Every year, we tea sommeliers are subjected to a marathon: the Darjeeling spring harvests. Samples of new-season teas from the region arrive in bags of ten, twenty or thirty. You must taste them within half a day if you want to be in with a chance of getting hold of the tea. The sooner you buy, the more expensive it is, but the longer you wait, the more you run the risk of missing out on the teas you want. This process, which only takes place for Darjeeling because sales go to the highest bidder and batches don’t exceed a few dozen kilos, lasts about six weeks. By the end, the entire spring production has been sold and the tea bushes, distressed by three consecutive harvests, take a rest before resuming their growth. An observation at this point: every year, these teas are worth more and more. Yet all the gardens in Darjeeling claim to be losing money due to rising production costs, and the increases don’t appear to benefit the pickers. The Mckinsey audits, which were so maligned on the eve of the election, would be invaluable in shedding light on this mystery.
Just a few days ago, Léo and I had the pleasure of tasting a sensational tea sourced from southwest China. In fact, the variety was one of the famous ‘Yunnan buds’ that is going down a treat with tea lovers all over.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the different stages of selecting a batch of tea.
Once the quantity we want has been decided, an order is placed. Because this is a small batch tea, it will be shipped by air. No sooner will the wheels touch the ground than a sample will be whizzed over to an independent lab for testing. Although not legally required to, Palais des Thés has made it policy to test any tea that has not been awarded French agriculture biologique certification, proof that is has been organically farmed. We are looking for over a hundred different molecules to confirm that the batch complies with European standards, known for being the most stringent in the world. Only if the tea passes muster will the leaves be distributed to our boutiques. It takes on average 4-6 weeks from when the tea is sampled to it being available to buy in store. A relatively long timeframe that Palais des Thés stands by because we understand the importance of guaranteeing food safety for the good of our customers’ health.
I met Sidonie when she invited me to be on her RTL radio show. That was a few years ago. We stayed in touch and, after chatting over a cup of tea one day, we thought, why not? Why not combine our passions and take our listeners, tea enthusiasts, on a journey to their favourite tea-producing country? This idea led us to launch a new podcast, or balado, as our Quebecois friends would say.
Join us at https://www.palaisdesthes.com/fr/podcast/ and on your usual podcast platform. These tales of travels and tea are for you. (In French only.)
Right now it’s best to minimise your potential exposure to a vicious virus. Much better to be safe at home, drinking delicious teas. Admire the look of the liquor before shutting your eyes and swilling it around your mouth. Pay attention to the sensations, aromas and textures in your mouth, the flavours on your tongue and palate. Then, once you’ve swallowed, you’ll be transported by the lingering finish.
Staying at home is a wonderful opportunity to expose your senses to gastronomic experiences.
In less than three months, the spring cycle will begin, and with it will come a deluge of new pluckings. As in every year, in addition to our regular selection, I will set off with my assistant tea researcher in search of rare teas. The work of a tea researcher involves constantly reviewing the teas we choose and tasting new teas from farmers we work with already (there’s no guarantee that someone who produced an exceptional tea the previous year will produce anything as good the year after). The work also consists of seeking out new farmers, both in well-established production regions as well as new areas where pioneers are starting to gain the necessary expertise. This photo was taken in Malawi, a country that just a few years ago, nobody would have suspected of being capable of producing good tea.