To reach the tea plantations, I am used to walking for hours, or driving a 4×4, sometimes both. I don’t usually get to travel by boat, however. But yesterday, that is exactly what I did. At the moment I am looking for the best green teas in East China’s Anhui province. Among these are the true Taping Hou Kui teas, the only ones worthy of this name. They grow on a mountain that is only accessible by boat.
Here in China, the harvesting of premium teas is in full swing. Some farmers have their own buildings equipped with various machines for processing the tea. Others, like Mr Li, sell their freshly plucked leaves to bigger farmers who have the necessary facilities.
Once harvested, tea spoils quickly. Here, at the Fuding tea market, Mr Li absolutely must find a buyer in the next two hours. With the quality of his leaves, he should have no difficulty, and he gives a big smile for the camera.
Before leaving for China in search of different teas, I have spent most of the past few weeks tasting lots of samples of Darjeelings, receiving up to fifty in one day.
Phuguri, Risheehat, Orange Valley, Gielle, Puttabong, Singbulli, Teesta Valley, North Tukvar, Longview, Thurbo: this year our selection reflects the work of many gardens and represents the best of their production.
This is what the mountains look like where these teas grow, so that while you are enjoying them, you can transport yourself to the mountainside and feel the mists of the Himalayan foothills.
In China, the first tea harvests of the year have begun, and today I am flying to Beijing, then to Huang Shan, the famous Yellow Mountains.
The best pluckings of China green tea take place in April, and Anhui province alone boasts prestigious teas such as Tai Ping Hou Kui, Huang Shan Mao Feng, Huang Shan Mu Dan and Huang Hua Yun Jian, to name just a few.
A kid comes up to me as I walk through Kolkata. He asks me to take his photo. He lives on the street, surviving by collecting rubbish which he sells on for next to nothing. I agree to take his picture and suggest he smiles, and above all removes the plastic covering his face. He doesn’t. He stares intently into the lens. And sniffs the glue in his bag at the same time, incapable of stopping.
Water is quite scarce in Kolkata and people congregate at the public tap to wash their laundry or themselves. There is a friendly atmosphere among the neighbours.
You can see that people still protect their modesty, even though they wash in the street. The man in the foreground getting changed beneath his towel reminds me of the contortions we go through back in this country, after a swim in the sea, as we try to put our underwear back on with one hand.
Here, it is like being at the beach. But without the sea.
Back to Kolkata. In this city, as in many Indian cities, people drink tea everywhere, especially in the street. There are many tea shops, where you drink the chai standing, or perched on the end of the single wooden bench on the pavement outside. In the tea shops, tea is generally served in freshly fired clay cups, which are very porous. When you have finished drinking, you throw your cup to the ground, and it breaks. As the day goes on, a little heap of broken cups gradually forms.
This is what a Japanese tea shop looks like. Or rather, a tea shop in a covered market, like here at Nishiki Ichiba in Kyoto. In the foreground are chests full of Hojicha and, on the right, the apparatus with a chimney is actually a Bancha roaster. It is used to produce Hojicha. It gives off a wonderful woody, caramelised aroma which spreads to the nearby stalls.
Time passes, and I forget birthdays. My blog is one year old, and I would like to celebrate with you, of course, but also with Mathias, who shares my passion for tea. We have worked together for more than ten years, and take great pleasure in tasting the rare teas we love. And sometimes we set off together into the tea mountains, like here, in China.
This first anniversary gives me an opportunity to thank you for being there, for making yourselves known from time to time through your messages. Happy tea drinking.