First-flush teas

Darjeeling Opens the Season

15 March 2019
Darjeeling Opens the Season

First flush teas are often the best, as the year’s first harvest. With winter coming to a close, cold nights keep the plants growing slowly, which results in richer flavours. Every year, it is Darjeeling that opens the season, before Nepal, China, or Japan.

In March, I sometimes taste nearly a hundred teas a day, with each of the 87 tea estates in Darjeeling manufacturing very small batches—sometimes no more than 20 or 30 kilos. In this region, during the period when the highest quality of tea is produced, one day’s harvest is never mixed with the next. The result is a constant parade of very different tastings. Buyers snap up the very best batches in a matter of hours, at premium prices, which is why it is so important to know every producer and maintain the best possible relationship with each of them.

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The first harvest is the best

25 May 2018
The first harvest is the best

Since the start of May, I’ve been tasting and choosing the best teas of the season from Japan. They’re called Ichibanchas because they’re the first to be harvested in the year. Japanese teas come from the regions of Shizuoka and Uji, and in the south of the archipelago. In the north of the country, the tea plant grown everywhere is Yabukita, whereas in the south, with its warmer climate, less Yabukita is grown. For example, here, near Kagoshima, the Yutaka Midori cultivar dominates, and represents nearly 60% of production.

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An unusual season

6 April 2018
An unusual season

The Darjeeling season is going to be a strange one. The really amazing teas are priced out of reach (30% to 50% higher than in previous years) to compensate, the planters say, for the losses they sustained during the 105 days of strikes last year. So far I’ve bought, on the best possible terms, the following: Mission Hill DJ4 SFTGFOP1 Clonal, Puttabong DJ14 SFTGFOP1 Clonal Exotic, Puttabong DJ12 SFTGFOP1 Clonal Queen, Orange Valley DJ5 SFTGFOP1 cultivar China, Balasun DJ6 SFTGFOP1 Himalayan Mystic, and  Rohini DJ15 FTGFOP1 Exotic White, all exclusive. They’re of a remarkable quality and will delight enthusiasts. For those wanting first-flush Darjeelings at lower prices, you’ll have to wait. Firstly, the only teas that are cheap are very poor quality, and secondly, even the mediocre teas are priced high, or very high. They’re absolutely not worth it. To sum up, this year requires more vigilance than usual.

For fans of Himalayan teas who aren’t focused on Darjeeling, and who are looking for good deals, why not wait for the Nepalese teas? They’ll be ready soon and often represent excellent value for money.

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New-season Chinese teas: an incomparable variety

30 June 2017
New-season Chinese teas: an incomparable variety

Tea has been consumed in China for more than 3,000 years, and it is only in this country that we find such a rich variety. It produces all colours of tea: white, green, blue-green, yellow, black and dark. In China we find a unique culture of terroir: one village might have been following a very specific tradition of tea shaping for centuries, while in the next village the leaves could be processed in a completely different way. Nowhere else in the world do we find such a variety of practices. This photo shows my 2017 selection of “new-season” Chinese green teas, some of which were harvested before the Qingming festival. From left to right: Pre Qing Ming Bi Luo Chun, Pre Qing Ming Long Jing, Pre Qing Ming Bourgeons de Jade, Pre Qing Ming Lu An Gua Pian, Pre Qing Ming Anji Bai Cha, Bai Mao Hou, Mao Feng Premium, Yong Xi Huo Qing, Huang Shan Mao Feng. It goes without saying that just as the size, shape and colour of the leaves differ so much, the tasting experience is equally varied among these premium teas.

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À chacun son printemps

28 April 2017
À chacun son printemps

 

A celles et ceux qui souhaitent découvrir les thés de printemps, voici mes conseils. Les Darjeeling récoltés en mars et avril développent des notes florales soutenues qui vont de pair avec une certaine astringence et une pointe d’amertume. Pour des parfums plus briochés et floraux à la fois, rendez-vous avec les thés du Népal de printemps, ils sont récoltés dès le début du mois d’avril. Aux amateurs de notes de châtaigne, de notes à la fois minérales et végétales, je ne saurais que trop conseiller les thés de Chine primeur (les plus rares d’entre eux et aussi les plus recherchés et donc les plus chers étant ce qu’on appelle les pre Qing Ming, récoltés avant la fête des lumières qui a lieu tout début avril). Enfin, pour les amoureux des notes iodées, des notes de gazon coupé et de légume à la vapeur, les Ichibancha du Japon sont de pures merveilles. Ils sont récoltés entre fin-avril et mi-mai. Bien sûr je ne suis pas ici exhaustif, il reste d’autres pays à découvrir mais si on parle de printemps, de nature qui s’éveille, si on recherche des thés qui évoquent le jardin, la sève, ce sont à ces thés là que l’on pense en premier.

