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.
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.
Tea was introduced to Malawi at end of the 19th century by Scottish missionaries. It grows in the far south of former Nyasaland, a stone’s throw from Mozambique. Like many African countries, most of Malawi’s tea is grown for the tea bag market. But it is sometimes possible to find rarer teas, if you search carefully.
In Darjeeling, tea grows at altitudes ranging from 100 to 2,100 metres. The lower-grown teas are harvested first, of course, because of the milder temperatures they enjoy. Remember, tea plants enter dormancy when daytime temperatures remain below 12°C.
I’ve just bought a batch of Rohini Early Spring. It’s a delicious tea, and it’s special too, not so much because of the location of the plantation, but because of the quality of the cultivar, B157 (Bannockburn 157). It’s also unusual in that the plot is entirely planted with this cultivar, whereas many sections on Darjeeling plantations are made up of a patchwork of different tea varieties. The planter – who is well aware that his garden isn’t among the best-known names – is hugely creative when it comes to developing rare teas. He really takes care with the processing part, adjusting every parameter (intensity of withering, rolling, oxidation, drying) until he obtains the exact liquor he wants. This is a wonderfully delicate premium tea with a powerful grassiness and intense freshness. It will be available around 22 March, following the necessary food safety tests.
The teas of Southern India offer an interesting alternative to those in the north when the latter haven’t been able to grow due to lingering low temperatures. In the Nilgiri mountains, tea is produced in the Darjeeling style, and Kotagiri Frost is the best-known of these at the moment. In the cup, it reveals an intense green freshness that announces the arrival of spring. This premium tea will be available around 15 March, following the necessary food safety tests.