It is not only in Tibet and the Himalayas that the tea route crosses the salt route. When you travel from Cuzco to the Peruvian Amazon, where tea is grown, you pass close to Maras, a village famous for its salt ponds. Thousands of years ago, these mountains were submerged under the sea. These days, salty water pours from a spring and fills the small pools.
Taking a tea break can be beautifully simple. Here in the Egyptian desert, during the mint harvest, the workers gather a few sticks of fig wood and heat the water in a basic kettle that also serves as a teapot. A few minutes later, everyone savours the pleasure of being together.
When buying tea, it’s important to have information that allows you to prepare it in the best possible way in order to obtain the most flavourful and balanced tea to drink. So the recommended water temperature and brewing times marked on each pack are very useful. However, they aren’t definitive. Someone new to tea won’t prepare it in the same way as a connoisseur. For the first-time tea drinker, it’s a good idea to brew it a little longer, to really bring out the characteristics of that particular tea. And the more you know about a tea, the shorter the brewing time, even if it means using more leaves. So the water temperature and brewing times are not to be followed to the letter; rather, they indicate the maximum water temperature and maximum brewing time. Once you know that, you can do as you please and experiment with the preparation to get the tea just as you like it.
So, it’s January, it’s cold outside, what tea should you be drinking? I recommend a dark tea (not to be confused with black tea), especially after that holiday period when the chances are you’ve overindulged. Because this deep, rich tea has been reputed for centuries for its digestive properties. Note, however, that this type of tea, also known as pu’er or pu-erh, undergoes post-fermentation. As such, expect your cup to develop aromas of moss, mushrooms, undergrowth, wet straw, along with notes of vanilla and liquorice as well as leather and other musky flavours. This incredible tea is simply perfect for this time of year and is good for us too. Let me know what you think!
Just a few days ago, Léo and I had the pleasure of tasting a sensational tea sourced from southwest China. In fact, the variety was one of the famous ‘Yunnan buds’ that is going down a treat with tea lovers all over.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the different stages of selecting a batch of tea.
Once the quantity we want has been decided, an order is placed. Because this is a small batch tea, it will be shipped by air. No sooner will the wheels touch the ground than a sample will be whizzed over to an independent lab for testing. Although not legally required to, Palais des Thés has made it policy to test any tea that has not been awarded French agriculture biologique certification, proof that is has been organically farmed. We are looking for over a hundred different molecules to confirm that the batch complies with European standards, known for being the most stringent in the world. Only if the tea passes muster will the leaves be distributed to our boutiques. It takes on average 4-6 weeks from when the tea is sampled to it being available to buy in store. A relatively long timeframe that Palais des Thés stands by because we understand the importance of guaranteeing food safety for the good of our customers’ health.
Palais des Thés makes a number of commitments to its customers including having a good knowledge of each growing region, knowing where and how tea is made, by whom and in what conditions. If one wants to give the best advice, to introduce people to tea in the best possible way, it is essential to understand how to choose tea, how to taste it and how to convey one’s sensory impressions. What motivates my colleagues is to be able to share their passion and help others appreciate tea. They are experts, enthusiasts and guides. They are tea sommeliers through and through.
Green tea is a brilliant companion for white chocolate. You could choose a Gyokuro Hikari or a Genmaicha (a blend of tea and puffed rice). Japan also has the right teas to pair with milk chocolate or praline: its toasted teas such as shiraore kuki hojicha and bancha hojicha are ideal. And to match a refined dark chocolate, you could opt for a Qimen Mao Feng, a Jukro, a Premium Yunnan Buds or an Imperial Pu Erh.
When served to accompany chocolate, tea should not be boiling hot. It needs to rest a little so that the temperature isn’t too high compared with that of the chocolate. The perfect partnership is one in which each party brings out the best in the other. Here, tea complements chocolate, and chocolate enhances tea.
During a recent interview, a journalist remarked that Palais des Thés had created two new professions, something I’d never really considered before. It’s quite unusual to create a new type of job; I don’t know if many companies have had this experience. At Palais des Thés we have two roles that didn’t exist before us: tea researcher and tea sommelier. There are now two tea researchers on our team and we get contacted by many applicants who want to join us. And thanks to our diploma programme, 26 people can now call themselves a tea sommelier, which is to tea what the sommelier is to wine.
Lots of things are used to accompany tea. In some countries people add mint, spices, milk or sugar to the teapot, or directly in the cup. There are many different customs. In other countries, people serve marbled quail eggs or seeds alongside their brew, or a cardamom pod, held in the mouth while drinking, like they do in Afghanistan. It gives the tea a delicate flavour. Here, in Ilam Valley in Nepal, these golden Himalayan raspberries add a touch of sweetness to the delicious green tea produced in the surrounding hills.
During lockdown, it can be easy to let ourselves go a bit. We might exercise less and put on weight. Could this be a good time to turn to tea? According to traditional Chinese medicine, one of the many properties attributed to our beloved Camellia sinensis is fat-burning. This remarkable quality is particularly true of dark teas, called Pu Erhs, with their powerful notes of undergrowth and humus. If you can’t take a walk in the woods, you can at least enjoy all the associated aromas in your cup – alongside those other supposed benefits.