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À propos de la sélection des Darjeeling de Printemps

14 April 2017
À propos de la sélection des Darjeeling de Printemps

 

Les Darjeeling de Printemps sont les thés les plus difficiles à acheter car la production n’y est pas organisée comme ailleurs. A Darjeeling, on récolte les feuilles d’un même théier tous les 7 à 10 jours et comme les plantations sont divisées en une dizaine de parcelles cela revient à cueillir sans cesse. Aussitôt après la cueillette, on transforme les feuilles jusqu’à obtenir un lot qui sera proposé à la vente dans son intégralité. Chacune des 80 plantations de cette région manufacture donc un thé chaque jour, pour ne parler que des thés en feuilles entières, les meilleurs, bien sûr. Ces plantations ne mélangent pas le thé d’un jour avec le thé du lendemain. Cela signifie que 6 fois par semaine durant environ 6 semaines chacune des 87 plantations met en vente un thé, ce qui fait aux alentours de 3.000 lots différents à goûter pour ce qu’on appelle les Darjeeling de printemps. Les différences de qualité sont considérables d’un lot à un autre. Même issu de la même plantation, un thé peut être cent fois meilleur qu’un autre si on voulait quantifier ces différences.

Bien sûr, on ne peut se fier de façon certaine ni à un nom de jardin, ni à un cépage, cela serait trop simple. Seule la dégustation à l’aveugle permet de juger de la qualité. Et il faut aller vite, très vite car même si nous sommes peu nombreux à recevoir ces échantillons – une trentaine d’acheteurs seulement de par le monde -, il suffit parfois de 30 minutes après réception des quelques grammes nécessaires à sa préparation pour qu’un très beau thé soit déjà vendu. Il faut donc aller vite tout en restant calme et concentré, aussi zen que possible. Mais ces thés en provenance du toit du monde en valent largement la peine, ce sont les premiers thés de la saison, ils portent en eux cette fraîcheur printanière et ces parfums floraux, zestés, incomparables.

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Spring comes round again

20 May 2016
Spring comes round again

After Darjeeling, we turn our attention to Nepal, China and Japan, to enjoy their new spring teas. In Japan, we return to the farmers we know, and we also enjoy discovering teas from others. In China, we are guided by the traditional appellations, which are attached to a particular village. In Nepal, we know which plantations are capable of producing the best teas at particular times of year. There is sometimes an added difficulty though, like here at Kuwapani. The planter, who was an employee rather than the owner of the plantation, has left. What will the results be like under his successor? We’ll know the answer in a few months’ time. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy tasting the new teas this spring has to offer!

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Darjeelings in demand

8 April 2016
Darjeelings in demand

It’s not an easy job, growing tea. In Darjeeling, after a winter that was too dry, it did eventually rain, but a few days ago an unusually violent hailstorm hit the region and caused considerable damage on plantations in the north of the district. Luckily, between the rain and hail, a few very good batches were produced, and I’m pleased to say that we will shortly be receiving some remarkable teas from Risheehat, Puttabong, Singbulli, Thurbo Moonlight, North Tukvar, DelmasBari and Turzum.

Speaking of Turzum, here’s a photo I took in March of Anil Jha, one of the three most respected planters in Darjeeling. Here, he is concentrating on the smell of the damp leaves that are in the lid of the tasting set.

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Superb 2015 new-season teas

26 June 2015
Superb 2015 new-season teas

Calling all fans of “grand cru” teas! You now have access to the best selection of teas in the world. This is the optimum time of year to try the finest teas in existence. All are extremely fresh, newly delivered by air. There are first-flush and second-flush Darjeelings, new-season Chinese teas, and Japanese Ichibanchas harvested in May, alongside teas from Nepal, Taiwan and South Korea.

For tea-lovers, the start of the summer is a pure pleasure!

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An assessment of the 2015 first-flush Darjeelings

24 April 2015
An assessment of the 2015 first-flush Darjeelings

When you harvest the terminal bud of the tea plant several times, the stem becomes stressed and stops producing a new bud. This phenomenon of dormancy, known as “banjhi” in Darjeeling, marks the end of the spring harvest (first flush).

If I had to give my assessment of this season in Darjeeling, I’d say we received batches of very varying quality, and few of exceptional quality. But I’ll conclude on a good note, with the choice of a Puttabong Clonal Queen DJ48 and a Margaret’s Hope Tippy Clonal DJ30. The first represents what Puttabong does best; the second is quite simply breathtaking.

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