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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many Sri Lankans have climbed the slopes of Adam’s Peak at least once in their lifetime.
It is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, who worship Buddha’s footprint at the summit, but also for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The ascent begins with a walk through a tea field, which you cross on your way to the top.
The British had an instinct for comfort. They built magnificent bungalows during the colonial era. These buildings still exist today, surrounded by tea fields, like here in Gorthie (Sri Lanka). I was lucky to stay there recently. It was all very refined: they serve delicious food, and with the first light of dawn you are seduced by the beauty of the garden.
In some countries, tea plants require cover. It depends on the climate. Strong sunshine dries out the ground, whereas tea plants love humidity. In addition, tea plants don’t like wind. The trees used differ from country to country but they tend to belong to the Leguminosae family. Pictured here is a fine Acacia abyssinica specimen.