Category : Inspirational

Tea Sommeliers day

Tea Sommeliers

Working together is good; sharing good times is even better. Yesterday was the Tea Sommeliers day, which I devote to the people who have obtained their precious diploma. The aim of the day is to spend a good time together, with tea, food and treats for the senses.

We began by tasting the entire selection of first-flush Darjeelings, which I have just completed, before joining Nathaly from L’Esprit-Cuisine for a meal of food and tea pairings. With Nathaly – a remarkable, positive and passionate teacher – we prepared an onglet of Aubrac beef with crème à l’anguille, flavoured with Bourgeons de Yunnan Premium tea. It was delicious, and we ate it accompanied by the same tea. This followed a fresh herb soup served with a Taiwan Si Ji Chun, and was followed by a delicious streusel, chocolate and black sesame biscuit served with the famous Jukro from South Korea.

In the afternoon we returned to the tasting room, where our tea sommeliers discovered a few rare teas, tasted blind of course, before we all decided together whether they merited being called “premium” teas. Among the curiosities we tasted were a goishicha from Japan, a compressed dark tea from Hunan, little tea balls from Sri Lanka, a tea from the Nainital region of India, and a black tea from Colombia!

 


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Tomorrow’s experts

François-Xavier Delmas with one student

If we want staff working in hotels and restaurants to offer quality teas in the future, we need to train young people who are starting out in their careers. Reims Academy and Palais des Thés have joined forces to develop a certification course in “tea knowledge and service”. First, we trained tutors in several hospitality colleges, who then educated their students. Last week, in Reims, it was time for the exams and awarding of certificates. Congratulations to all of the students who passed. I hope it encourages them to continue to find out more about tea, and make their future customers happy.


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30 springs!

Tea plant blossom

It’s exactly 30 years ago this month that my life changed. Nothing had previously marked me out for a life in the tea trade. Palais des Thés opened its first boutique in March 1987, in a small backstreet in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Then there were two stores, then three, and gradually the brand was born. Our learning progressed at the same rate. We needed to travel, to meet people. And what can I say about the loyalty of our customers, except that it still touches us just as much. Every time we open a new store, I meet customers who remember the beginning, who have been there from the first day, or thereabouts, and I still feel the same emotion.

30 years have passed, and our enthusiasm is not only intact, it is stronger now than when we started. We marvel at what lies ahead. There is a lot to keep us busy. The more you know about a subject as rich and varied as tea, the more you realise just how much you still have to learn. For tea, like for wine, one lifetime is not enough. I’ll get back to you in another 30 years. Before then, we’re preparing for new tastings, meeting new people, discovering new things. We’re ready to continue learning about tea and the people who make it, doing the best we can to bring you what I would love to be the finest selection of premium teas in the world. And doing so with the greatest respect for people and our planet. Not harming either of them; on the contrary, thinking far ahead, about those who will come after us.

And as we watch spring awakening, as we look ahead to the next 30 years, here are some tea plants in flower for you.


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Enjoying a detour

Beautiful carps in Kyoto

Many people think I only visit the plantations at harvest time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I like to meet a planter or farmer when he has time for me, and nothing to sell. When he’s not constantly preoccupied by the quality of the tea he’s making at that moment. In Japan, if I visit the tea fields during the first half of May, when the country’s finest teas are being produced, the farmer will have very little time to spare. He’ll look after me, of course, but he’ll be stressed, because from sunrise to sunset he’ll be dashing between fields and factory, and trying his best to be in both places at once. On the other hand, now, at the beginning of January, here in Japan, farmers have time to spare. We can sit down together and taste plenty of teas, we can walk along the rows of tea plants, and inspect every tool and machine. I can understand the farmer’s challenges and ask plenty of questions. Then we can go and have lunch together in a traditional hostelry and sing the praises of the local specialities, enjoy the way the room looks out over a small pond, admire the beautiful carp, talk about everything and nothing. That’s how you learn. I’ve learnt an enormous amount about tea and how it’s grown in this way, by taking my time. Much more than I would by coming in the harvest season and hurriedly tasting and buying what I need. In life, and particularly in Japan, nothing beats taking your time, not worrying about wasting it. There is nothing to lose by doing things slowly. This is how I do things in every tea-producing country. Sometimes I visit in the harvest season, but I know that I also need to be there to listen, to understand. Above all, it’s important not to imagine that nothing happens outside the harvests. And it’s important to value slowness, especially in Asia. Here, it’s best to avoid rushing, efficiency, yields. Instead, we can enjoy the experience of a detour.


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A job full of emotion

FX Delmas in Rwanda

Naturally, I have emotions. I never return from my travels unmoved. Yes, in the strictest sense my job consists of visiting tea fields, talking with producers, tasting, and understanding how the tea is made. But in practice my work doesn’t stop there. It’s not just about tea leaves, plants, machines, flavours. Most of all, tea is about people. Men and women. Smiles, surprises, joy, pain, laughter, fear, curiosity, anxiety, fun, desires, challenges, suffering, pride, hopes and dreams… The people I meet up in the mountains give me all this. So as soon as I see a familiar landscape, I feel moved. I think back to the time I was there before, to the people. I remember what I learnt about life in those places. I remember my feelings. I don’t wear armour when I travel. A journey is like a shipwreck, and people whose boat has not sunk will never know the sea, wrote Nicolas Bouvier, a writer I love. So, sometimes I sink. I return a different person from when I set out; I’m not exactly the same on my return. And sometimes I don’t want to come back. I want to lose myself. People’s lives touch me, their emotions touch me. I have this incredible opportunity to meet people who are different from me, different in every respect – in their culture, religion, language, ethnicity. Different, but the same in that we are all human. And often, when I come back down from a mountain after spending several days up there, I need to rest. To take a break before I reach the valley. I need to sit at the roadside or at the edge of a field before going back to the city, before forgetting, forgetting why I left this place I already loved. When I come back down from my mountains, I need to stop, take a breath, not let things go too quickly. I need to dream, to cry, sometimes, to be aware of what I’m leaving, to not be in a rush. I simply need to breathe, to fill my lungs one last time with blue air; to live.


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The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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