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.
There are attempts to grow Camelia sinensis in many countries, including France. On the banks of the Blavet, near Hennebont (Morbihan), Denis and Weizi are pioneers. They planted eight tea bushes 17 years ago, for their own consumption. They now have 30,000 from 15 different cultivars. Their production is still limited (20 kg per year) but is set to double over the next few years. Denis and Weizi’s enthusiasm is inspiring others to grow tea, and in addition to supplying nearly 20,000 tea plants a year to hobby growers, they are supporting them and forming a strong community.
Tea is steeped in tradition, for sure, but innovation is not forbidden. In Tanzania, Bente, who had the audacity to plant tea trees on a coffee plantation, cultivates a taste for creativity. Sometimes she hollows out papayas and fills them with tea so that the camellia leaves take on their aroma when they come into contact with the fruit. At other times, she blows hot air onto sliced bananas, infusing the tea with a new fragrance. And she does everything in the most artisanal way possible. Bravo Bente!
It’s good to learn, but it’s even better if you can pass on your knowledge. I’ve been travelling around the world’s tea gardens for more than 30 years, and during that time I’ve gained enough knowledge that I can share it in my turn. I continue to learn something every day, every time I travel, and I now consider it my primary role to pass on what I’ve learnt. That’s why I ask my colleagues to accompany me on trips, and I plan to do this more. I want them to meet the farmers too, to experience their passion for tea first-hand, to form good relationships with the people who make tea on their mountaintops and who always welcome us with open arms. Here, I’m on the slopes of Kilimanjaro with Chloé and Nathalie and a team of pickers
The only plantation in Tanzania that produces teas that can be considered premium is situated an hour’s drive from the town of Moshi. Actually, it’s more of a garden than a plantation. It really is very small, as you can see from the photo. It makes different batches of tea using truly artisanal methods. The factory is run by a woman called Bente. From her house you can enjoy a magnificent view of Kilimanjaro in the early morning or late afternoon.
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.
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.
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.