Tea processing

Carlota and her beloved jungle

13 January 2023
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In Colombia, tea grows in the Andes; more specifically, in the region of Cali, the capital of salsa. But there is more to this area of the Cauca Valley, south-east of the capital Bogotá, than dancing. Once known for its sugar cane, the district’s most famous crops now include coffee and cocoa. And surely tea too, one day, which creates beautiful landscapes here. Carlota, who oversees the region’s only plantation, has a principle: the plots cover a maximum of five hectares and are surrounded by the jungle, in order to protect the biodiversity that is so important to her. Carlota’s whole life revolves around her love of nature and her love of the jungle where she has chosen to live. She is devoted to her tea crops because they allow a whole community to live in these mountains and help preserve this unique, fragile and incredibly rich environment. It is a truly special place.

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Colombia has a bright future

30 December 2022
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Bitaco is the only tea plantation in Colombia. Not only is it working to produce more and more exciting teas, it is also certified organic and is run by people who are passionate about tea. Carlota is one of the owners. She is in charge of the Foundation. Her interests include horticulture, ornithology and anything else related to her amazing Andean estate. Every day she tends the tree ferns, dozens of species of rare orchids, water lilies, arums and anthuriums in the botanical garden that she herself created. Then there’s Claudio, who makes and tastes new teas every day and has a voracious appetite for knowledge. Colombian tea has a bright future.

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Dodik teaches farmers the art of tea production

23 December 2022
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Tea always tastes better when you’re lucky enough to know the people who made it and are familiar with the landscape of the fields where it grew, the soil and the bushes. I’d like to introduce you to Dodik. He lives in Pacet on the Dieng plateau, at an altitude of about 1,200 metres. After visiting each plot and examining each plant and cultivar, he buys the farmers’ freshly harvested leaves and turns them into green or black tea, depending on the quality of the shoots and what he needs. He also teaches the locals how to produce their own tea. Some of them already make wonderful, rare teas. And in a few months, Dodik will give us the magnificent “Java Honey”, a delicious black tea roasted over coconut charcoal.

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A virtuous circle

4 November 2022
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Tea can be picked by hand rather than mechanically, and it makes all the difference. It is difficult to harvest the leaves properly with shears (except in Japan where they have developed high-precision tools) and claim any quality. It is true that a hand-picked tea will cost ten to a hundred times more than an industrially produced tea, and sometimes the difference is even greater. But it is important to remember that fine teas provide an opportunity to establish a virtuous circle: the higher the income of the producers, the more these farmers can invest in the transmission of skills. They will seek to obtain quality rather than quantity; they will employ more people who will become more connected to their land and their rural way of life. A great tea thus offers everyone the opportunity to live in harmony with nature.  

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Rolled into balls

14 October 2022
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If you take a Camelia sinensis leaf and pour hot water over it, you’l get nothing from it. The leaf needs to be roughened  up first in order to release its aromas and flavours when it comes into contact with water. Immediately after picking, the producer will process the leaves, which removes much of their moisture and eventually breaks down their structure without breaking the leaves themselves, so that the juices contained within their many cells can be extracted. This is one of the machines that’s used here in West Java (Indonesia). A cloth sack is packed with tea leaves then squeezed hard between two metal discs. This tool is widely used in Taiwan for making Oolongs, and is also used to make green teas that are rolled into balls.

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Clara and her treasures in the Azores

7 October 2022
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In the Azores, attempts are being made to produce delicious teas from hand-picked leaves and particularly delicate pluckings. Experiments are taking place on small plots nestled in the hills on the island of Sao Miguel. At the agricultural research institute, Clara takes her precious harvests through all the stages of tea production. She achieves remarkable results using a variety of cultivars. Although the quantity of tea produced is small at the moment, I’m looking forward to helping to spread the word about the incredible teas made by Clara and the island’s future farmers.

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Gorreana and Porto Formosa

1 July 2022
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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.

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Different practices

3 June 2022
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You might think that the rules that define the colour of a tea are strict, but this isn’t always the case. Here in the Golden Triangle, the fashion is for Mao Cha, the tea that serves as a base for the various fermented teas known in this part of the world as Pu Erh. Some people let the Mao Cha wither overnight before fixing it with heat, rolling it, then leaving it in the sun for a day. Others, as soon as the leaves are picked, fire them in a wok for about ten minutes before rolling them by hand and leaving them to dry for five to six hours in the sun.

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Dara’s maocha

20 May 2022
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Travelling is about meeting people. Last week, I was very happy to meet Dara in the mountains of northern Thailand. Dara’s father, whose family comes from Yunnan (China), fled Kunming at the age of 15 accompanied by his younger brother, and came to the city of Pai. That was in 1938. He was escaping misery. He knew about tea. He felt the right feng shui in Fang and settled there. Dara is passionate about tea and makes a delicious maocha from leaves picked from old tea plants. Here, she’s posing with Mie, her friend with whom she shares her life.

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The Darjeeling marathon

8 April 2022
The Darjeeling marathon

Every year, we tea sommeliers are subjected to a marathon: the Darjeeling spring harvests. Samples of new-season teas from the region arrive in bags of ten, twenty or thirty. You must taste them within half a day if you want to be in with a chance of getting hold of the tea. The sooner you buy, the more expensive it is, but the longer you wait, the more you run the risk of missing out on the teas you want. This process, which only takes place for Darjeeling because sales go to the highest bidder and batches don’t exceed a few dozen kilos, lasts about six weeks. By the end, the entire spring production has been sold and the tea bushes, distressed by three consecutive harvests, take a rest before resuming their growth. An observation at this point: every year, these teas are worth more and more. Yet all the gardens in Darjeeling claim to be losing money due to rising production costs, and the increases don’t appear to benefit the pickers. The Mckinsey audits, which were so maligned on the eve of the election, would be invaluable in shedding light on this mystery.

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