Since the start of May, I’ve been tasting and choosing the best teas of the season from Japan. They’re called Ichibanchas because they’re the first to be harvested in the year. Japanese teas come from the regions of Shizuoka and Uji, and in the south of the archipelago. In the north of the country, the tea plant grown everywhere is Yabukita, whereas in the south, with its warmer climate, less Yabukita is grown. For example, here, near Kagoshima, the Yutaka Midori cultivar dominates, and represents nearly 60% of production.
There are endless ways to use tea in cooking. For example, why not sprinkle it over food like a spice? Here, the aromatic, toasted, delicately woody and fruity notes of Jejudo Grand Oolong Impérial bring an exotic touch and a hint of crunch to this delicious burrata cheese. Sprinkle the tea over it and leave it in some green olive oil in the fridge for a couple of days. Enjoy it the Italian way: not too cold, as you sometimes see it served, but at a temperature of 20° to 22°C. To accompany it, infuse the same Korean tea in water at room temperature for 30 minutes and serve in small glasses such as vodka glasses.
My work has changed a lot in the past 30 years. Before, I would select teas, and then we had to get them here as quickly as possible if they were Grands Crus – we called them “rare and ephemeral”. I would visit every farm, of course, but that’s where the work ended.
Today, our demands – and I’m talking about our own demands just as much as our customers’ – in terms of health, food safety and environmental respect, are so much higher. It’s no longer enough to find teas that are remarkable for their gastronomic qualities. They must also meet strict standards – happily, European standards are the strictest in the world. Food safety is better. Flavour and health have become inseparable, for which I’m grateful. Then it’s up to me to make sure you can taste these rare teas as soon after harvest as possible.
I mostly travel alone. I depart alone, I return alone. This solitude encourages me to approach others. I’m more easily accepted by them, to be among them. Alone, you open up to others. We all need other people. Without a travel companion, you make more of an effort to adopt the culture of the people you meet. Alone, you’re more vulnerable, more permeable, more receptive. And that’s a good thing, because I travel to listen.