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.
As we enter a new year, it’s difficult to know what lies ahead for the next 12 months. If some psychic had predicted a year ago that the world would grind to a halt and we’d all be wearing masks, we’d have laughed. Yet a lack of visibility is exactly what the tea plant likes; it is happy in the mist, and most of all it loves humidity. It is therefore unperturbed when the horizon isn’t visible. We will find it in good health next year. As for us, we may not be celebrating in the usual way, but I’d simply like to wish you good health!
If the Indian gods could come to our rescue in this fight against Covid-19, I would implore them to do so immediately. As an offering, I would place their weight in tea at their feet. In India, where there are many gods, religion is everywhere, even on the sides of trucks, which drivers paint with the god under whose protection they place themselves. This provides valuable insurance in a country in which road safety rules – where they exist – are not always shared.
In these times of Covid-19, the tea researcher looks at the world through his window. Deprived of travel, he consoles himself by tasting the teas he continues to receive from different plantations, and sometimes selects one.
In these times of Covid-19, the tea researcher dreams of his future trips, the people he’ll meet, the things he’ll discover. And so he divides his time between these two occupations, tasting and dreaming.