Emotions

The simplicity of the gaiwan

5 May 2023
The simplicity of the gaiwan

Apart from the tasting set, which is sometimes used by professionals, there are different ways of brewing tea. In China there is the zhong or gaiwan; in Japan the shiboridashi or kyusu. In the West, the most commonly used vessel is the teapot. But why not explore lesser known objects? Today, I would like to talk to you about the gaiwan. It’s a very simple thing, consisting of a kind of bowl with a lid. Let’s take a look at it from the outside while the tea is brewing inside. The beauty of the gaiwan lies in its radical simplicity. What is the principle of brewing tea? It involves bringing the tea leaves into contact with water. As the leaves unfurl, they release their aromas and other elements. I can’t think of a better place to brew tea leaves than in this remarkable object. I could show you the inside of the gaiwan right now, but I’d rather wait. What I enjoy most while my tea is brewing is appreciating the vessel in which it’s brewing: its colour, the way the changing light plays on its surface, its material. I observe the roughness of the clay and my contemplation transports me to distant landscapes. This gaiwan was made in the Périgord region of France by a talented ceramist, Manon Clouzeau. Let’s have another look at our tea brewing under this delicate lid, which is so easy to hold. I’ll leave you to look at it and will see you soon. Next week, I’ll take the lid off.

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Pairing tea with savoury food

28 April 2023
Pairing tea with savoury food

The French TV channel M6 came to see me this week to ask me about tea and food pairings; more specifically, savoury food. Tea is an ideal partner for something sweet like cakes or biscuits – think of that quintessential English tradition of afternoon tea. It’s a different matter, and perhaps more challenging, when it comes to savoury foods. My first recommendation for those who want to try it is to serve the tea at room temperature. With the right selection, tea can go well with, say, cured meats or cheeses, but it’s best to avoid pairing hot with cold. So here’s what you do. Take the tea of your choice, add the usual amount of tea leaves to a jug or carafe and pour over filtered water at room temperature, then leave it to brew for an hour. From left to right: Pu Erh Impérial (pair with a mature Comté), Bancha Hojicha (pair with a Brie), Shiraore Kuki Hojicha (pair with a Pont-l’évêque), Butterfly of Taiwan (pair with an Ossau-Iraty), Dharamsala Smoked (pair with a smoked cheese or cured meat), and Chine Long Jing (pair with a fresh goat’s cheese). Bon appétit!

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To be human

6 January 2023
To be human

In Nepal, it is not the year 2023 but 2078, until April. Just a few days before the New Year, I was lucky enough to watch the sacred dances at Shechen monastery. Behind the scenes, the monks get ready. They each put on their costume. The boy plays the role of the jester. He and his companions will entertain the spectators and play tricks on them between dances. These atsaras remind us of our human condition. To be human: that is all I wish for us at the start of this new year.

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Making a better living

2 December 2022
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In the centre of the island of Java, this farmer is pulling up tea bushes which are no longer profitable. He is going to replace them by market gardening. Why can’t he make a living from tea? Because he only sells the leaves rather than a finished product. He does not process the leaves himself; he was never taught to do so. He has always picked the leaves from the bushes and sold his fresh harvest immediately.

This is a major challenge for any self-respecting tea sourcer. How can we ensure that a farmer never has to get rid of his tea plants? How can we help him acquire the skills to make a living from his work? How can we help him to produce delicious teas with high added value? We try to answer these questions as best we can, first of all by visiting the farmers, which is of course an essential step. By talking and tasting, and through demonstrations and sharing information between villagers. Last but not least, by being ready to make a generous offer as soon as the farmer produces a good tea.

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Finding salt on the tea route

25 November 2022
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It is not only in Tibet and the Himalayas that the tea route crosses the salt route. When you travel from Cuzco to the Peruvian Amazon, where tea is grown, you pass close to Maras, a village famous for its salt ponds. Thousands of years ago, these mountains were submerged under the sea. These days, salty water pours from a spring and fills the small pools.

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Omar Syariff

18 November 2022
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This is Omar Syariff, who is closely involved in the production of quality tea in Central Java (Indonesia); more specifically, on the Dieng Plateau. He dedicates his time and energy to helping farmers who grow this plant. He seeks out the most hardy cultivars for them; he helps them to develop production from old tea bushes that will be harvested to benefit the local community. When I ask Omar what he is passionate about in life, he says, “Sharing knowledge. Sharing experiences.” And when I ask him what he would like me to say about him here, he replies modestly: “I’m just a simple man who knows how to make good tea.”

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The people of tea

10 November 2022
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Tea is not just about landscapes, however beautiful they may be; it is not just about the plants or the leaves. Above all it is about the men and women who harvest, handle, analyse and select it. From Harendong to Semarang via the Bandung Research Centre, here are a few people who, in one way or another, make their living from tea or simply enjoy drinking it.

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A summer break from green to blue

8 July 2022
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Some tea fields overlook the sea, their green merging into blue. You see this in Japan, for example, as well as in other places around the world like here in the Azores. The blue of a lake that has formed in an ancient crater also makes me think of getting away. I’ve been surrounded by green for most of the year, and now it’s time for me to take some time off I’ll be replacing it with blue. Whatever the colour, I wish you a happy summer and I look forward to being back with you at the beginning of September for new journeys and adventures.

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When will we see a tea festival in Bayonne?

17 June 2022
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Yves Ugalde is the deputy mayor of Bayonne and a fine writer. In his amusing account of the opening of Palais des Thés’ Bayonne store, he says he approached this new product offering in the city with a certain reluctance, “if only because I was afraid of being met by some high priest of the post-Covid world spouting all the vegan, meat-free marketing claims beloved of urban eco-warriors, of a world in which the digestive tract is gradually transformed into a temple”. I’m delighted by his account because it is Palais des Thés’ mission to rid tea of its clichés and to guide each person towards easy-drinking teas or rarer vintages depending on their tastes, just like a wine merchant does. And what a pleasure it is to read that Mr Ugalde is now willing to adopt a different stance towards Camellia sinensis, especially as there are some very serious attempts being made to grow it in this beautiful Basque region. Between the Nive and Adour rivers they already celebrate ham and chocolate with festivals – isn’t it time they had one for tea?

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The trip of a lifetime

29 April 2022
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Part of my job involves taking those who help to promote tea with me on my research trips. Many of my colleagues have never seen a tea plant in real life, so it is both a pleasure and a duty to ask them to accompany me on a tour of the plantations. Last week I was in Ilam Valley with Anna, Cassandra, Svetlana, Clément, Pierre and Thomas. We went from one small producer to another, meeting extraordinary people and admiring breathtaking scenery. Together, we rolled the leaves we had picked ourselves, joined by Léo, who works with me, searching for the world’s finest teas. We wished each other a Happy New Year, because in this incredible country we had just entered the year 2079. What wonderful moments these are, what incredible discoveries. To travel to such remote regions is, in a way, the trip of a lifetime, and nothing makes me happier than sharing it, and giving others a glimpse of this extraordinary profession.

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