Tension in Darjeeling

For the past three weeks, tensions have been running high in Darjeeling. Businesses, roads and plantations have shut down, tourists have been asked to leave. The reason for the general strike is that the people of Nepali origin, who make up the majority of the population, are being forced to learn Bengali at school – a language from a region they hate. Darjeeling is part of West Bengal, which is resented by the independence movement, who want to create a new state within the Indian Union: Gorkhaland. This issue has been boiling over for the past 30 years, and demonstrations are frequent. With a three-week strike taking place during the summer harvest season, the plantations will struggle to cope this year. This is on top of the 30% decline in volumes harvested due to the dry spring this year.


Posté dans Country : India par François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Good Nepalese teas annoy Darjeeling producers

Indian tea producers are complaining about unfair competition from Nepal, and I don’t buy their argument. They don’t complain that Japan, China and other countries produce tea, they have to deal with it. But with Nepal, India is behaving as if it could put pressure on this country, which has no access to the sea, to impose conditions, make it pay taxes, and in this way prevent it from exporting its tea. Nepal is a particularly poor country which buys most of its consumer goods from India, and is therefore dependant on India to a certain extent. India is using this to its advantage. Among the complaints levelled by Indian producers, particularly those in Darjeeling, is that Nepalese teas create unfair competition for Darjeelings. But to my mind, Nepalese teas have their own character, they are recognisable, they don’t need the prestige of Darjeeling to enjoy success. They offer excellent value for money, much better than Darjeelings, and it is most likely this which is irritating India most. Lastly, and this is a positive thing, Nepal is starting to build a good reputation for itself in tea. This is a great improvement on the dodgy dealings that have been going on for years with certain unscrupulous Darjeeling gardens, who bring in fresh tea leaves from Nepal at low prices, process them in India, and then pass them off as pure Darjeelings!


Posté dans Country : Nepal par François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

How we choose our first-flush Darjeelings

Sunset over Darjeeling

First-flush Darjeelings are the most difficult teas to buy, because production is not organised like it is elsewhere. In Darjeeling, they pick the leaves from the same plants every seven to 10 days, and as plantations are divided into around 10 plots, it means they are constantly harvesting. As soon as the leaves are picked, they are processed; this batch is then sold as one lot. This means that each of the region’s 80 plantations produce a tea every day, and those are just the whole-leaf teas – the best, of course. These plantations do not mix the leaves from one day with those from the next day. The result is that six times a week for around six weeks, each of the 87 plantations puts a tea up for sale. This totals around 3,000 different batches of first-flush – or spring – Darjeelings to taste. Quality can vary considerably from one batch to another. Even when they come from the same plantation, one tea can be 100 times better than another, if you want to quantify those differences.

Of course you cannot rely wholly on the name of a garden, or on a variety; that would be too simple. Only blind tasting allows you to judge a tea’s quality. This must be done quickly, very quickly, because although there are not many of us who receive these samples – only around 30 buyers in the world – sometimes a very good tea can sell just 30 minutes after the few grams of the sample have been received. So you need to work quickly while remaining calm and focused. But these teas that come from the roof of the world are generally worth the effort. They are the first teas of the season; they have a lovely spring freshness and incomparable floral, zesty aromas.

 


Posté dans Country : India par François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Waiting for rain.

Kolkata the City of Joy

I’m writing this in Kolkata, a city I love, and which deserves its nickname, City of Joy. The former Calcutta is also a city of tea. Most plantations in Darjeeling and Assam have an office here, as well as a tasting room. When I don’t have time to go to Darjeeling, I spend a couple of days here, which gives me a perfect panorama of the teas available. I go round visiting each of my friends in charge of exporting tea, and ask them as many questions as I can. If they’ve received samples of tea from the mountains, we taste them together. Right now, I can tell you that the situation is not good in Darjeeling. There hasn’t been a drop of rain since October. The temperature is two degrees higher than normal but, without water, the buds are growing at a rate that is alarming the planters.
Once I’ve finished my meetings, I walk down to the river and watch the waters of the Ganga flow past. Howrah Bridge is a symbol of the capital of West Bengal. I imagine all those little lights as prayers to make the rain come.


Posté dans Country : India par François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Blue and green

Blue and green

Blue and green are my favourite colours. Blue, because the sea has been very important to me, and the island in Brittany where I spent all my childhood summers taught me a lot about life. The blue that comes and goes with the tides, a blue that turns green then brown when the tide goes out, the blue of the swollen sea, the blue of Brittany’s skies (though there are those who love its drizzly rain too)…

Blue and then green, the green of tea fields, the green of camellias, a dark green or a yellowish green, depending on the variety. A glossy green or matt green leaf, depending on whether you look at it from above or below. The green of the rice fields that meet the slopes covered with tea plants, the green of forests, so essential to keeping our climate balanced, the dark green of cryptomeria japonica, that spindly, rather bare tree that I love, found from Kyoto to Darjeeling, whose needles hold the mist so well. The green of the forest school I attended, the green of the countryside, of my little piece of nature where I’m so happy, the different greens of all the herbs I use to season my food, the green of young shoots, the green of springtime, the green of nature awakening; green, the symbol of life.


Posté dans Country : India par 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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