Analyzing the wet leaves

When we taste tea, we pay attention to the leaves at every stage. Of course we are interested in the liquor, which we drink, and we also examine the dried leaves: are they whole or broken? Do they contain buds? What colour are the leaves? Are they all similar? Lastly, the infused leaves can tell us a great deal. We smell them, and press them, as Nirananda Acharya is doing here. Often, the smell of the wet leaves can tell us as much about the tea as drinking the liquor itself. The wet leaves inform us about every stage of the processing. We can pick up on the slightest defect, or on the contrary, we can revel in the wonderful bouquet.


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Preparing for a successful tasting

The Tea School provides training for Palais des Thés employees to ensure their knowledge and expertise is as good as possible. The school also offers courses for members of the public who want to learn about tea and the best way to drink it, and lastly, it trains food professionals. Recently, these have included teams from the Ritz and Bristol hotels in Paris. In this way, maîtres d’hôtel and sommeliers learn about tea, and many are passionate about the subject. Some have built up their knowledge over a long period, while others are thirsty to learn. This is how we prepare the tasting session – this one took place at the Institut Paul Bocuse a few days ago. There are three tasting sets per participant, to taste three premium teas (Jade Oolong by Mrs Ming, Dong Ding Antique, Pu Erh Menghai XO Milésime 1999). In addition, five teas were infused in cold water and served in stemmed glasses: Ryogôchi Saemidori Shicnha Ichibancha 2017, Kagoshima Benifuki by Mr Kumada, Népal Kanchenjunga Gold Récolte Tardive, Satemwa Dark and Enjin Jukro from Korea. The leaves are examined in little dishes. However, we do not label the teas – I like people to taste them blind and if possible I hide the tea colour, without saying what type of tea it is, so that students can keep their minds clear and not form preconceptions. This is a refined approach to tea. It is about awakening the senses, describing a texture and a flavour, and recognising aromas. My dream is to initiate new people into this vocation so that one day they can become a tea sommelier!


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Waiting for the tea tasting to begin

Preparation of tea

The preparation for a tasting is a special moment. I watch what my host is doing, each precise movement. The leaves are presented on a base that allows you to see them, then the tea is weighed out to the nearest tenth of a gram, before being steeped for a specific time. Each tea must be brewed in exactly the same conditions. Before tasting the tea, while the liquors cool a little, I like to take a few photos of the room itself, of people going about their activities, their faces, or the landscape. I often make use of windows. The reflections can be unexpected. I take photos through the window, while others look on, puzzled. Here, at the Kanchenjunga Tea Estate, through the grille-covered window, you can see the tea being prepared against a background of mountains and the tea garden.


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Tea Sommeliers day

Tea Sommeliers

Working together is good; sharing good times is even better. Yesterday was the Tea Sommeliers day, which I devote to the people who have obtained their precious diploma. The aim of the day is to spend a good time together, with tea, food and treats for the senses.

We began by tasting the entire selection of first-flush Darjeelings, which I have just completed, before joining Nathaly from L’Esprit-Cuisine for a meal of food and tea pairings. With Nathaly – a remarkable, positive and passionate teacher – we prepared an onglet of Aubrac beef with crème à l’anguille, flavoured with Bourgeons de Yunnan Premium tea. It was delicious, and we ate it accompanied by the same tea. This followed a fresh herb soup served with a Taiwan Si Ji Chun, and was followed by a delicious streusel, chocolate and black sesame biscuit served with the famous Jukro from South Korea.

In the afternoon we returned to the tasting room, where our tea sommeliers discovered a few rare teas, tasted blind of course, before we all decided together whether they merited being called “premium” teas. Among the curiosities we tasted were a goishicha from Japan, a compressed dark tea from Hunan, little tea balls from Sri Lanka, a tea from the Nainital region of India, and a black tea from Colombia!

 


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The three tasting senses

Tea tasting

Three senses come into play when we drink tea and analyse the liquor: taste, which focuses on flavours (sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, umami, etc.), smell – made more effective through retro-nasal olfaction (a technique that consists of exhaling through the nose, bringing more olfactory molecules into the retro-nasal cavity) – and touch, which of course tells us whether the tea is hot or cold, astringent or silky, and other sensations. If we want to describe a tea, it is essential to understand about flavours, olfactory notes and touch. It helps us when we taste together, so we can share our impressions.

 


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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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