From the time the tea leaves are harvested to the moment they reach the factory for processing, they must not be allowed to start fermenting, as this could spoil the quality of the tea. So in various locations around plantations there are small shelters built to protect the leaves from rain until they are taken to the factory.
On the hoarding surrounding one of our stores during renovation work, above an image of a cup of tea held carefully in two hands (we don’t know if it’s being handed to someone or being admired, but we can tell it’s the focus of attention), there’s some graffiti that makes me happy. A friend pointed it out to me. It’s a statement, a piece of important news. It’s worth stopping to look at.
Usually, I tell you about my travels far away on the other side of the planet, often in the mountains covered in mist, but it’s also good to pay attention to one’s immediate surroundings, and not always tell oneself that the grass is greener, that life is undoubtedly better, elsewhere. L’amour court les rues. Love is in the streets. This is good news. Because we demand it, the media constantly bombards us with bad news and forgets to give us this essential information: love is in the streets.
From Paris to Bamako, from Brussels to Istanbul, we sometimes have reason to doubt it, but love is in the streets because it’s written here, and it’s much more newsworthy than some other events. The graffiti in question is actually located in a street that Saint Denis passed through, just after his head had been cut off, and he was holding it in his hands, on his way to the place where the basilica bears his name. So not only is love in the streets, but it came after the martyrs, reminding us that love is more powerful that all hatred put together.
What if this graffiti artist was right? What if love was in the streets and we didn’t notice it, because we didn’t have time, we weren’t present, weren’t paying attention, weren’t aware? Because we were lacking altruism, Matthieu Ricard would say? We must try to be happy, even if it’s just to set an example, wrote Prévert. We could try to make the streets a bit more human, smile at ourselves, be kind to ourselves whenever we can, look after ourselves, say thank you when appropriate, help ourselves when necessary. Yes, love is in the streets, so let’s welcome it instead of not seeing it, let’s make room for it. It’s up to us. Let’s not let it go.
Due to a way of thinking I don’t share, Darjeeling tea producers fear competition from their Nepalese neighbours. They think the latter are copying them and can sell their teas more cheaply, because of their lower production costs.
Yes, Nepalese teas sometimes offer good value for money, but they are not copies of Darjeelings. There are some passionate planters in Nepal who know that their country still needs to prove itself to gain recognition in the world of tea, and as a result, they try to be innovative. In Darjeeling, planters are in a more comfortable position due to their reputation that is often – but not always – merited.
So, they are two different worlds: innovation on one side, tradition on the other. By looking carefully and being highly selective, you can find excellent teas on both sides of the border. And it would be a shame to deprive yourself of either kind.
It’s not an easy job, growing tea. In Darjeeling, after a winter that was too dry, it did eventually rain, but a few days ago an unusually violent hailstorm hit the region and caused considerable damage on plantations in the north of the district. Luckily, between the rain and hail, a few very good batches were produced, and I’m pleased to say that we will shortly be receiving some remarkable teas from Risheehat, Puttabong, Singbulli, Thurbo Moonlight, North Tukvar, DelmasBari and Turzum.
Speaking of Turzum, here’s a photo I took in March of Anil Jha, one of the three most respected planters in Darjeeling. Here, he is concentrating on the smell of the damp leaves that are in the lid of the tasting set.
For many people who work with tea, it is not an industry like any other. There can be a lot of love in tea. A lot of generosity and humanity. There can also be a lot of passion, among aficionados and producers, as well as the people who work in our stores, and give you advice. I would like to dedicate this photo to My, who worked for many years at Palais des Thés in Brussels, and who also loved to draw. She left this world far too soon.