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Fancy a Brew in La Rochelle?

Fancy a Brew in La Rochelle?

The French aren’t renowned tea drinkers but one woman is doing her best to extol its virtues. Meet Sandrine Devide, self-confessed tea lover and one of La Rochelle’s award-winning entrepreneurs.

In the heart of La Rochelle's famous indoor market is a woman with a passion for tea. Sandrine Devide has been running her tea emporium for the past four years after moving to La Rochelle from Paris. ‘Tea, for me, has been a lifelong passion,’ says Sandrine. ‘As a child, I used to visit my grandparents every Sunday and drink tea with them. I am incredibly passionate about it. When I got the chance to open my own business I decided to devote it entirely to tea’. Zen Cha, as her market shop is called, is crammed with over 100 types of tea ranging from blends such as organic rose-scented tea and the curiously named Kama Sutra to more familiar blends such as English Breakfast and Darjeeling. You can also buy tea-related paraphernalia including tea strainers and, to accompany your cuppa, Sandrine stocks the region’s favourite biscuit – the sablé de La Rochelle. Her stall is well known to the town's residents and many of her clients are British although a large number of Portuguese and French residents also stop buy to get their regular caffeine fix.

cup of tea

Whilst Sandrine has been plying La Rochelle with tea for sometime and has the only tea emporium in the market, she hasn't attracted much attention from anyone other than her loyal customers. Until now. Last year, Sandrine set up a website to expand her tea empire beyond the confines of the town. ‘I would never stop working on the market,’ says Sandrine. ‘I love meeting people and chatting – but I felt I was missing out on other customers; I'm in the city centre and parking isn't easy – so I set up a website to cater for those customers who like to have things delivered to their door.’ Sandrine's website was entered into a regional competition for best commercial website 2011 and last month Sandrine travelled to the Hôtel de Région in Poitiers to collect her first prize trophy. Now, she is attracting a lot of attention from the press which, she hopes, will help spread her reputation even further. ‘The website has been a superb way of getting business but also a good place to be able to tell people all about the different teas,’ says Sandrine. ‘And winning the award has been a big help.’

Sandrine has plans to expand her website so she can sell tea to customers outside of France and hopes to attract British shoppers with her competitive prices. She sources her teas direct from wholesalers in Asia and India so as to ensure quality and freshness and is constantly expanding her range to include Fair Trade and organic products. 

Building up a business exclusively selling tea hasn't been easy though, and for the first couple of years Sandrine had to work hard to keep the business going. As well as working on the market from Tuesday to Saturday, Sandrine also attends local food salons and craft fairs to promote her products and even offers private tastings to customers in their own homes. She is a busy woman, but a happy one, spending her days surrounded by a product she truly adores. So on the rare occasions that Sandrine gets a chance to put her feet up, what sort of cup of tea does she favour? ‘My absolute favourite is Keemun tea from Anhui province in China,’says Sandrine. ‘I drink it black, without milk or sugar. It is a tea with a good flavour and a truly wonderful smell. For me it is the best tea in the world.’

Tea shop

You can visit Sandrine at her store in La Rochelle market or find out more about her vast selection of teas on her website:

More on Sandrine’s favourite brew

KEEMUN TEA is a black leaf tea variety from Qimen county in Anhui province in east China. A tea variety apparently first cultivated by an ex-civil servant in 1875 after he returned to his home town from Fujian province where he had learned how to produce black tea. The inhabitants of Anhui province had hitherto only produced green tea and the new black tea wasn’t an immediate hit with local residents. However, the British loved it and Keemun became, and remains, a key ingredient in English Breakfast tea. Keemun can be drunk with or without milk, though without milk is apparently the favoured method amongst tea aficionados. Described as having a ‘cocoa’ scent and a delicate flavour, Keemun is also naturally low in caffeine.


Originally published in The Poitou-Charentes Journal