Plantation

Rwanda: magnificent landscapes, unusual plantations

17 June 2016
Rwanda: magnificent landscapes, unusual plantations

This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to visit some beautiful tea plantations, like the ones I went to in Kenya and Rwanda. I’ve seen a lot of tea fields in my life, yet I still discover breathtaking landscapes that resemble nowhere else. For example here, in Rwanda, tea grows not on hillsides, as is often the case, but at the bottom of the valley. The valley in question may lie at an altitude of 2,000 metres, but even so, it’s flat. And it’s still hot enough here for dense vegetation to surround the tea plants. In this “Land of a Thousand Hills” you’ll find incredible scenery, but also some remarkable and little-known teas. If you want to taste the tea that grows here, and feel connected to this beautiful place, it is called “Rwanda Silver Mist“, a powerful tea with fairly fruity, spicy, honey notes. It is a delicious discovery, a door that opens onto a very beautiful corner of our planet.

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Tea leaves under a shelter

29 April 2016
Tea leaves under a shelter

From the time the tea leaves are harvested to the moment they reach the factory for processing, they must not be allowed to start fermenting, as this could spoil the quality of the tea. So in various locations around plantations there are small shelters built to protect the leaves from rain until they are taken to the factory.

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Darjeeling teas and Nepalese teas: two schools

15 April 2016
Darjeeling teas and Nepalese teas: two schools

Due to a way of thinking I don’t share, Darjeeling tea producers fear competition from their Nepalese neighbours. They think the latter are copying them and can sell their teas more cheaply, because of their lower production costs.

Yes, Nepalese teas sometimes offer good value for money, but they are not copies of Darjeelings. There are some passionate planters in Nepal who know that their country still needs to prove itself to gain recognition in the world of tea, and as a result, they try to be innovative. In Darjeeling, planters are in a more comfortable position due to their reputation that is often – but not always – merited.

So, they are two different worlds: innovation on one side, tradition on the other. By looking carefully and being highly selective, you can find excellent teas on both sides of the border. And it would be a shame to deprive yourself of either kind.

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A premium tea from Kenya

25 March 2016
A premium tea from Kenya



In my teapot this morning, a portion of Mount-Kenya Golden-Leaves is opening up in the water. This is the first premium tea I’ve found in Kenya, and it has just arrived. I love its notes of honey, wood, wax and liquorice. They are warming, and celebrate the end of winter in their own way. They make you want to stay indoors a little longer, warm and cosy. They make you want to breathe in their aromas, cupping the bowl in both hands.

A premium tea from Kenya is a big deal. The country is the world’s third biggest tea producer, and the biggest exporter. Almost all the tea it produces is “dust”, for tea bags. So we should encourage those who are working hard to make quality teas, picking the leaves by hand with care, doing things the traditional, artisanal way, rather than on an industrial scale.
This photo shows the Kangaita research centre, which provides valuable support to small producers.
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The microclimate of Darjeeling plantations

18 March 2016
The microclimate of Darjeeling plantations

On the Delmas Bari plantation, where I was a few days ago, some plots were being watered as the ground was so dry. On this Darjeeling slope, which faces Sikkim, it hasn’t rained since October. In other areas, there had been a little rain in the previous days. This difference in climate on plantations barely a few kilometres apart is very specific to Darjeeling. Even on the same plantation there can be considerable variations in weather. Luckily, as we can see in this photo, the tender green buds are starting to grow. On this plot, there will be just one or two days longer to wait before the harvest can start in earnest.

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A scarf for a blessing

11 March 2016
A scarf for a blessing

In India, people sometimes welcome you by placing a silk scarf around your neck and blessing you. At DelmasBari, I was so saddened to see how dry the soil was that, in front of my hosts, I took the scarf that had just been given to me, and I blessed in my turn. I blessed one of the tea plants on the plantation, in the name of all the others, and I prayed for rain to come.

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Waiting for rain in Darjeeling

4 March 2016
Waiting for rain in Darjeeling

In Darjeeling, where I am at the moment, there wasn’t a drop of rain in January or February. This means most plantations haven’t started to harvest yet. Only the ones with plots at low altitudes, who irrigate their plants, have been able to produce a few batches. But here, the first teas are never the best. In Darjeeling, when you’re looking for quality, you can never be in a hurry.

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A tea plantation in Kenya

19 February 2016
A tea plantation in Kenya

Kangaita in Kenya is one of the country’s few plantations that produce high-quality teas; in other words, whole-leaf. The national park of Mount Kenya borders the garden and many birds flit about the tea plants. On the other hand, elephants are not welcome, because of the damage they cause.

Here, you can see the peaks of Mount Kenya in the distance: the highest is 5,199 metres.

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Tea from the slopes of Mount Kenya

12 February 2016
Tea from the slopes of Mount Kenya

Kenya is one of the biggest exporters of tea on the planet. Sadly, most of its tea is CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) – the type used in tea bags. But that should not prevent us from seeking out, at higher altitudes, small producers aiming for quality. So here I am, on the slopes of Mount Kenya, tasting some magnificent black teas. It goes to show, one should not rush to judge: just as some great “appellations” occasionally throw up unpleasant surprises, I sometimes come across passionate people who have acquired serious expertise, in less well-known places.

 

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Darjeeling: a tea that should not be bought blindly

5 February 2016
Darjeeling: a tea that should not be bought blindly

Around the world, much more Darjeeling tea is sold than is actually produced in Darjeeling. There are also considerable differences between gardens in terms of quality, and considerable differences in quality within the same garden. These differences are due to major variations in weather (a garden might produce excellent teas in April, for example, which is impossible in July during the monsoon) and because the same plantation will have tea plants growing at widely varying altitudes. In Tukvar, for example, 1,000 metres in altitude separates the top of the highest plot and the lowest point on the plantation.

So we must be careful when we buy Darjeeling teas, and we should never rely on the name alone, however prestigious it may be. We should also bear in mind that plantations situated on the plains, of mediocre quality, sit alongside those within the appellation, and human nature being what it is, there is a great temptation to sell Terai teas under the Darjeeling name.

Connoisseurs of first-flush Darjeelings must wait a few more weeks to try the new spring harvest. In this region of the world, tea plants are dormant between November and February, as the soil is too cold for Camellia sinensis.

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