From plant to cup

Tea sommeliers through and through

29 October 2021
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Palais des Thés makes a number of commitments to its customers including having a good knowledge of each growing region, knowing where and how tea is made, by whom and in what conditions. If one wants to give the best advice, to introduce people to tea in the best possible way, it is essential to understand how to choose tea, how to taste it and how to convey one’s sensory impressions. What motivates my colleagues is to be able to share their passion and help others appreciate tea. They are experts, enthusiasts and guides. They are tea sommeliers through and through.

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New regions

8 October 2021
New regions

I’m often asked if there are teas, regions or plantations yet to be discovered. But a tea sourcer is not the same as an explorer. You don’t suddenly stumble upon tea factories in the middle of the jungle that no one knew existed, or a part of the world where no one had any idea that delicious teas could be made. We know where tea grows. There are some tea-producing countries and regions that are unknown to the general public, but not necessarily to a tea sourcer. Tea is grown in New Zealand, Cameroon and Chile, for example. It also grows in Hawaii, the Azores, and even in France, in Brittany and the Pyrenees. The real work of the tea sourcer is not so much about discovering unknown places; rather, it involves keeping track of plantations that are still in the learning phase, preferably plantations that show strong potential (which means an ideal soil and climate), and supporting them, so that one day we can bring you delicious teas from these new regions.

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That’s life

1 October 2021
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The job of a tea sourcer requires patience. Tea grows at its own speed; you can’t rush it. Manual harvesting requires precision, as does each stage in the processing of the tea. And lastly there is transport, which essentially takes place by boat, truck and sometimes horseback for the first stage in the tea leaves’ journey.

We must also take into account random events – an accident, a strike, political tension and, of course, Covid.

A year and a half ago we bought a delicious green tea and an equally delicious oxidised raw tea from small producers in Shan state in northern Myanmar. No-one knows where they are. They might be on one of those flimsy boats you see on the country’s waterways, unless they haven’t left the farm yet. That’s life.

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Dense vegetation

17 September 2021
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In Georgia, tea grows mainly in the provinces of Guria and Imereti, where the prevailing westerly wind blows in moisture-laden clouds from the Black Sea all year round. These are mountainous, jungle-covered regions. The tea bushes weren’t tended for nearly 30 years, so between harvests, ferns and brambles must be uprooted in order to find them. This is a mammoth task for the small producers and their teams who, in the space of a fortnight, see their Camellia sinensis disappearing under the dense vegetation.

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Georgia encourages small producers

10 September 2021
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During the Soviet era, Georgia produced a lot of tea for the whole of the USSR. But when it gained independence and the troops withdrew, there was nothing left of the production facilities but deserted buildings.
In the space of a few years, its annual tea production of 152,000 tonnes fell to just 1,800 tonnes. But since 2016, tea cultivation has been revived by the Georgian government, which is encouraging small producers to start new farms, produce quality tea and hire employees, with the aim of helping to stem the rural exodus.

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Roll out the green carpet

11 June 2021
Roll out the green carpet

It takes a lot of attention to detail to produce fine tea, harvested from this beautiful emerald expanse. Only the bud and the first two youngest leaves at the tip of the shoot must be picked. The subsequent stages in production also play an important role in quality. Let’s roll out the green carpet for everyone who helps to create such delicious teas.

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Alex cultivates curiosity

28 May 2021
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By the time you read this, I’ll be with my friend Alex, tasting each of his teas. His Satemwa plantation in Malawi is one of the best in Africa. Not content with making tea for industrial producers, Alex set up different workshops to enable him to experiment – with success. He’s tried all types of processing methods to make semi-oxidised, green, white, fermented, smoked and sculpted teas. Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat; on the contrary, it helps us progress, and Alex is a brilliant example.

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And their children after them

21 May 2021
And their children after them

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.

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Mr Matsushita’s Shoju tea

7 May 2021
Mr Matsushita’s Shoju tea

The difference between the climate in the north and south of Japan, combined with the cultivars used in the country, some of which are earlier than others, mean the spring teas vary greatly in terms of when they become available. Traditionally, the well-known Japanese Ichibanchas are picked and processed at the start of May. But with global warming and the new cultivars being used by farmers branching out from the traditional Yabukita, some harvests are taking place earlier in the year. For example, Mr Matsushita’s Shoju, produced using an early tea cultivar grown on the island of Tanegashima, in the south of the archipelago, is already available. It has floral, vegetal and iodine notes. A foretaste of open horizons, and a pure delight.

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Fortunately

16 April 2021
Fortunately

Fortunately, Covid-19 doesn’t stop tea leaves from growing or the harvest from taking place. Samples are reaching us and our taste buds still function, as does our sense of smell. Several of us are able to taste the teas, taking care to protect ourselves. And so, happily, we can get on with our job of choosing the finest teas among the new arrivals. We are still able to drink the most wonderful spring teas, among others, while waiting for better days ahead. And we are able to live in harmony with nature, in harmony with those who are far away and whom we will meet again one day, when the conditions are right to travel again.

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