Moving towards mechanical harvesting

Plucking tea leaves by hand is labour-intensive, but manual harvesting is a mark of quality. Some research centres, like here in northern India, are working to optimise mechanisation. The bushes are pruned in a different way, and they are working to identify which type of mechanical cutting will result in the most abundant crops. I don’t have to tell you that I fear this future mechanisation, although uniquely in the case of Japan, it has already been the practice for a long time, and doesn’t affect the quality of the tea due to the great care taken by the farmers in that country.


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Important moments in-store

It’s true that I spend a lot of time in the tea fields, but sometimes I visit the Palais des Thés stores and the teams. I tell them about my adventures, answer their questions, and we taste teas together. These are very important moments for me. The staff are always horrified when I tell them about the leeches that attach themselves to your skin during humid walks; about the whole hornets served fried, spiced and seasoned with ginger and garlic, near Xishuangbanna; about the local alcohol downed neat when you wake up, as is traditional among people living in the mountains of northern Vietnam. I also tell them about the nights I spend listening to the sounds of the jungle. My fear of tigers. I always remember one or two anecdotes, such as the monkey who stole a tourist’s bag and, while we looked on, dumbfounded, took out a passport and tore out every page, one by one. Here, I’m in Toulouse, with Océane, Marc, Léa and Florence, manager of the Toulouse and Blagnac stores, who spent a few days with me in India, on the tea plantations.


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Fine teas in the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains

The current tension in Darjeeling, although it seems finally to be easing, has guided my path toward new vistas this month. In the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains, a stone’s throw from Kashmir, a few tea plantations are well worth the detour—not only for their majestic view of the Himalayas, but also for the hard work of several local producers, which is unquestionably paying off. For decades, the region produced a relatively ordinary green tea for local consumption, but more recently, if you look hard enough, you can find a wide variety of more artisanal teas to delight the palate. All while gazing at the Dhauladhars, naturally.

 


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Cooked Pu Erhs: an autumnal palette

What possible connection could there be between these tattered old cloths and tea? Simple: these thick cloths are used to cover piles of tea leaves, keeping the oxygen out. In the damp, dark environment, the tea will ferment. This is a crucial step in processing cooked pu erh teas. Every day, someone will check the temperature of the leaves, letting in a bit of air if they get too warm. They will also dampen the leaves several times over the forty days or so of ripening, covering them again immediately each time.  In the cup, cooked pu erh teas develop notes of wood, undergrowth, caves, damp earth, straw, humus, leather, and liquorice, and it makes me smile to think that these cloths with their shades of brown express the same sense of autumn as the scent bouquet of the teas they cover.

 

 


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Head in the clouds

The mountains covered with tea plants rise so high and the clouds sometimes fall so low that there is no room left for the sky. The clouds cover the green blanket of tea plants with mist, envelop them in a layer of cotton wool, caress them, and then disappear. I could stay for hours, in each tea field I walk through, contemplating the beauty of the landscape. And the more I climb, the greater the reward. Tea doesn’t grow above 2,000 to 2,200 metres, but at those altitudes the views are breathtaking. If the mist lets you see them.


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The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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