For those who wish to try spring – or first-flush – teas, here are some tips. Darjeelings harvested in March and April develop sustained floral notes accompanied by a touch of astringency and bitterness. For brioche and floral aromas combined, try Nepalese first-flush teas, which are harvested from the start of April. Those who enjoy chestnut, mineral and vegetal notes would do well with new-season Chinese teas (the rarest and most sought-after and therefore the most expensive are those known as pre-Qingming teas, harvested before Chinese Tomb-Sweeping Day which takes place at the beginning of April). Lastly, for fans of iodine, cut grass and steamed vegetable notes, Japanese Ichibanchas are a pure delight. They are harvested between the end of April and the middle of May. Of course I haven’t covered them all here, and there are other countries to discover, but if we are talking about springtime and nature reawakening, and if you want teas that evoke gardens and rising sap, these are the ones I think of first.
Pets are wonderful creatures that can show the greatest humanity at times when our fellow humans may be lacking. We find these friends to be so sensitive and loyal that the description of animal does not do them justice.
In China, all tea connoisseurs and enthusiasts who use the Gong Fu Cha to prepare their brew have one or more “tea pets”. The tea pet is a terracotta figurine placed on the tea boat, over which tea is poured from time to time, to share special moments with it. Over the years the figurine acquires a patina through repeated dousing. The tea pet can be an animal or a human figure, as seen here.
A tea pet, or company being, shares your day-to-day life. Like other pets, it is always in an agreeable mood and is good at listening. You know where to find it. It is always there for you, loyal and happy.
Recently a blogger asked me what my favourite tea was. I couldn’t answer, as is the way every time I’m asked this question. I love so many different teas! How could I choose just one among the most remarkable teas? How could I choose one when they’re all so different? How to choose between a Japanese Ichibancha, for example, a Dan Cong, a Jukro, a Pu Erh Sheng, a Darjeeling AV2, an Oriental Beauty, a Taiping Hou Kui and an Anxi Tie Kuan Yin, to name just a few among my essential favourites? And that’s leaving aside all the other teas that can also be classed among the best in the world! Then there are the less well known ones, which I’m proud to have discovered in regions unknown by connoisseurs, such as Africa, for example.
No, I don’t want to answer that question. I don’t want to choose. Every tea has its moment, its day, time and surroundings. This morning, for example, a cold rainy day in Paris, the day of the American presidential elections, I warmed my body and soul with a Pu Erh Shu, a dark tea with earthy, animal notes; disturbing, powerful notes. A tea that is initially scary; a tea that smells of stables, leather, worm-eaten wood, cellars, moss, undergrowth, humus and decomposing plant material. A tea that nonetheless has a wonderful richness and is special because it improves with age. And that’s what I wish for the new American president: to improve with age.
Wherever it comes from, a premium tea involves rigorous work. This starts with the harvest, which must be done meticulously, and of course continues throughout each stage in the processing. Here, in Anhui (China), they are harvesting Huang Shan Mao Feng – “Downy Tips of the Yellow Mountains”. We can see the care being taken with the plucking as well as when transporting the leaves, which are shaded from the sun but still have air circulating through them. The baskets are small to prevent any compression of the precious shoots
It takes a lot of manual work to produce a high-quality tea, except in Japan, where they have designed incredibly sophisticated machines.
Tea leaves are sorted one by one, like here, in China. This is done for any tea worthy of the name; in other words, whole-leaf, good quality tea. This leaf-by-leaf sorting eliminates tiny pieces of stem, as well as any coarser leaves. It is also an opportunity to remove the occasional insect: tea plantations are living environments, and the presence of weeds and insects can be a sign of good farming practice.
Three senses come into play when we drink tea and analyse the liquor: taste, which focuses on flavours (sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, umami, etc.), smell – made more effective through retro-nasal olfaction (a technique that consists of exhaling through the nose, bringing more olfactory molecules into the retro-nasal cavity) – and touch, which of course tells us whether the tea is hot or cold, astringent or silky, and other sensations. If we want to describe a tea, it is essential to understand about flavours, olfactory notes and touch. It helps us when we taste together, so we can share our impressions.
At this time of year, I particularly enjoy drinking Pu Erh after a meal. Firstly, it is said in China that this tea “dissolves fats” and helps prevent cholesterol. Secondly, I like its aroma of wet earth, rotting wood and damp straw; its smell of cowsheds, mushrooms and oak moss; its aroma of cellars, dry wood, liquorice, manes, wax and flint; its vegetal, fruity smell.
From one Pu Erh to another, the variety of olfactory notes is wide, another reason to try this fascinating group of teas, the only ones that undergo real fermentation. It is available loose-leaf or in a “cake”. It can be “raw” or “cooked”, depending on whether fermentation is done in the traditional manner or accelerated. It can also improve with age, like good wines.
Calling all fans of “grand cru” teas! You now have access to the best selection of teas in the world. This is the optimum time of year to try the finest teas in existence. All are extremely fresh, newly delivered by air. There are first-flush and second-flush Darjeelings, new-season Chinese teas, and Japanese Ichibanchas harvested in May, alongside teas from Nepal, Taiwan and South Korea.
For tea-lovers, the start of the summer is a pure pleasure!
At school we all learnt to recognise colours, and because of this we can all agree that the dominant colours in this photo are green and blue.
For reasons that escape me, we don’t learn the same lessons about smell. This means that many people don’t know about the different olfactory families or how to name the smells they come across. This lack of knowledge stops us from using our sense of smell correctly and hinders the memorisation of olfactory notes. Question: why, in our country that is so proud of its gastronomic superiority, and is recognised around the world for its creativity in the field of fragrance, are we not taught about smells at school, at the same time as colours?
Often I find myself surrounded by mountains covered in tea bushes, and I love these spectacular, grandiose landscapes. But I also enjoy contemplating intimate gardens, discovering a few hidden rows of tea plants, so verdant yet out of sight. This secluded garden that stretches along the riverbank, sheltered by large trees and overlooked by rocky outcrops, is situated in the Wuyishan region. If you are in this part of China, you too may be able to spot these beautiful shrubs growing in the middle of the countryside.