at the fierceness of the downpour while a quartet of indifferent students sit at a table smoking dope. Nobody is bothered by either party. About 30 feet away from our shelter, the joyful blast of a school’s brass band refuses to be silenced by the sheeting rain clattering on leaves and the roof of the bandstand. It is this – the sound of trumpets and their tubular cousins blown enthusiastically – that has been the soundtrack of my holiday. For I can honestly say I have heard more ebullient parping in one week than I had for years.

The bulk of the brass-based jollity occurred during the Ardechoise sportive, which was part of my four-day cycling sojourn in the Ardeche region before I met up with Jen in Paris. It was during my negotiation of an otherwise unremarkable corner on the 125km route that a small group played a military-style march; within a few miles, I had passed a sousaphone-wielding funk outfit. Later, as I tucked into my complementary post-ride pasta, a trombonist casually led a mariachi band into the food tent where they struck up a rousing and somewhat ramshackle version of Seven Nation Army. Whether hungry, tired or both, the sportive’s 12,000 competitors were destined to by buoyed at some point by a brigade of puff-cheeked chaps. For that, I can wholeheartedly say: thank you, proud brassmen of France!

This was my third sportive on foreign shores, and all three trips benefitted from London Dynamo’s seamless organisation. My previous two jaunts with the club were in Italy – the Nove Colli last year and the Granfondo Pinarello in 2008. For me, the main difference between my French adventure and the Italian events, and the factor that made this sportive slightly harder than I anticipated, was the absence of any flat roads: I started on a climb (see photo above), finished on a whizzy 20km descent and spent the five hours in between going up and down while the temperature rose to a giddy peak of 24C. The climbing in the two Italian sportives was sandwiched between flat starts and finishes, but those, too, presented their own challenges: I was on the drops pushing 30mph at the start of the Pinarello, and I struggled to find a rhythm in the dull the final kilometres of the Nove Colli.

There are other differences. The food on offer at the Italian feed stations was more varied, although in France we had the option of washing down a roll with a cup (or two, or three) of red wine. The Italian sportives generally had more of a carnival atmosphere: at the Nove Colli, many dressed up in bandanas to ride in Pantani’s former training ground, while the locals’ daredevil descending at the Pinarello often seemed, to this timid Englishman at least, to have an air of look-at-me theatricality. There were thousands of club kits on display in Italy, whereas the official yellow and magenta sportive jersey and familiar generic clothing brands were a commoner sight at the Ardechoise. (Speaking of which, I had the pleasure of drafting a competitor by the name of Beatrice Defour for a number of miles this year. So that’s what a sleeveless white Assos skinsuit looks like. God bless triathlon! God bless France! God bless Beatrice Dephwoar!) And the Italian events were simply louder – much louder. Last year I gauged my closeness to the top of the crank-punishing Barbotto by how much I could hear of Metallica’s cover of Whisky In The Jar blaring from the sound system – and at the finish, the excitable MC was only to happy to volubly announce the presence of a certain “LON-DON DEE-NA-MOOOOOH!”

For me, though, it is French brass bands that capture what should be the true spirit of sportive riding. Yes, there may be times when you feel completely alone – blissfully so as you fly up a climb, or grinding away, mired in your own private hell – but the blast of a trumpet, a trombone’s glissando, or the oompah of a tuba provides a perky, galvanising sense of togetherness. Sound the horn! A fanfare, please! Like those children shrieking in the rain, or the students taking a drag on a joint, we are all here together, each of us seeking out our own type of fun.