the French tea time
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Le Goûter History
France’s love affair with tea began in the 17th century when it was first introduced to the country courtesy of the Dutch. Before embracing it for pleasure, the French sipped tea as a health tonic and were doing so for years before the steeped brew made its debut in London. Tea’s popularity in France spread briskly as French botanists of that era joined a growing number of European scientists, pharmacists and physicians in touting tea’s medicinal virtues and further claimed its leaves were grown from a divine herb.
In the latter part of the century, socialite hostesses began serving the aromatic elixir as a parlor refreshment while entertaining in the afternoon. However, tea time or le goûter, which literally means ‘to taste’, did not permeate the highest echelons of French nobility until a little later with the reign of France’s King Louis the XIV. To keep the aristocrats in line, the king established a system of having them pay him court at Versailles. Along with resplendent fashion, tea drinking was encouraged by the king and for years afterwards le goûter remained popular among French aristocrats and the rich. French traders began venturing to the Far East to gather tea directly from China. With their oolongs and Yunnans, these explorers also brought china, porcelains and silks lending to even more stylish le goûter attire and table service.
The French Revolution spanning 1789 to 1799 upended much in the country, but in its wake the bourgeoisie adapted the customs of le thé with favor. Since the French Republic replaced royal rulers, French cafés with le thé have become ubiquitous in the country’s cities, provincial towns and seaside villages and have contributed to a worldwide fascination with le goûter among nearly all cultures.