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.
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.
When I ask Bente, who makes the best teas in Tanzania, how Palais des Thés helps her and her community, her answer comes loud and clear: “It pays our employees!”
Then she adds: “It provides stability for the plantation and for our employees… And it makes us proud, of course!”
She continues: “Thank you for your support, and thank you for helping us to make a name for ourselves in the world of tea. When you come with your team, you show me and everyone here that you believe in us and that we can depend on you!”
I wish Bente and all our friends who produce tea, as well as our customers and employees, very happy holidays!
I’m back from Nepal, happy and surprised, after a trip with my friends from Karuna-Shechen, the non-profit association founded by Matthieu Ricard. I asked them to accompany me deep into the country’s easternmost valley to see for themselves the living conditions of the pickers in this region. My aim was to convince them of the benefits of Palais des Thés and Karuna working together to improve the villagers’ living conditions. But after we’d spoken with a number of people in their local language, Karuna’s enthusiastic response left me stunned. Their answer was this: in the 10 years since these villagers have been growing tea, their living conditions have improved to such an extent that we don’t need to be focusing our efforts on supporting them. Instead, it’s important for us to understand how worthwhile tea growing has been for these people, and how producing quality tea that costs 20 or 30 times more than mediocre tea has empowered an entire community to be able to take charge of its own future.
It now remains to be seen how we can help the people we visited so we don’t disappoint them, and above all to understand how this model of responsible tea growing could be easily duplicated.
When people ask me which trips have left the greatest impression on me, I naturally think of the breathtaking landscapes, the Himalayan foothills, the active volcanoes rising up behind the tea fields. I remember the beautiful Japanese tea gardens, the multi-hued trees of Sri Lanka standing in a sea of Camellia sinensis. I recall the long train journeys through all kinds of jungle, and all the times I’ve sat down on a mountain road just to contemplate the beauty of the world. But the experiences that have marked me the most are the human encounters. They are in essence all unique and so many memories come to mind. Among them, the tea pickers of the Golden Triangle from one or other of the region’s ethnic groups (shown here, two Dao women), who we would come across at random in a tea garden hidden deep in a remote forest, after hours of walking.
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.
Our compatriots sometimes use the services of an American company to obtain a book they could easily buy from their local bookshop; they pay someone in San Francisco for goods instead of independent retailers and artisans. The same goes for food: our local shops, cafes and restaurants are so desperate for our support.
When it comes to tea, don’t expect me to bypass the people who count. Palais des Thés sources its teas from producers it knows. It pays them directly, whether the farmer is in a remote Nepalese village, on a high plateau in Malawi, or on a Japanese island. It gives us great pleasure to support the wellbeing of the people involved in producing such delicious treasures. Let’s support good tea and do the right thing.
It is not easy for us to get hold of the wonderful teas of Nepal, as the former Himalayan kingdom is not fully out of lockdown. Nonetheless, we received a number of tea samples by post and have made a very good selection. The teas should arrive in France in the coming days and weeks.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Man Kumar Mukhiya, an old friend. Man Kumar comes from a farming family and is passionate about tea. He has successfully started up his own farm, with his own tea fields. Today, he dreams of producing the best teas in Nepal and making his plantation, Mai Pokhari, famous among connoisseurs. No doubt we will always be there to support him. I recommend his remarkable Mai Pokhari Red Summer, which we are really looking forward to receiving.
The photo I’m sharing with you today may come as a surprise. After all, you’re used to seeing the faces of tea pluckers, planters, farmers, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds in colorful traditional garb, and passers-by encountered at the summits of various mountains.
But back in Paris, there are also teams working to bring the superb teas we discover safely to their destination—that is, to you! It wouldn’t be fair to talk only about faraway people without also showing you who’s hard at work in Paris. A few days ago, the team decided that we should wear costumes for Christmas. Surrounding me, from left to right and top to bottom, let me present Clément, Charlotte, Lucille, Laura, Anaïs, Chloé, Eléa, Céline, Juliette, Laurie, and Sonia. I wish each and every one of you a very happy holiday!
Mr Huang is one of millions of Chinese workers who have decided to leave their native region to earn a living elsewhere. It is much easier to find work in the wealthier coastal provinces than in the interior of the country. So every year, Mr Huang leaves Guizhou, where he was born, and where he grows vegetables in a mountain village, and travels to the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian. There, inhabitants’ incomes have increased significantly, and people no longer want to work in the fields, preferring to live in the city. So Mr Huang goes there to work on a wonderful organic plantation. He tends to the tea plants and helps with the harvest from early March until the end of September, before returning to his family in his own province. And every year, he never hesitates to repeat this journey, for a monthly wage of 5,500 yuan.