I am writing to you from paradise,
From a plantation at the end of the world,
Right at the bottom of a valley in Nepal.
A plantation worth finding after hours of walking,
Hidden in the Himalayan mist,
A plantation that makes its tea from the crops of an association of small producers,
A plantation so isolated that the number of visitors can be counted on one hand,
An unknown plantation whose teas are nonetheless worth the detour.
A plantation named Mist Valley.
Vertiginous slopes and lingering mists form the scenery of Darjeeling. Out walking, a tea plucker appears in the thick fog. She climbs amongst the tea plants with astonishing agility. Poobong, a long-abandoned and inaccessible plantation, is gradually coming back to life. I am visiting it for the first time.
Three plantations in Nepal are currently producing teas that in my view are worthy of the “grand cru” appellation. But in the past year, it has to be said that Guranse, Kuwapani and Jun Chiyabari are no longer alone in offering exceptional teas. Mist Valley and Sandakphu, both situated in Ilam Valley, are making teas of remarkable flavour quality. These teas will be ready to try in a few days, and are excellent value for money.
Assam teas have scents of honey, tobacco and spices and a very pronounced aromatic profile, unlike some of the flat countryside in this region. The teas are particularly astringent, and here too, the vocabulary used to describe this sensation contrasts with the words we might use to depict the landscape. Astringency is marked by a contracting of the tissues of the palate, while this beautiful field of tea relaxes me as soon as I see it.
Si vous disposez d’un bout de jardin, vous savez qu’entre l’automne et le printemps et à l’écart des périodes de gel il y a toujours du travail, en termes de taille, par exemple. Dans les champs de thé aussi on va mettre cette période à profit pour examiner chaque arbre et lui dispenser les soins nécessaires. Comme pour un fruitier, on va observer la plante avant de procéder à la taille hivernale. Cette taille qui n’a pas lieu tous les ans aide à régénérer l’arbuste.
Nothing looks less like a tea plantation than another tea plantation. Here, in the south of Sri Lanka, tea bushes occupy the hills beside a paddy field and other different crops. Hence these subtle and evocative tones of green and yellow.
Because tea plants don’t like frost, Japanese tea fields are populated by strange shapes. When their blades are turning at the top, these fans prevent freezing air from stagnating above the bushes.
For those dreaming of travelling through beautiful scenery, the month of October fulfils that promise in the regions south of the Himalayas, like here in Darjeeling. After several months of intense heat, storms and torrential rain, a clear sky reveals the highest peaks.
The tea plant is an evergreen and its leaves do not change colour when cold weather follows the summer. So, to bring you some seasonal autumn colour, I have chosen an image of rooibos leaves spread out in very thin layers to dry on the ground, as they oxidise after being watered.
The Margaret’s Hope garden is one of the best known in Darjeeling. Its reputation is justified by the quality of its teas and also because, from time to time, this plantation products batches of a truly remarkable quality. Of course, you have to taste many samples before finding a rare gem, but that is exactly what my work entails: drinking large quantities of different teas every day.
Last spring I bought a batch from Margaret’s Hope that I am sure you remember if you were lucky enough to taste it. The planter called it White Delight. And I have just chosen a Margaret’s Hope DJ512 which has such an incredible floral bouquet it is worth the detour too. For connoisseurs, it comes from the varieties P312 and AV2.