In Shizuoka, a festival is dedicated to green tea

As you read this, I will be arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun. I am here because every three years, a celebration of green tea is held in the Shizuoka region: the O’Cha Festival. It is an opportunity to meet many farmers who grow tea in the surrounding mountains and who leave their tea plants to come and meet other growers, customers and journalists. At the festival, you can try many teas, or watch a matcha tea being made, or a temomi cha, the tea that is entirely processed by hand.

Drinking green tea, whether a superior quality or an everyday brew, is part of Japanese culture. The Japanese serve green tea throughout the day and even drink it while walking in the street, getting it from the numerous vending machines you see everywhere in the country. The Japanese ceremony of Cha no Yu is deeply rooted in tradition, going back more than 500 years, like the Ikebana art of flower arranging, for example.

At the O’Cha Festival, you can taste some very special teas. Several competitions are held during the fair to select the best green teas of the year.

The farmers are immensely proud of the recognition this brings their tea. Here is one family in the middle of harvesting a sencha. Their plot is not big, but their tea is worth its weight in gold.

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

In Darjeeling, a separate state is subject of debate

There has been political tension in Darjeeling for some 30 years. While everyone agrees on remaining within the Indian Union, a large proportion of the population would like some independence, with their own Indian state, instead of being part of West Bengal as the region is today.  Being a separate state, like neighbouring Sikkim, might result in better infrastructures, with direct funding from the capital Delhi instead of having to wait for aid that never comes from Kolkata. Most people in Darjeeling are Indians of Nepalese origin who would prefer to be able to make their own decisions on matters that concern them. Some have already given the future state a name which you see scrawled along the roadsides, and which is being chanted by these protesters marching in Darjeeling: “We want Gorkhaland!” You can see they are waving two different flags: the flag of the future Gorkhaland, and the flag of India, to show that they want the new state to be firmly embedded within the Indian Union.

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

In the Himalayas, people give their prayers to the wind

On Sunday, I climbed up to the temple near Chowrasta, in the centre of Darjeeling. From here, you can look out across the city. The big problem with this walk is trying to avoid the hordes of monkeys intent on stripping you of everything you have. They bare their sharp teeth if you have the tiniest piece of food in your pockets. Once at the temple, I slowly make my way around it, and sit on one of the stone benches to observe the faithful. I cannot resist raising my eyes to contemplate the prayer flags, these scraps of fabric printed with prayers or mantras. They are given to the wind in order that it may fulfil them.

I find this poetic ritual fascinating and soothing. I watch these multicoloured scraps dancing gently in the wind, rising from the earth to the sky and taking our prayers to the gods.

Posted in Country : India, Places I like in Darjeeling by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , , ,

This Sunday at 2.45pm on France 5: “Tea for all”!

There are not many documentaries on tea, so when one comes up on television we shouldn’t miss it. As part of its Global Drinks series, France 5 is showing a documentary called “Thé pour tous” (Tea for all), this Sunday at 2.45pm. The report lasts 52 minutes, which is quite exceptional. The director Stefano Tealdi travelled through various countries including Japan, Taiwan, the UK and India, and also stopped in Paris. We met a year ago and I agreed to him accompanying me into the tea mountains. So in February, we met in Kolkata. We then took the Darjeeling route in the company of Sandro DeFrino, his camera man, and Angelo Galeano, his sound recordist.

It is not easy to travel with a TV crew in places you love, on the other side of the world. It’s a bit like being with a bull in a china shop. But with Stefano, Angelo and Sandro it was real pleasure; all of them treated everyone we met with great respect, and they showed a deep understanding of the nuances of local identities. It’s a rare thing. I was very pleased to have met them. I think we started to develop a friendship and I’m looking forward to seeing their film.

In this photo, taken in Kolkata, Stefano Tealdi, with his back to the camera, is talking to Krishan Katyal, director of the tea auctioneers J Thomas & Co. Krisham is one of the leading experts in India, and I’m sure I’ll be telling you more about him another time.

Ps: for the people who, like me, do not have the television, you can clic here to view the programme until October 24th

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

Gopal Somani: an experienced grower in Darjeeling

Tomorrow I am going to visit my friend Gopal Somani. Gopal is one of the most important people in Darjeeling. He is one of the two or three most experienced growers, and his teas win the most prestigious awards. He supervises the plantations of Puttabong and North Tukvar, a vast area with altitudes that vary by more than 1 000 meters and which, in season, produces truly exceptional teas. With his high standards and attention to detail, this expert has taught and trained many Darjeeling growers over the past two decades. I myself have learnt a huge amount from him.

Tomorrow we are going to tour the North Tukvar plantation together, and taste his recent teas. Then I am invited to lunch at his bungalow. And if I mistakenly use my fork to eat instead of my right hand alone, as is customary in India, he will make his habitual remark: “Why are you using your false hand to eat when the gods gave you a real one!”

Posted in Country : India 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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