It’s true that preparing tea consists simply of placing tea leaves in contact with water, an encounter that produces a delicate, fragrant drink. The process can be more or less simple, more or less delicate. In China, in the space of barely 20 years, preparing tea using the gong fu method, which is slow and controlled, has become incredibly popular. It is often young women who perform the task. They are always elegant, and every movement is carried out with precision. We can admire their agile fingers that trace beautiful smooth arcs in the air before depositing a few drops of the precious nectar into your tiny cup.
There are four stages in making mao cha. First, a reminder that mao cha is the tea used to make pu erh, either raw or cooked. It is also worth remembering that the way mao cha is made has evolved over time. Basic withering followed by drying in the sun has become more complex as trends have changed, and as dark teas have become so popular among the Chinese. Today, this is what is involved: after harvesting the leaves, they are withered for around two hours. Then the leaves are “fixed” in a wok (see photo) at 200°C for around 30 minutes. Next, the leaves are rolled for ten minutes before being left to dry for the whole day in the sun. In theory, mao cha is used to make compressed tea, but it can be drunk as it is, and appreciated for its mineral, fruity, vegetal and animal notes.
Tea has been consumed in China for more than 3,000 years, and it is only in this country that we find such a rich variety. It produces all colours of tea: white, green, blue-green, yellow, black and dark. In China we find a unique culture of terroir: one village might have been following a very specific tradition of tea shaping for centuries, while in the next village the leaves could be processed in a completely different way. Nowhere else in the world do we find such a variety of practices. This photo shows my 2017 selection of “new-season” Chinese green teas, some of which were harvested before the Qingming festival. From left to right: Pre Qing Ming Bi Luo Chun, Pre Qing Ming Long Jing, Pre Qing Ming Bourgeons de Jade, Pre Qing Ming Lu An Gua Pian, Pre Qing Ming Anji Bai Cha, Bai Mao Hou, Mao Feng Premium, Yong Xi Huo Qing, Huang Shan Mao Feng. It goes without saying that just as the size, shape and colour of the leaves differ so much, the tasting experience is equally varied among these premium teas.
A celles et ceux qui souhaitent découvrir les thés de printemps, voici mes conseils. Les Darjeeling récoltés en mars et avril développent des notes florales soutenues qui vont de pair avec une certaine astringence et une pointe d’amertume. Pour des parfums plus briochés et floraux à la fois, rendez-vous avec les thés du Népal de printemps, ils sont récoltés dès le début du mois d’avril. Aux amateurs de notes de châtaigne, de notes à la fois minérales et végétales, je ne saurais que trop conseiller les thés de Chine primeur (les plus rares d’entre eux et aussi les plus recherchés et donc les plus chers étant ce qu’on appelle les pre Qing Ming, récoltés avant la fête des lumières qui a lieu tout début avril). Enfin, pour les amoureux des notes iodées, des notes de gazon coupé et de légume à la vapeur, les Ichibancha du Japon sont de pures merveilles. Ils sont récoltés entre fin-avril et mi-mai. Bien sûr je ne suis pas ici exhaustif, il reste d’autres pays à découvrir mais si on parle de printemps, de nature qui s’éveille, si on recherche des thés qui évoquent le jardin, la sève, ce sont à ces thés là que l’on pense en premier.
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.