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.
I chose this photo today not to illustrate the appalling situation hotels are in due to Covid-19 and the lack of tourism, but for the pleasure of taking you to the streets of Kolkata. The city might be dilapidated but I love it. It was built on tea, among other things. Kolkata is a port, and tea companies still have their headquarters there today. The most important auctions in the country are held in the city, and all the teas from Assam, the northern plains and Darjeeling leave India from its quays.
You won’t get to know the fishermen of Inle Lake this summer. Balanced right at the end of their dugout canoe, they make a rotational movement with their leg wrapped around the oar and guide the fish in a mysterious way towards the net they hold in one hand.
Viewed from the perspective of a traveller like me, and judging by the frequency of their catches, the ease and poetry of their movement repeated thousands of times contrasts with its apparent efficacy. I hope you enjoy your holidays. If you try this fishing technique for yourselves, wherever you are, let me know how you get on.
In normal times, the summer is a wonderful time to head out to sea and get away from it all. This year, though, I doubt you’ll have an opportunity to discover distant horizons. The magnificent Kagoshima Bay, for example. It is overlooked by one of Japan’s most famous volcanoes, Sakurajima. During active spells, it spits out magnificent plumes of white smoke three or four times a day. They stretch across the sky over this part of Japan in the far south of the country, a region familiar to tea connoisseurs. The gyokuros from these parts are celebrated, and the soil into which the tea plants plunge their deep roots is made from lava.
Tranquillity, calm, silence, relaxation, slowness, shade, freshness, water, deep breaths, a feeling of wellbeing… Away from noise, crowds, bright lights, movement… Turning inwards, concentration, contemplation, wonderment…
Waiting for the tea to steep, lifting the cup to your lips, taking the first sip.
The simplicity of tea.
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 Nepal, among people who are finding lockdown challenging are those who still have no roof over their head. In remote villages of this ancient Himalayan kingdom, I still come across isolated hamlets where the houses remain in ruins and have never been rebuilt since the last earthquake, despite all the international aid.