The 120 varieties of tea sold at Le Palais des Thés, which opened Wednesday at 156 Prince St., show the French have the same expertise for tea they have for other gourmet treats, Parisienne company executive Aurélie Bessière said during a tour of the boutique.
"We're French," she said. "We have such a focus on good things, and we have this way of selecting tea that sets us apart."
The 700-square-foot store lets shoppers sniff many of its tea varieties while browsing walls lined with tea canisters, teapots and more.
"It's a very warm and welcoming place — a very sensorial experience," Bessière, 32, said.
The chain, with 30 locations worldwide, including an Upper West Side outpost that opened in November, was founded in 1986 by Bessière's uncle, François-Xavier Delmas.
"He saw a discrepancy between what he tasted in France versus what he tried from elsewhere," said Bessière, who has lived on the Upper West Side for two years.
Today, the company travels to tea fields in China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal with a team of three tasters to source their selections, ranging in price from $8 to $130 per 3.5 ounces.
One of the priciest tea blends, a rare black tea called Jukro, boasts "chocolaty, vanilla and woody notes that linger in the mouth," according to the company's website. It's grown in a family's small garden in South Korea, which yields only a few kilograms of the precious leaf every year, Bessière said.
Before the company opened its New York locations, one U.S. customer put in a special order for another pricey blend, the now-sold-out Darjeeling Puttabong 2012 Harvest. The big spender laid down more than $1,500 for a 2-kilogram order of the Indian black tea, which offers "a harmonious succession of warm fruity, woody, vanilla and cocoa notes, nicely sustained by a very supple liquor."
Among its more affordable treats, Le Palais des Thés sells a signature blend called Thé des Moines — monk's tea. The blend of black and green teas with floral notes is sold in boxes of 20 tea bags ($12.50) and loose ($15 per 3.5 ounces).
SoHo was a natural choice for the company's main U.S. store, the tea executive said.
"People here are open to European brands," Bessière said.