When you read tasting notes on Darjeeling teas, you learn that the leaf can be more or less rolled, depending on the batch. This is what the rolling looks like. As soon as the leaves have finished wilting, on the upper level of the building, they are dropped (see photo) into this container, which has a press. Rolling, as it is performed in Darjeeling, takes just a few minutes. It prepares the leaves, by lightly crushing them, for the following stage: oxidation.
Assam teas have scents of honey, tobacco and spices and a very pronounced aromatic profile, unlike some of the flat countryside in this region. The teas are particularly astringent, and here too, the vocabulary used to describe this sensation contrasts with the words we might use to depict the landscape. Astringency is marked by a contracting of the tissues of the palate, while this beautiful field of tea relaxes me as soon as I see it.
The news I’m getting from Darjeeling is not very good. The planters are disappointed by the small quantities of tea harvested in March. This is due to low temperatures and a lack of sunshine and rain. So far, production is down by almost a third. However, as long as you act quickly, there are still some very fine teas. I have already bought several batches from gardens where the quality is improving year on year, like Gielle, Rohini and Teesta Valley. And a tiny batch of “Puttabong SFTGFOP1 Moondrops”: anyone who gets a chance to taste this tea will love it.
To celebrate the arrival of spring with you, what better than to take a break together, put the kettle on, sit down in an upright position, empty our minds, shut our eyes, inhale deeply while the leaves infuse, get ourselves in the right frame of mind, and prepare to drink tea. And then, to open our eyes on this beautiful landscape, to nature reawakening, the first buds opening, the return of life.
As happens every year at the same time, the first samples of first-flush Darjeelings are starting to arrive. There are never many during the first week, then during the peak of the season, around the end of March, I can taste dozens every day. Each one represents a very small batch of about 100 kilos. I have just chosen two: the Rohini “early spring” and the Longview FTGFOP1 ex-5. They are characterised by their fresh, vegetal, floral and zesty notes.
For my Parisian friends who are finding this month of January a little mild, here is the cooling and eternal snow of Kanchenjunga. This massive mountain extends from the ancient royal kingdom of Sikkim to Nepal and Tibet, just a stone’s throw from Darjeeling.
Scales, a timer, a spittoon, a cup to rinse one’s mouth between two liquors if necessary, a shaft of light; everything is ready. Admittedly the building itself is showing signs of wear and tear, but that’s not important; Namring teas retain their incredible aura and I’m about to taste the best of the third-flush, or autumn, pluckings.
In Japan, when you receive a gift, you don’t open it. You don’t feel the need to. First, you admire the wrapping, then you thank the person who has given it. You are touched by their attention. You are very happy. You still don’t open it.
This year, what if we too were satisfied with the happiness of receiving a gift, without wondering what it was? What if we took the time to experience fully this wonderful moment, when someone shows us how much they care?
I wish you a very happy festive season!
The Margaret’s Hope garden is one of the best known in Darjeeling. Its reputation is justified by the quality of its teas and also because, from time to time, this plantation products batches of a truly remarkable quality. Of course, you have to taste many samples before finding a rare gem, but that is exactly what my work entails: drinking large quantities of different teas every day.
Last spring I bought a batch from Margaret’s Hope that I am sure you remember if you were lucky enough to taste it. The planter called it White Delight. And I have just chosen a Margaret’s Hope DJ512 which has such an incredible floral bouquet it is worth the detour too. For connoisseurs, it comes from the varieties P312 and AV2.