From plant to cup

Barley and buckwheat

28 July 2023
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There’s more to life than tea. There’s also barley and buckwheat. The seeds are roasted and then infused. It’s delicious hot or cold and has always been popular in Japan. In France, these crops are grown in Brittany, which is good because we don’t have to get it from the other side of the world. In the autumn, I’ll be introducing you to Yoann, a self-described “Breton alternative roaster”. By then, the ripe ears of barley will have been cut and the beautiful buckwheat flowers will have had time to go to seed. I hope you all have a wonderful summer.

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Zen garden

19 July 2023
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In Japan, a very orderly country, the tea bushes are tended in the neatest rows. They form a kind of Zen garden, and in Kyoto and many other parts of the archipelago, whenever you see them you just want to sit down and take it all in. The aesthetic is captivating.

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Who will take over from this generation in Japan?

13 July 2023
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One of the things you notice when you visit tea farms in Japan, going from factory to factory, is the age of the farmers. Often these couples represent the fourth, fifth, even sixth generation of tea producers in their family, but when you ask them about the next generation, there’s often no one left to take over. They have few or no children, and the latter are rarely inclined to carry on the family tradition. It’s a huge challenge for tea production in Japan. Of course, the land won’t disappear and the tea bushes probably won’t either: the fields will be taken over by a big tea company. But this mosaic of small producers, who farm an average of around 12 acres, contributes to the rich diversity of tea, as they all work with their preferred cultivars and the plants that are best suited to their terroir. I think it’s important to buy from them for as long as possible, to give the next generation every chance.

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Organic farming: room for improvement

7 July 2023
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Following my last post, I received some comments that I thought would be interesting to discuss. Firstly, I’d like to say that I have a deep affection for India and have visited the Darjeeling region dozens of times, which shows how much it means to me. And Palais des Thés has taken many initiatives over more than 30 years to promote the wonderful teas from this part of the world.

I’d like to stress that this pesticide problem, which should never happen with tea, especially bearing the AB organic label, doesn’t just concern India. The same thing could be happening in other countries. I have the following comments to share with you from producer friends:

 – The pesticide in question is not easy to find, and its use in tea has become extremely rare. On the other hand, DDT has been sprayed by the authorities in very isolated cases to control malaria in particularly infested areas. These sprays, which would be better if substitutes were used, can end up on surrounding crops.

– The creation of planted barriers between roads and fields, and around homes, has been the subject of much discussion with regional health authorities. This is an easy solution to implement in cases where it’s essential to combat the presence of mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite.

– Sometimes, the person in charge of certification is too close to the plot owner, which can undermine the professionalism of the work and result in inadequate inspection.

I think it’s important to point out something that few people are aware of: AB-type organic certification is essentially based on the examination of various documents, and the organisations in charge of these certifications don’t carry out regular laboratory analyses. Our health and that of our customers is paramount, which is why I’m approaching this subject in the simplest and most transparent way possible.

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Agriculture biologique : des pratiques perfectibles


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A la suite de mon dernier billet, j’ai reçu des commentaires qui me semblent intéressants à rapporter. Au préalable, je tiens à préciser que l’Inde est un pays pour lequel j’éprouve un profond attachement, et la région de Darjeeling, je l’ai visitée plusieurs dizaines de fois, c’est vous dire si elle m’est chère. Enfin, en plus de 30 ans, Palais des Thés a multiplié les initiatives pour faire connaître les merveilleux thés en provenance de cette région du monde.

Je fais la synthèse des remarques reçues et je tiens à souligner que ce problème de pesticide qui ne devrait jamais se retrouver a fortiori dans un thé labellisé « AB » ne concerne pas que l’Inde. Dans d’autres pays, la même chose pourrait se produire. Les remarques en provenance d’amis producteurs et que je partage avec vous sont les suivantes  :

–        Le pesticide incriminé ne se trouve pas facilement, son usage est devenu rarissime dans le thé. En revanche, des pulvérisations de DDT par les autorités existent et ce afin de lutter contre le paludisme dans de rares zones particulièrement infestées ; ces pulvérisations qui gagneraient à être réalisées à l’aide de produits de substitution peuvent se retrouver sur les productions agricoles alentour ;

