Category : Inspirational

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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“Tea sommelier”, the book

Tea sommelier the book

I’ve been dreaming about it, and now it’s here. I want to talk about this book, published by Les Éditions du Chêne, which will be in bookshops this week. The project of writing the book, entitled “Tea Sommelier”, has been very important to me for a long time. Prestigious hotels in Europe, America and Asia have been asking me for several years to help them create tea and food pairings. One day a hotel in Hong Kong asked me which tea would go best with caviar; another time a Michelin-starred New York chef had so many questions to ask me, as he was discovering all the ways tea could be used in the kitchen. That’s what has changed: tea is no longer reserved for breakfast, brunch or teatime, it’s now an accepted presence at the table, in the kitchen, even at the bar. Tea is also being prepared at room temperature, and sometimes it’s even served in wine glasses. My friend Mathias and I cover all these topics in great detail in the book, in a serious yet fun way, accompanied by many illustrations. Naturally we also discuss the tea plant and its cultivation, along with the different types of tea and the various ways it can be prepared and consumed. The book is detailed, uplifting, accessible, and can be understood by anyone. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.


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Love is in the streets

Love runs the streets

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.

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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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