Christine Dattner: From Champagne to an Ebullient Tea Career

Tea author and former business owner Christine Dattner has devoted nearly her entire professional life to tea. Her evolution in this world mimics the elegant unfolding of the leaf that finds itself in just the right circumstances and is afforded the patience to unleash its full flavor.

Dattner’s career in fine food had a dazzling start. She was trained to be a champagne taster – a lucky appointment her friends couldn’t believe she’d landed. Still, two years later Dattner started to wonder how long she would be able to survive in those fun but far too bubbly surroundings.

In 1979, Didier Jumeau- Lafond, a business acquaintance of Dattner, purchased the Betjeman & Barton Tea company from the last living member of the founding family, whose great grandfather had opened the English tea house in the center of Paris in 1919. Jumeau-Lafond asked Dattner if she cared to learn more about tea. She accepted, and after she’d undergone a year of training, he offered to appoint her as the manager of the tea store. She again accepted, and went on to run the well-known traditional establishment for eight years.

Throughout these years, Dattner arranged weekly tasting sessions with the new owners, who themselves belonged to a famous tea trade family. The Jumeau-Lafonds descended from the Damman Brothers, whose tea business was founded 300 years ago through a privilege given by the French king Louis the Fourteenth.

Every Saturday they carried out a specific tasting protocol to assess and evaluate their newly received teas. Building up knowledge and experience under her employers’ guidance enabled Dattner to gradually gain great status in the tea community, and after several years she was recognized as an expert tea taster. She was then able to begin creating her own classic loose-leaf tea blends and flavored tea varieties.

Having spent nearly a decade in such a traditional British (and thoroughly masculine) atmosphere, Dattner longed for a gentler tea universe, where ladies could linger and chat, choose their tea and sip a cup.

In 1986, pooling her own savings with those of her husband, Dattner started to explore the markets of Paris and eventually bought her own tea shop in the elegant left bank quarter. She called her company Les Contes du Thé, “tales of tea.”

With the freedom to operate on her own terms, Dattner created a soft, feminine brand identity for her tea, with lilac and almond-green caddies and boxes displayed in an all almond green store. The look so impressed some Japanese businessmen that they gave her an exclusive distribution contract in Japan.

Dattner’s tea blends and flavored teas were successful in France and in Japan, and she describes these years of creativity as wonderfully stimulating, not only for the tea business but also for her family, particularly her three sons whom she calls her “three sunshines.”

After more than 15 years of running her own company, Dattner found it necessary to share the company’s capital investment. In 2003, she sold les Contes du Thé to Olivier Langlois, a tea and coffee importing house. The company appointed Dattner general manager of the tea department, and she continued to create new teas and new blends.

Looking for new challenges, she decided to share her knowledge and experience through books. Since 2001, she’s written three best-selling and award-winning volumes: “the Book of Green Tea” (2001), “the Rituals of Tea” (2008) and “ My Tea Cook Book” (2009). All have been translated into several languages.

This third turn in Dattner’s Tea Career again finds her looking to new horizons, her creative urge still active. Tea has already taken her down her many roads, but Dattner remains convinced that there is still more to be discovered.