For years, I didn’t take any photos, misguidedly believing it wasn’t possible to look around me and photograph at the same time. Later, I changed my mind. Those landscapes and portraits taken around the world inspired me to share them, and so the blog was born.
Like the Tea School and the books I’ve written with Mathias Minet (The Tea Drinker’s Handbook, Tea Sommelier), the role of this blog is to impart both knowledge and passion.
This month, my blog celebrates its 691st article, or rather, its ten-year anniversary, so I’m inviting you to help me blow out the candles. I’d like to thank Mathias, Laurent, Philippe, Emilie, Marta, Bénédicte, Kevin and Hélène, who were there at the start or who’ve been part of the journey. And I’d like to thank you, my readers, for following me. Your support is precious, and it touches me.
There are artisan teas, and there are industrial teas. The same is true for many of the products we consume. If we had to pick something that
symbolises the work of the artisan, we could talk about their craftsmanship, or we could talk quite simply of their hands. Artisanal work involves the hands.
To produce a fine tea, to pick the best leaves or to take cuttings, hands play an essential role.
What about consuming better quality but less? It would mean that every time we bought an object or item of food, we would ask ourselves if hands played a part in making it.
I wish all of you an excellent year. I hope you find time to be good to yourself, to be good to others, to meditate, be happy, enjoy nature, walk through beautiful landscapes, reflect, smile, rest, shut your eyes, breathe deeply, consume less and better, think of generations to come, of the planet, and to make every moment, every mouthful of tea, a moment of pure happiness.
To give someone who doesn’t know about tea the desire to explore it, to lead customers on a journey of discovery through single-origin teas, growing regions, rare and premium teas… that is what makes our work so special. The essence of Palais des Thés is captured in the way we support our customers. Our raison d’être is our warm and friendly welcome that we extend to everyone. Our raison d’être is the incredible choice of teas and attention to quality that we offer. Our raison d’être is our ability to convey our impressions to you, our emotions and expertise – in a word, our passion.
I came to photography late in life, and
the first piece of advice I got was to make sure the sun was always behind me to
illuminate people’s faces. Twenty years later, I still can’t bring myself to
follow that advice. When the sun is out, I naturally turn toward it and often
end up with backlit photos, which I like. And when it’s overcast, I still manage to
face toward the light source—in this
case, the sky—so that my figures always appear slightly mysterious.
I came to photography through necessity,
and 20 years later I find myself enjoying it a great deal. When Palais des Thés
was new, I would travel through Asia without a camera. I came back from my
trips with an eyeful of gorgeous landscapes, but not a single image to share
with my employees or my customers. Back then, I believed you had to choose
between contemplating a scene and photographing it. Now I realise that’s not
the case at all. Today, I take the time to contemplate a scene and choose the
best angle, and then I linger, motionless, while waiting for just the right
Sharing. What is better in life than to share? My job as a tea researcher is all about sharing, creating a link between the farmer who makes the tea and the enthusiasts who drink it. Passing on knowledge as it’s acquired. Sharing with one’s team, inviting them to visit the tea fields and farms, involving them in unique occasions, memorable time spent with villagers who are so kind and hospitable, so immensely generous.
Here, in Ilam valley in Nepal, I’m visiting the plantations of La Mandala, Pathivara, Tinjure, Shangri-la, Arya Tara and Panitar in the company of Carole, Fabienne, Oxana, Sofia, David, Léo and Mathias.
Who do you admire the most, Sylvie Lavabre, a French journalist, asked me. I admire people who don’t give up, I admire adventurers and artists. I also admire tolerance and non-violence. I admire people who don’t compromise their values, who pursue a goal other than earning more money, or of gaining more power. I admire altruists, people who are happy when others are happy. I admire the highest achievers, the champions, the finest artisans, everyone who tries their hardest. I admire those who fail and pick themselves up and find the strength to try again. I admire people who devote a part or all of their life to bringing up others, raising children, educating them, teaching them. And I admire people who find happiness in what they have.
Before starting to work with tea, I dreamed of being a journalist. I liked the idea of finding out about people, asking them questions, understanding what they do, getting them to explain things that are sometimes complicated, and trying to make them comprehensible. I liked the idea of being an investigator, of gathering information, of putting my interviewee at ease and having an interesting conversation. I wanted to do a job that took me all over the world and let me meet people from all backgrounds and cultures, men and women who speak a different language, who have a different history from mine. I wanted to receive their message and transmit it. In the end, I created this role of tea researcher, which didn’t exist before. I could have stayed behind my counter in my tea shop, which I enjoyed, talking to customers, listening to them, helping them. But I wanted to do more, to investigate, to find out where the tea leaves come from. First I learned to taste, to recognise flavours and aromas; then I learned other languages. I was thirsty for knowledge, I wanted to discover an unexplored world, that of tea. So I packed my bags and I went to meet farmers, growers, traders, pickers and planters. I entered that world a little more with every trip. I took my time. I set out to meet the people who live in the mountains where tea is grown. I found them in the fields, in the village square, in front of the factory. I sat down with them, I rested. I listened, then listened some more. I recorded everything. And that is how, 32 years later, everything I found so rewarding and enjoyable in the job of a journalist, I find now, in my work as a tea researcher.
A farmer who grows tea might have to deal with various threats to his crop: insects (spiders, mosquitoes, etc.) that damage leaves, caterpillars which like to eat young plants, fungi that grow along the trunks of the bushes. But there are solutions to these problems that don’t involve pesticides. One is to encourage the presence of birds and other predators by growing hedges near the tea plants. Another important factor is altitude – pests are much less of a problem at low temperatures. Nature must be respected, and tea should be planted in a suitable environment. In the same way that we don’t build a house in a bog, tea should not be planted in an environment that is too humid, at low altitude, on flat, undrained land that is intensively farmed and stripped of all other trees and plants. In those circumstances, it is likely not to be organic. It makes sense when you think about it.