For those of you who are getting your first taste of a first flush Darjeeling, I’d like to remind you that these are rare and fragile teas that need to be prepared with care. The infusion time, for example, should not exceed three minutes and 45 seconds. A fine tea is all about harmony. We look for a balance between the textures, flavours and aromas. With first flush Darjeelings, the best way to find this harmony is to keep the infusion time to between 3’30 and 3’45.
The Darjeeling Hillton DJ1 “SFTGFOP1 clonal” that I chose ten days ago has arrived at Roissy airport. It’s one of the very first Darjeelings harvested this year, and this batch of just 95 kilos is worth trying. In the cup, it develops subtle floral notes amidst vegetal aromas of cut grass, raw vegetables and stems. A bouquet of fresh almond, vanilla and yellow fruit accompanies a delightful finish in the mouth, with vegetal, camphor, fresh and vanilla notes.
Some South African farmers have just sent me this photo taken last month during the rooibos harvest. I’m in the middle, and the temperature was close to 40 degrees. The working conditions aren’t easy in this region, which is so arid in the summer that almost the only things that grow are stones and sand.
When, in the evening, I drink a cup of this infusion that is completely free of caffeine and theine, I think of them and the joy it gave me to discover such wonderful landscapes and people.
If I had to choose one image to illustrate my work, I’d choose this one. A picture of a bridge. A footbridge. A bridge linking two worlds: the world of tea producers on one side with the world of tea enthusiasts on the other.
A bridge between East and West. A bridge between those who cultivate slow living with those who want to return to it. By drinking tea, for example.
Sometimes the people who harvest tea don’t have the necessary equipment to process the leaves. In this case, they sell their crop to another farmer who is able to process it.
This is what happens in the south of Sri Lanka, where each tea factory dispatches vehicles to collect bags from small producers.
At the moment I’m tasting between 50 and 100 different teas a day.
I try them in series of about 10 or 12. When you taste so many teas at the same time, you spit them out, for obvious reasons. Most importantly, you taste each tea twice, and in a different order, so you’re not influenced by the qualities or flaws of the previous tea.
This is because when you taste several batches in a row, you have a tendency to pick out what is different about them rather than their similarities, and if I didn’t taste each one twice, I could miss out on some wonderful teas.
International Women’s Day is an excellent opportunity for me to pay tribute to all women working in the tea industry. From harvesting to processing, from packaging to quality control, tea involves a great deal of work. Many women manage work alongside family life, like the indefatigable Mrs Zhou.
In a recent interview, a journalist asked me why I drink tea.
I drink tea to relax, to find a moment’s peace, to create some space for myself. I drink tea to stay calm, to give myself a break, to do myself good. I drink tea in the same way that others practice yoga, to keep myself feeling good, to replenish. And I also drink tea for the pleasure of making it and the pleasure of serving it to others. I drink tea for the happiness that comes from sharing it.
Some time in the next two weeks I should receive the first of a large number of samples from Darjeeling. During the first few days I get just a handful, but as the month goes by, the harvesting intensifies. In March and April, I sometimes taste more than 100 teas in a single day.
This picture is of a plucker who has not yet slung her basket on her back. Like me, she is impatient for the season to start.