With its small village-feel, narrow cobblestone streets, and charming little houses, the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood in the southern 13th arrondissement feels disjointed from the rest of Paris. This hilly quarter takes its name from Pierre Caille, who acquired the land in 1543. It used to be a poor working class district which overlooked the Bièvre river (which has disappeared underground), and was a part of Gentilly instead of Paris until 1860.
Today, it’s a breath of fresh air from the flurry of seemingly non-stop activity in Paris. It surprisingly maintains its unchartered charm – obvious by the number of small cafés and restaurants and lack of huge chain stores. It is the perfect place to relax and unwind, and luckily enough, a teahouse in the corner of rue Jean-Marie Jégo and rue de la Butte aux Cailles offers just that.
L’OisiveThé, which takes its name from a play on the French words oisiveté (idleness) and thé (tea), may seem like a typical teahouse from the outside, but once you step inside, you realize that there is nothing typical about this place at all. It doubles as a yarn shop, and every Wednesday knitters from all over Paris flock to the teahouse for a weekly knitting group session and tea evening. It’s a charming idea, one that goes well with the homey and welcoming decor. Judging from the number of yarn stores and stalls popping up all over Paris, I’m not surprised that L’OisiveThé’s knitting group, TricoThé, has gained a loyal following over the years (the seating is limited to 25 people, and you’ll have to reserve in advance).
The idea of combining tea and knitting came quite naturally to the American expat-café owner Aimee Gilles. I meet her in the teahouse, where she sits at the far end of the shop, against a backdrop of colourful yarn arranged on the shelves. She greets me, her American warmth and friendliness matching the homey ambiance of her café. She knits as we speak, her fingers gracefully playing with the yarn and knitting needles. Having always been a fan of the café culture in Paris, she would often meet up with friends in cafés to knit and enjoy a cup. This was the time when people could still smoke in public places. The idea of having a non-smoking café for knitters, where they could hang out with their needles and enjoy a cup of tea, was always at the back of her mind. When she found out that the teahouse was for sale, she jumped at the opportunity.
L’OisiveThé offers original mixes of teas – they have over 70 teas to choose from, and Aimee bakes homemade cakes and cookies every day to add to the menu. The yarn she sells come from the US, Canada, England and Scotland; all are 100% pure wool or alpaca. The shelves are filled with toys and English books, and every so often the walls exhibit the works of Paris-based expat artists. The teahouse also offers brunch during the weekends, which makes the trek to Butte aux Cailles all the more irresistible.
“For me, finding my place in Paris was finding my café,” Aimee tells me. Looking around me and seeing people sipping their tea and carrying on their conversations as if they had all the time in the world, I believe her. L’OisiveThé is yet another gem in an arty Parisian neighborhood, a love story of an expat finding her niche in Paris – a city, it seems, where you can always make things happen.
10 rue de la Butte aux Cailles & 1 rue Jean-Marie Jégo, 75013
Metro: line 6 (Corvisart or Place d’Italie)
7:30pm-10pm every Wednesday.
Open to those who already know how to knit; no knitting lessons are offered at the moment
Limited to 25 knitters: Visit the website to book a place