The terrible weather in India and the Himalayan regions has caused many casualties and considerable damage, and has had severe consequences in several tea regions including the Darjeeling district and the eastern valleys of Nepal. Southern India was not spared. The devastation was caused by violent rains that led to landslides and tore up roads and bridges, on top of human activities ranging from deforestation to the construction of dams and unchecked urban expansion.
We should pay more attention to our planet and think of future generations with greater compassion at all times and in everything we do.
For those so inclined, I suggest taking some time today to make yourself a delicious cup of tea from Darjeeling or Nepal, to drink it while contemplating a beautiful landscape, for example, and to think of our friends.
When people ask me which trips have left the greatest impression on me, I naturally think of the breathtaking landscapes, the Himalayan foothills, the active volcanoes rising up behind the tea fields. I remember the beautiful Japanese tea gardens, the multi-hued trees of Sri Lanka standing in a sea of Camellia sinensis. I recall the long train journeys through all kinds of jungle, and all the times I’ve sat down on a mountain road just to contemplate the beauty of the world. But the experiences that have marked me the most are the human encounters. They are in essence all unique and so many memories come to mind. Among them, the tea pickers of the Golden Triangle from one or other of the region’s ethnic groups (shown here, two Dao women), who we would come across at random in a tea garden hidden deep in a remote forest, after hours of walking.
In Georgia, the soviets left behind residential buildings that look as if they were built in the middle of nowhere. In the days when tea was an intensive industry, these buildings had a purpose. But today, with the rural exodus and many plantations disappearing under weeds, the same buildings evoke a bygone past.
One silver lining of Covid-19 is that it has brought some tranquillity to beautiful places that are often overrun by hordes of tourists. In Myanmar, Inle Lake is one of those wonderful destinations that it is important to protect. There’s no doubt that, for the planet, the pandemic has brought some peace.
I hope you all have a good summer and I look forward to seeing you back here on 10 September.
I long for life to return, in all its glory, in every aspect.
I long for our senses to be restored and for us to rediscover, when we walk, the sense of smell.
I long for the taste of things to come back to us; the taste of tea, of course, the tea offered to us when we are greeted at the end of our journey.
More than ten years ago, I met someone (very) famous and something he said to me changed my life. That person was Richard Gere, a man who loves Darjeeling and the Himalayas, and is a follower of Buddhism. The day I had the pleasure of meeting him, he asked me what Palais des Thés was doing “for our brothers and sisters in the Himalayas”. I was stunned when I heard that expression, “our brothers and sisters in the Himalayas”. It changed my life. Since that day, every time I see a picker, I think of his question, which caught me off guard. I think of his way of naming the people who live in those mountains, and since then, it is no longer pickers that I see, but brothers and sisters. And that changes everything.
International Tea Day was pronounced by the United Nations to fall on 21 May each year, while other people celebrate it on 15 December. So we have a choice. As far as I’m concerned, every day is tea day. Every morning I wake up and make myself a cup of tea. I make another one in the middle of the morning, then after lunch, and again in the afternoon. It’s always the right time for a tea break as far as I’m concerned. After my evening meal, I sometimes make a small cup of dark tea before going to bed. Between each of these teapot brews, I work. That’s to say, I taste the many tea samples that come in. Dozens and dozens of teas every day, and these I prepare with a tasting set. All this makes up a full day of tea, a lifetime of tea, even.
An international tea day – why not, but for what purpose? A day of tea is good, a day of good tea is better. Good tea harvested and processed by hand. It’s beneficial to promote rare tea if we want to improve people’s lives, if we want to reinforce respectful agricultural practices over time. If we want farmers to live well, we have to buy tea from them at a higher price. It’s not a question of charity, that won’t work, it’s a matter of encouraging them to produce better quality teas. A better quality tea costs ten, twenty, sometimes a hundred times more than an industrial tea, it gives the farmers a much more substantial income, an income that allows them to live well, to stay on their land, and their children after them.
Believe in the beauty of a world that is not only guided by profits that benefit the few to the detriment of the majority. Believe that a company can bring happiness to its employees, customers and suppliers, or in our case, farmers. Believe that a company not only can be but should be a good corporate citizen and put the general interest ahead of the individual interest. Do not make profits for their own sake, but within the framework of profitable growth that benefits everyone involved. Make reasoned, useful growth that is not achieved at the expense of the planet, growth that takes into account the short, medium and long term, growth that benefits human development.
I miss the roads of Nepal, the streets that run through mountain villages, the tracks that turn muddy in the rain then dry to dust after being baked by a fierce sun. The dust gets thrown up by Jeeps that honk at anything and everything on the road, chickens included, before speeding past. It settles on a roadside stall, causing the vendor to emerge from time to time to wave a feather duster about with little conviction, or perhaps throws a bucket of water over the road. I miss the villages with their colourful, loosely boarded houses, the smells and hubbub of the market, the people who smile at you, the burning incense, the vibrant simplicity. Then suddenly, the sound of the gong, which echoes across the valley from mountain to mountain.
Our compatriots sometimes use the services of an American company to obtain a book they could easily buy from their local bookshop; they pay someone in San Francisco for goods instead of independent retailers and artisans. The same goes for food: our local shops, cafes and restaurants are so desperate for our support.
When it comes to tea, don’t expect me to bypass the people who count. Palais des Thés sources its teas from producers it knows. It pays them directly, whether the farmer is in a remote Nepalese village, on a high plateau in Malawi, or on a Japanese island. It gives us great pleasure to support the wellbeing of the people involved in producing such delicious treasures. Let’s support good tea and do the right thing.