Darjeeling isn’t the only place with a “toy train”. The one that links Colombo to Badulla often winds its way through tea fields during the ten-hour ride, and the views are appreciated by the tourists and many Sri Lankans who use the line. Unfortunately, the island is now experiencing severe economic and political turbulence. Let’s hope that this beautiful country, which has endured war for several decades, will move definitively towards better days, for the benefit of its inhabitants and many visitors.
When I buy certain teas I have a strong sense that we’re helping a community. I feel that the money paid for the remarkable work that goes into making a great tea will be shared fairly and won’t just benefit one individual. When I visit a plantation I often ask myself: if I pay twice as much for the tea here, who’ll get the money? In some cases I have an intuition that the money would only go to one person or a particular group of people and that the pickers themselves wouldn’t get any extra. In other places I feel certain that our gesture will be shared. That the whole village will be able to congratulate itself for having made such delicious teas and that every effort will be made to make more. And in these situations I have a strong sense of how we’re helping. Here in Nepal, the team from Palais des Thés is meeting the team at the Norling factory. You’re supporting the whole village when you buy their superb tea. (photo : Anna Galitzine)
It is not only in China and northern Vietnam that tea leaves are harvested from camellias that have grown tall. In the north of Thailand, a few kilometres from Myanmar, this woman, who belongs to the Karen ethnic group, picks young shoots from old tea bushes that are flourishing in the jungle. These will be used to make maocha, which is then turned into dark tea.
Part of my job involves taking those who help to promote tea with me on my research trips. Many of my colleagues have never seen a tea plant in real life, so it is both a pleasure and a duty to ask them to accompany me on a tour of the plantations. Last week I was in Ilam Valley with Anna, Cassandra, Svetlana, Clément, Pierre and Thomas. We went from one small producer to another, meeting extraordinary people and admiring breathtaking scenery. Together, we rolled the leaves we had picked ourselves, joined by Léo, who works with me, searching for the world’s finest teas. We wished each other a Happy New Year, because in this incredible country we had just entered the year 2079. What wonderful moments these are, what incredible discoveries. To travel to such remote regions is, in a way, the trip of a lifetime, and nothing makes me happier than sharing it, and giving others a glimpse of this extraordinary profession.
One of the joys of being a tea researcher is the opportunity to discover other cultures. Here, during the Tsechu festival, the monks breathe life into the characters whose masks they wear for the procession or dance.
Here in Taiwan, the ground outside the oldest black tea factory – now a museum – reminds me of my work. If left unpicked, the tender camellia shoots will gradually turn into stems, into wood. Thus the tea plant is made up of greens and darks, of soft and hard materials, of leaves and branches. This contrast of colours also reminds me of tea’s aromas, which are so often vegetal with green teas and woody with black teas. Everything here speaks of tea, right down to the beautiful harmony of the old boards between which a joyful shoot emerges.
The passage from one year to another reminds me of crossing those monkey bridges you find in mountain regions. Made of rope or bamboo, or even steel, some can feel shaky to walk across and others more secure, but what they all have in common is the absence of piles and a swinging sensation that comes from the somewhat rickety deck. Balance can often feel precarious.
In these times disrupted by a virus that made has made a difficult period worse, I wish all of us safe passage into the new year and hope that we leave behind the dark clouds of 2021 and step into a healthy and happy 2022 filled with clear blue skies. I would also like to pass on another wish that is just as important: that we take care of our beautiful planet once and for all and think about the future generations in everything we do.
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
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.
More than ten years ago, I met someone (very) famous and something he said to me changed my life. That person was Richard Gere, a man who loves Darjeeling and the Himalayas, and is a follower of Buddhism. The day I had the pleasure of meeting him, he asked me what Palais des Thés was doing “for our brothers and sisters in the Himalayas”. I was stunned when I heard that expression, “our brothers and sisters in the Himalayas”. It changed my life. Since that day, every time I see a picker, I think of his question, which caught me off guard. I think of his way of naming the people who live in those mountains, and since then, it is no longer pickers that I see, but brothers and sisters. And that changes everything.