–        La création de barrières végétales entre les routes et les champs, ainsi qu’autour des habitations a été au cœur de nombreuses discussions avec les autorités sanitaires régionales ; c’est une solution facile à mettre en œuvre dans les cas où la lutte contre la présence du moustique porteur du parasite à l’origine de la malaria s’avère indispensable ;

–        Parfois, une proximité excessive entre la personne en charge de la certification et le propriétaire de la parcelle nuit au sérieux de ladite mission et aboutit à un contrôle de pure forme ;

Un élément me semble important à souligner, que peu de consommateurs connaissent : les certifications de type « AB » reposent essentiellement sur l’examen de pièces diverses, et les organismes en charge de ces certifications ne procèdent pas systématiquement à des analyses en laboratoire. Notre santé comme celle de nos clients est primordiale, voilà pourquoi j’aborde ce sujet ici de la façon la plus simple, la plus transparente possible.

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Spot the intruder

30 June 2023
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There’s an intruder hiding in this photo. Can you spot it? Look carefully!

It’s called DDT, which stands for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. It’s invisible to the naked eye. Yet it’s right here in northern India on a plantation that’s certified organic. How is this possible?

Currently, the certification body that inspects plantations for the “Agriculture Biologique” or “AB” label uses a variety of methods to ensure that the tea production process meets organic standards. The inspection involves the analysis of a wide range of documents, but not necessarily the tea itself. And that’s how a tea that shouldn’t be on sale can slip through the net. In this case, because Palais des Thés is somewhat over-zealous and goes well beyond its legal obligations, the tea was sent to an independent laboratory for analysis before being released for sale to the public, and it came back non-compliant.

In a case like this, which is fortunately rare, we immediately contact the producer with our test results and ask them to take back their tea. They can choose to send it back to India or destroy it. The health of our customers is non-negotiable.

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Hojicha, a wonderful roasted tea

23 June 2023
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The most famous Japanese roasted tea, Hojicha (or Houjicha) is made from Bancha tea harvested in the autumn. After being processed using the traditional Japanese green tea method (steaming, shaping, drying), the leaves are roasted at 150°C for five minutes and then at 300°C for another five minutes. Nowadays, Hojicha is consumed more in those parts of the country where tea doesn’t grow, i.e. north of Tokyo, mainly on the island of Hokkaido. For food lovers, serve Hojicha lukewarm or at room temperature and pair its woody, animal notes with a Pont-l’Evêque, Livarot or any other soft cheese with a washed or bloomy rind.

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Mechanised harvesting

16 June 2023
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In Japan, the most prestigious harvest of the year takes place between late April and early May. This is when the famous Ichibancha, or first-flush teas, are made. The next plucking takes place in early June. This produces some interesting teas, but they aren’t up to the standard of the previous harvest. Here, on the outskirts of Shizuoka, I’m taking part in my own way, riding a Kawasaki that’s very different from the ones you see on our city streets. Because of the cost of labour, Japan is one of the few countries in the world that uses machines to pick its tea leaves.

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Une taille mécanique


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Au Japon, la récolte la plus prestigieuse de l’année a lieu entre fin avril et début mai. C’est à ce moment-là que l’on manufacture les fameux ichibancha, ou thés de la première récolte. Au début du mois de juin a lieu la taille suivante. Elle donne des thés intéressants mais qui ne sont toutefois pas au niveau des précédents. Ici, dans les environs de Shizuoka, je participe à ma manière aux opérations, au volant d’une Kawasaki assez différente de celles que l’on peut voir circuler dans les rues de nos villes. Pour des raisons de coûts de main-d’œuvre, le Japon est l’un des rares pays au monde à avoir mécanisé ses opérations de cueillette.

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Lucas the missionary

26 May 2023
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In the Argelès-Gazost region of the Pyrenees mountains in south-west France, Lucas is something of a missionary. With a degree in agricultural engineering in his pocket, he returned to his family’s land to start growing tea. After spending time with producers in Laos, Indonesia, China and Nepal, this pioneer now oversees a new estate of several thousand plants. He watches over them all attentively, observing how the different cultivars grow, and is already producing delicious teas which he brews in a Chinese gaiwan, allowing the leaves to reveal their full potential. Humble yet strong-willed and confident, Lucas wants to create a model of sustainable European tea cultivation that will set an example in agroecology. Here, he explains this to Sidonie, who is with me to record our podcast: Un Thé, Un Voyage.

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