In the mountains of Nepal, people still believe in the Yeti. I’ve not had the opportunity to meet the Abominable Snowman myself, but I’ve heard plenty about him from the villagers. What I do know is that he is not abominable and is not always the size that people claim. Around the Kanchenjunga Tea Estate (Nepal), the yetis, of which there are many in the region, are not even a metre high.
I wonder if the magic of the Himalayan landscapes might have a part to play in all this. The filaments of mist flanking the mountains, the trees that appear and disappear with the changing winds, which are so full of humidity they feel as thick as cotton, the paths that fade into the clouds… When the sky merges with the ground, it is easy to lose your bearings.
In different regions of the world, tea pluckers put on a wide cloth tube around their arm to protect their sleeve. A Camellia shrub proves to be quite tough and could easily widen a stitch of a fabric or simply tear a hole in it. This Chinese countryman I’m photographing unawares at work wouldn’t deny this.
Last Friday, I told you about a clever mechanical system developed to make tasks easier for tea pluckers working on steep grounds (see the article). But you may wonder why tea is cultivated on such abrupt fields. Let me tell you why: unlike rice, tea trees like keeping their feet dry and can only be produced on a very well drained area. An inclined ground is therefore ideal for their growth, as the rainwater runs away. In flat tea plantations, farmers must then install a draining system to keep bushes healthy. It would be as well to make the most of a natural environment, much simpler and less expensive!
On this photo taken on the very steep Namring Tea Estate near the Himalayan mountains, notice the tea trees’ difference of colours. On the foreground, the harvest has already been done, whereas in the background, the light-coloured young shoots have not yet been plucked.
Tea can be difficult to transport when the ground slopes. I already talked to you about it a few weeks ago, I explained how the horse could be a precious help to transport tea in Nepal (see the article). For the men and women who work on the plantations, it can also be very difficult sometimes to haul up their baskets full of tea leaves. All the more so since the garden where the leaves are harvested and the building where they are then processed are not necessarily at the same height.
Some tea plantations have thus developed a mechanical system we could compare to a ski-tow, to transport the bags full of tea leaves. At Namring Tea Estates (India) for example, tea pluckers hang two or three bags at the end of a rope fixed onto a cable, which are then hauled up mechanically. A solution making tasks easier for men and gaining time as well.
In this photo, Mister Chaudhury and one of his assistants seem to be gazing at these sacks climbing unaided.
Wu Long teas from Taiwan are among the best teas in the world. By the way, we will receive beautiful Bao Zhong teas in a few days.
However, of that island, we easily have an image of a country whose activity is turned towards electronics and other micro-electronic components. In any case, not the image of an island whose territory is mainly covered by mountains. Taiwan is indeed divided by central ranges spreading from north to south and is very much appreciated by hiking lovers who enjoy walking on its small steep paths. During my trips, I can often see some of them, tired and out of breath but delighted by the beautiful landscapes around them.
This geography offering coolness and humidity combines the ideal conditions to grow high quality teas and we come across plantations a little bit everywhere in the country, each region producing distinct designations. The best Taiwanese teas are the “blue-green” or semi-oxidized: lightly oxidized Bao Zhong, Wu Long rolled up in perls (Jing Xuan, Gao Shan Cha) and Bai Hao Wu Longs.
Carine (see the post My travelling companions of last Friday) took this photo when we were in the county of Nantou in the centre of Taiwan. You can see the village of Lu Gu, perched on the crest of the Shan Lin Xi mountains, not far from the lake with the same name and near the place where great Dong Ding teas are produced.
Most of the time, I travel on my own. Nothing’s better than solitude to meet others, be receptive and start up relations. I go foward at my own pace, going from one plantation to another as I like. I stay there the time it takes to strike up a friendship with tea producers and learning the most about their work. In the evening, I look for a friendly inn and right after having sat down, I start up a conversation with my neighbours.
I make other trips with companions, study trips of example, during which we aim at learning everything possible about teas coming from a specific area. We then have to take notes, talk with producers or farmers, learn about the manufacturing process of each tea, ask endless questions and take lots of pictures at the same time… In that case, two or three of us are not too many to accomplish all these tasks!
My best trip companion in that case is Mathias, on the right of the photo, with whom I have been sharing the same passion for more than ten years. And Carine, on the left, who is in charge of the Tea School, is a perfect complement to us thanks to her career as an aroma specialist.
This photo was taken in Beipu, Taiwan, to be precise. Behind us, bamboo trays on which Bao Zhong tea leaves are left to sweat.
I don’t know which means of transportation you took to get to work this morning. As for me, I didn’t really feel like walking that day. It had just poured masses of water and I feared that it would start again. So in this jungle close to the forest reserve of Sinharâja in the South of Sri Lanka, nearby the plantations where you find the best FBOBEXSP teas (grade that defines the finest teas), I hailed a tuk-tuk. For several kilometers, I followed a small road and zigzagged between the puddles. The air was warm. Thanks to the smell of wet earth and ripe fruits, my trip to the Tea Factory become an amazing olfactory journey.
I feel sad today. A guy, a political leader to be a little bit more precise, has been assassinated in Darjeeling. In facts, violence has been raging in Darjeeling for 30 years. Tension is often tangible. And blood sometimes flows.
To explain the problem to you in a few words and in a way that is much too brief, Darjeeling, where mainly Indians of Nepalese origin live, is located at the extreme north of the Indian State of West Bengal. In this particularly backed-off spot, roads are in a disastrous state, water is scarce, infrastructures are generally in an apalling state. Thus, many inhabitants of these mountains wish to create a new state called “Gorkhaland” within the Indian Union. And this, in order to stop keeping waiting for money that never comes from Kolkata and to enjoy an easier life like the Sikkim neighbour who depends directly from the Central State, namely Delhi.
I hope that they will be able to solve these problems using reason rather than violence. Couldn’t the inhabitants of Darjeeling be given normal life conditions, suitable roads, running water and some autonomy so that they can decide what is best for themselves?
Between political leaders who don’t do anything, those who are corrupted, those who make promises the day before elections and forget them the following day, those who divide instead of assembling and those who arouse masses, people would be in a grief to decide who to confine their destiny to.
I choose this adorable toddler, coiled up in his mother’s arms with his life in front of him, to wish Darjeeling, its mountains I love so much and these Nepalese people who are dearest to me, a better future.
I have just acquired the first flush green teas from China for Le Palais des Thés.
China was the first country in the world to produce tea. It has been growing there for thousands of years. In comparison, India and Sri Lanka have only been producing tea for 170 and 140 years, respectively.
The legend about tea drinking goes back to Emperor Chen Nung, more than two thousand years ago. He had apparently stopped beneath a shrub to take a nap, a bowl of hot water beside him, as it was his custom. A gentle breeze then came up and removed from the shrub a leaf which dared to settle in the imperial bowl. We can imagine a host of devoted servants rushing forwards to change the dirty bowl, rinse it, dry it and refill it with nice clear, rippling water. But the Emperor, just from a sign of the hand, told his servants to stand back, and with a single index finger raised towards the sky, he said these few words:
“From what the Sky sends Us,
Is born harmony in Us.”
The Emperor then lifted the bowl to his lips. He tasted, he drank. He appreciated. He then asked what the name of the shrub was.
And so tea was born.