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.
In China, Fujian is one of the most important tea-producing provinces. Important from a historical perspective, because the first shipments of teas bound for Europe left from its ports; important also in terms of the tea itself, because Fujian is the country’s only province that grows Oolongs and the legendary white teas, as well as green teas, black teas, smoked teas and the finest jasmine teas in the country. It’s an incredible variety.
When I’m invited into farmers’ homes in China, I sometimes find myself confronted by Chairman Mao. I don’t know if he’s worshipped or idolised, but in any case, the offerings and lights are there, beneath his portrait that presides over the main living room. A divine Mao.
Last week I wrote about “rock teas”, because I had just returned from that region of China. When you ask local farmers where the name comes from, some talk about the fact that the tea must be rocked at a particular stage during the processing. But others draw an analogy between the tea’s smooth flavour, its minerality and strength, and the amazing rocks around which the camellias grow.
In China there is a very famous group of teas called “rock teas”. These semi-oxidised teas come from Wu Yi Shan, a mountain range in the north of Fujian province. The best known is Da Hong Pao. You have to taste it at least once in your life to realise what an exceptional tea this is. It has a rare strength and length in the mouth, yet remains subtle. It is fruity, toasted, woody and sweet at the same time.
Calling all smoked teas connoisseurs! It is here, in a Chinese regional park in the north of Fujian province, that all lapsang souchongs were produced for two hundred years. The origins of this tea date back to the 19th century, when a high-ranking Chinese army officer requisitioned the tea factory that stood here before this one, to house his regiment, leaving the farmer no choice but to dry his tea outside, over burning spruce roots. Which is how smoked tea came about.
My selection of first-flush Darjeelings is over, the Nepalese season is in full flow, and then it’s the turn of the new-season China teas, before the first Japanese Ichibancha are ready. Between 1 March and 10 May every year, I can taste more than 100 teas every day, not counting the ones I infuse several times, when I’m deciding between different batches. The peak of this pleasant activity, which I always look forward to, takes place around the end of April. At this time of year, so many samples pile up every morning in the packages sent by express mail from Nepal, India, China and Japan, that I sometimes don’t know which way to turn.
Every year my friend Gary, who lives in Kunming and runs a tea store there, sends me lots of pu erh samples. Raw pu erhs, cooked pu erhs, pu erhs in cake form or loose, pu erhs of every age, from very young to very old. I always look forward to receiving them. I’ve known Gary for more than 20 years. He was young when we met and was working for the state organisation in charge of exporting Yunnan teas. He has an excellent knowledge of all the teas produced in south-west China. Tea is his life.