Timid shoots

In Darjeeling, the years go by, and each one is different. In a little over 30 years, I’ve never known anything like the current situation. To remind you, a strike lasting 105 days prevented any work from taking place on the region’s 87 plantations between June and October. When the separatists finally removed the blockades, it was time for Durga Puja – the local version of Christmas. After the plantations had been abandoned for months, the workers then had to set about taming the jungle. The problem was that some of them had fled the conflict to find work in the valleys. And that’s where we are now: the tea plants were pruned very late – some at the end of December – which means that we’re still waiting for the Darjeeling spring harvest. On Wednesday 14 March, a few rare and timid shoots appeared on the tea plants (photo). Of course, so-called first-flush Darjeelings have been on the market for more than a month: that’s the magic of spring Darjeelings, they’re being sold before they’ve even been harvested. This is because some low-altitude plantations, which benefit from a warm climate and irrigation systems, can produce small quantities of tea during the winter. They falsely call them spring teas. Which is sad, as they are nothing like the leaves harvested from the plants in which the sap rises slowly, and which produce the unique tea that has made Darjeeling famous.

Posted in Spring by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

A tea tree’s natural inclination

Last Friday, I told you about a clever mechanical system developed to make tasks easier for tea pluckers working on steep grounds (see the article). But you may wonder why tea is cultivated on such abrupt fields. Let me tell you why: unlike rice, tea trees like  keeping their feet dry and can only be produced on a very well drained area. An inclined ground is therefore ideal for their growth, as the rainwater runs away. In flat tea plantations, farmers must then install a draining system to keep bushes healthy. It would be as well to make the most of a natural environment, much simpler and less expensive!

On this photo taken on the very steep Namring Tea Estate near the Himalayan mountains, notice the tea trees’ difference of colours. On the foreground, the harvest has already been done, whereas in the background, the light-coloured young shoots have not yet been plucked.

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In Japan, the harvests of tea are also delayed

These days I was nearby Shizuoka, the main tea producing region of Japan. I took this picture in Tawaramine, a highly considered place for growing tea. Beyond the harmonious curve made by the row of tea trees, one can see the city of Shizuoka spreading out on the border of the Pacific.

The farmers of Tawaramine, just like the ones of the other surrounding mountains (Asahina, Hirayama…), don’t have much to complain this year. The harvesting of tea is of course very much delayed this year due to the cold weather of April and the shoots are only beginning to show up. However they do not have to experience the disaster of their colleagues located on the Makinohara plateau: because of a lower altitude and an early spring followed by a rough cold snap, the tea trees have simply frozen, and as a result the production of tea is partly compromised for them.

So from Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Yunnan to Anhui and from Zhejiang to Fujian, the harvests are really delayed this year.

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A clever trick to ensure a quality tea harvest

On some tea plantations, they use a long bamboo stick to ensure a quality harvest. This photo taken in the Nilgiri (India) shows how it is used: the plucker has placed it in front of her and only takes the shoots that extend beyond it. This prevents the plucking of the previous season’s leaves, which are tougher and don’t produce good tea.

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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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