Tea can be picked by hand rather than mechanically, and it makes all the difference. It is difficult to harvest the leaves properly with shears (except in Japan where they have developed high-precision tools) and claim any quality. It is true that a hand-picked tea will cost ten to a hundred times more than an industrially produced tea, and sometimes the difference is even greater. But it is important to remember that fine teas provide an opportunity to establish a virtuous circle: the higher the income of the producers, the more these farmers can invest in the transmission of skills. They will seek to obtain quality rather than quantity; they will employ more people who will become more connected to their land and their rural way of life. A great tea thus offers everyone the opportunity to live in harmony with nature.
Rarely have I seen such spectacular plantations as those around the city of Bandung on the island of Java. The landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful with the mountains, the mist and the magnificent trees with their delicate foliage. Sunlight floods the perfectly aligned rows of tea bushes that follow the contours of the hills as far as the eye can see.
For once, the tea route crosses the (Indian) ocean. This is an opportunity to see how volcanic – and therefore acidic – the soil on the island of Java is. This is important for the tea plant, which thrives in this type of soil, as well as the humidity and heat.
In the Azores, attempts are being made to produce delicious teas from hand-picked leaves and particularly delicate pluckings. Experiments are taking place on small plots nestled in the hills on the island of Sao Miguel. At the agricultural research institute, Clara takes her precious harvests through all the stages of tea production. She achieves remarkable results using a variety of cultivars. Although the quantity of tea produced is small at the moment, I’m looking forward to helping to spread the word about the incredible teas made by Clara and the island’s future farmers.
Egypt and Morocco are major producers of spearmint, which is the variety used to make their popular mint tea, a symbol of hospitality in North Africa. The mint is harvested using traditional methods and a simple sickle. The bushes are pruned three or four times a year on irrigated land that merges with the desert. Sometimes a motorised machine – a three-wheeled shear with arms and a seat – breaks the silence.
There are many weed control techniques used to keep down plants that grow between the rows of tea bushes. One of the most natural approaches is to let animals graze in the fields. In Southern India, you might come across a type of bison that keeps the farmers happy. Here in the Azores, on the Gorreana plantation, beautiful goats do the job.
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.
There used to be fourteen tea plantations in the Azores; today only two remain. Gorreana is an institution and tourists flock to the factory gates. Everything is original, and it’s not often that a European gets to see the various stages of tea production at first hand. Not far from there, Porto Formosa also welcomes tourists and, as is often the case in the Azores, offers a superb view of the ocean. These old factories mainly produce black tea, but also some green tea. The leaves are harvested by machine. As for the quality of the teas, let’s just say that they are very popular with visitors, who can relive their amazing vacation on this beautiful archipelago every time they brew a cup.
In these difficult times for Georgia, we’ve received this particularly moving message from one of our producer friends: “Every kilo of Georgian tea sold, especially in Europe, contributes to both our dignity and our survival.” Of course, we’re doing what we can for those with whom we work closely, and it’s in this spirit that I’m sharing his message with you. If you’ve never tasted tea from Georgia before, there are some delicious ones. White tea from Guria, for example. The harvest was very small. It’s a white tea produced in the same way as the well-known Bai Mu Dan from China.
This year is unlike any other and I have no idea how it will play out in terms of the growing, shipping and availability of premium teas. I’ve just heard from Darjeeling that the very first batch has been harvested. Those of you who’ve been following me for a long time, including fans of first-flush Darjeelings, know that you shouldn’t rush into these things. In this region, the low-altitude plantations are the first to harvest their leaves, as they benefit sooner from milder temperatures. As they warm up, the higher gardens start picking too. The longer the period of dormancy, the slower the sap rises, leading to a greater concentration of essential oils in the leaves. This gives those gardens that harvest later the advantage of quality.