Tea and joy

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is known as the “city of joy”, but it’s also the city of tea. All the producers of Darjeeling and Assam teas have their office there. Auctions take place in the historical district of BBD Bagh, supplying the lifeblood of a whole economy. And the precious cargoes of tea are dispatched from the city’s port.

Kolkata, a sprawling city of ten, fifteen, even twenty million inhabitants – who knows? – extends outwards from the banks of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges. Its public transport system includes many boats which offer a peaceful crossing, away from the busy traffic.


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

The sinensis and assamica varieties

If you enjoy tea, you will probably know that there are two main varieties of Camellia sinensis used to make tea: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Rather than getting bogged down in the Latin, here is a more practical explanation. The large-leaf teas come from the assamica strain, while the small-leaf teas – which have incomparable aromas and a hardiness that allows them to adapt to harsher climates – belong to the sinensis strain. It is self-explanatory that a producer looking for quantity over quality is likely to favour one over the other.

I would like to thank Laurence, manager of the Palais des Thés store on Rue du Commerce in Paris, for this photo she took while we were visiting a research centre in Northern India.

(photo: Laurence Jouanno)


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Our friends the earthworms

Tea plantations that use organic methods avoid all conventional pesticides and fungicides. They limit the spread of undesirable elements through the use of natural predators or repellents. And to enrich the soil, to make up for the nutrients that the tea plants take up, especially in intensive farming, they need to add a significant amount of organic matter. Organic compost can be bought in, or even better, produced on the plantation. One way of doing this is using vermiculture, a fairly common practice in India. Millions of earthworms are fed cattle manure mixed with chopped up banana leaves, for example. The worms produce excrement, and it is this excrement that is deposited around the base of each tea plant.


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Mountains in Southern India

When you think of Southern India, you think of colourful temples, ancient spice trading posts, beaches lined with palm trees, boats gliding along complex networks of canals and backwaters, and luxuriant gardens. Southern India is less well-known for its mountains. Yet what are called the Ghats, literally “steps”, peak at more than 2,000 metres above sea level. This altitude and climate is well suited to tea plants.


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My friend Anil

I’ve known Anil for more than 10 years. Back then, he was running a beautiful tea plantation, Thaishola, in southern India. I visited him there several times, and he taught me a great deal. He made high-quality teas in the Nilgiri Mountains. Then he became an auditor for organisations that certify tea produced using methods which respect the planet and its people. His efforts were admirable. And now, thanks to his immense experience, he advises tea plantations. Recently, I visited him with a team from Palais des Thés. He was so attentive to us, and went to great lengths to arrange meetings with people he considers to be the best producers in the region. We pestered him with questions from morning till night. He also let us stay in this incredible Ootacamund Club, where we were transported 200 years back in time to the reign of Queen Victoria. He dedicated all his time to us, and never tired of our thirst for knowledge about tea. He was generous with every remark and explanation. Thank you Anil!


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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