Fine teas in the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains

The current tension in Darjeeling, although it seems finally to be easing, has guided my path toward new vistas this month. In the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains, a stone’s throw from Kashmir, a few tea plantations are well worth the detour—not only for their majestic view of the Himalayas, but also for the hard work of several local producers, which is unquestionably paying off. For decades, the region produced a relatively ordinary green tea for local consumption, but more recently, if you look hard enough, you can find a wide variety of more artisanal teas to delight the palate. All while gazing at the Dhauladhars, naturally.

 


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

The situation is dangerous in Darjeeling

The situation in Darjeeling has become dangerous. All the shops have shut, the hotels have closed, the roads are blocked. Work has ground to a halt on the tea plantations. It has been like this for 70 days. We are facing a major shortage. Worse, clashes with the army have left some dead. I don’t know if a political solution will be reached between the central government, the leaders of West Bengal and the separatists. I don’t know if demands to create a new state, Gorkhaland, within the Union of India, will lead to anything. What I do know is that the plantations are under threat and that it will take several weeks to get back to a situation where they can start producing tea again. It will require a massive effort in terms of clearing the ground and pruning before the bushes can grow in the right way for harvesting. The summer crop is already spoilt. The autumn harvest could be saved if the conflict ends quickly. Otherwise, we will have to stop tasting Darjeelings for a while, and instead send positive thoughts to everyone living in those mountains; the people I know well and am so fond of, who do not deserve to live through such difficult times.


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

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.


Posted in Country : India by 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!


Posted in Country : Nepal by 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.

 


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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