The tea plant looks like a bonsai

I mustn’t deceive you about the character of the tea plant. Don’t think that just because this shrub is kept close to the ground through successive pruning and harvesting that it is weedy or fragile in any way. The tea plant is nothing of the sort – on the contrary. Because it is constantly frustrated in its growth, the trunk of each shrub becomes incredibly thick. It is wide, knotted, twisted; in fact, a tea plantation looks rather like a forest of bonsais.

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Tea pluckers in the mist of Badamtam

In the middle of summer, a bit of freshness is always welcome. Like this refreshing mist coming from the foothills of the Himalayas. People there are so used to living in the clouds that this humidity is part of their life and no-one pays any attention to it. It’s actually not unpleasant, just look at the faces of these tea pluckers and you’ll see that no-one seems depressed by it. They look like they’re having fun, in fact.
This is at Badamtam, a magnificent plantation located in the north of Darjeeling, across from Sikkim.

Just a detail: do you see the umbrella in the basket? Well, it is actually used when the sun comes out, to provide shade and keep a nice complexion.

Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , , ,

To choose tea, you need to have a good nose

When you taste tea, you first start by smelling it. This is a very important stage in the tasting process. You look at the infused leaves, inhale them and by doing so you already get lots of information on the tea. You could for example easily detect problems such as an over-drying, an overly long oxidization process if it’s black tea, or inappropriate fermentation. But of course it also allows you to identify the qualities of the tea and the different scents you could find again in the cup in more or less similar ways.

It’s only after smelling the infused leaves (what is called “infusion” in the trade) that we actually taste the liquor itself.

Here, in Badamtam (Darjeeling), Binod Gurung has his eyes closed. His nose is plunged in the damp, warm leaves. He inhales, analyses, all in a state of complete concentration.

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Tea leaves that are worth a detour

In the south of Sri Lanka, tea is mostly grown by individual farmers who cultivate their own land. They sell the tea leaves just after the harvest, as they don’t have the infrastructure to process them. The farmers don’t have to go far to find buyers: their freshly plucked tea leaves are very much wanted by the local tea factories, who even go and collect the bags filled with fresh tea leaves themselves because of competition.

I spent hours going round the farms in one of these 4x4s fitted out with trays and it’s an incredible experience: we sometimes had to get the bags high in the mountains, skidding on the steep slopes, driving along vertiginous drops, crossing forests under cries of monkeys. We’d then suddenly end up on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, around farmers breeding cattle and living out of different cultivations.

So we’d buy the tea leaves, chat a little, maybe drink a tea together. We’d talk. We’d laugh. And it’d then be time to go and collect more tea bags from other isolated farms.

Posted in Country : Sri Lanka by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , ,

Tea on the shore of Black Sea

I’m writing from the Black Sea. I’m in Rize, on the Turkish coast, not far from the Georgian border. Here, the mountains falling into the sea are incredibly green and I wouldn’t surprise you if I told you that they are covered with tea.

Turkey discovered tea at the end of the Ottoman Empire precisely because of the loss of the Yemen region where famous coffee is produced. So they had to fall back on the camellia, grown in hilly and damp areas. That’s how the whole country began drinking tea, served very strongly and in nice tulip-shaped glasses here. Sometimes they resort to using samovars and diluting the tea, still very black, with very hot water.

Tea is king in Turkey. They drink it at anytime of the day or the night, sip it, put it back on the saucer, take it again straight away and chat while burning hands. But is it really good tea?

That’s exactly the aim of my trip: finding in these mountains someone who produces quality tea according to the rule book, only by plucking the best leaves and watching not to break them. From this point of view, I have to admit that my trip isn’t successful. I have met extremely nice people who’d do anything to show me their tea garden or tea factory. But not good tea. While going on with my searches, I leave you with this green and ochre-coloured harmony.

Posted in Country : Turkey by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , , , , , ,

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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