I like taking things slowly. I appreciate anything that takes its time. So you won’t be surprised to hear that my favourite train is one of the slowest in the world, perhaps the last steam train in operation in India. It is nicknamed the Toy Train and it runs between Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, a distance of 80 km which takes it… 8 hours! It needs all its puff to climb 2,088 metres.
I’m happy to introduce to you my friend Hisanori Masuda. Hisanori is a famous Japanese designer who creates great models of cast iron teapots. He has exhibited worldwide (in New York’s MoMa for instance) and teaches at university in Japan. We have known each other for fifteen years thanks to Kayoko Nishikawa with whom I travelled a few times in the north of the archipelago, notably in the district of Iwate. It’s in fact the region where cast iron teapots are made. They are still casted one by one today. Hisanori has also made very nice models of tea kettles, with a simple, traditional and meticulous design. The Hikime, Chokaku and Natsume teapots illustrate his work perfectly.
We got together last week at the Ambiente fair in Frankfurt. Hisanori came to visit the Palais des Thés’ stand and I thus presented him to our team who was looking forward to meet him. This photo was taken for the occasion.
There are many tea plantations around this Japanese peak, but it’s not easy to find a spot where you can only see the tea garden with Mount Fuji in the background. You have to drive around the narrow back roads, keep turning round… It requires patience. And when you reach your goal, don’t expect solitude: the Japanese are keen photographers, and there is a real cult attached to their favourite volcano… There were at least a dozen Japanese around me when I took this photo.
The purpose of my blog is to allow you to take part in my travels. I spend a large part of the year visiting tea plantations. The landscapes are often magnificent, the people I meet very welcoming. I’m learning more about tea all the time.
It is these landscapes, these people, this knowledge I’d like to share with you, if you wish. This blog makes a lot of sense to me: what’s the point in doing your dream job if you don’t share it?
I love this photo taken near Fuding, in Fujian province, China. I like the gentle movement of the rows of tea plants. And this beautiful house, so peaceful, buried in the greenery. I didn’t want to leave.
On the tea plantations in India, there is a system for looking after the babies and infants. The babies are placed in hanging cribs while their mothers pluck the tea leaves in the fields. There is no roof, just a canopy. The mothers take turns to look after the little ones, rocking them while they sing lullabies. As you walk around the tea plantations you often hear their gentle singing.
Sometimes you don’t even need a seed to produce a tea plant, in fact it’s very common not to. Instead, you take cuttings from a carefully chosen parent plant. You remove one tea leaf together with a few centimetres of the shoot, and plant the whole thing in compost. The roots then form and the shoot grows into a mature tea plant. The covered area where these young shoots grow is called a nursery. Photo taken in Darjeeling, India.
Let’s get back to our little seed of the tea plant. Once the grower has selected the good seeds, he buries them in plastic propagating bags filled with soil and fertilizer. He places the bags in the shade and waits two years before planting the tea plants out into the ground. A year later, when they are three years old, the tea plants can start to be harvested.
The tea plant doesn’t like a very dry climate or very strong sunshine. That’s why you often find tea growing in misty landscapes. In a few minutes the weather changes, the hilltops disappear, the outlines of the trees become blurred, the temperature drops and you find yourself in the middle of a cloud, like here in Thiashola, a magnificent tea plantation in southern India.
Flowers and seeds are all very well, but they’re not enough to make tea, which requires delicate care, patience, observation and constant attention. It’s a bit like love. And a bit like a blog: it needs looking after every day, smiling at, taking pleasure in giving one’s time. Indeed, here are some tea pluckers in conversation with their tea plants. They live just a few hundred metres away, and know every corner of the plot by heart. They know each tea plant, its strengths and weaknesses. They are concentrating hard and don’t allow themselves to be distracted by the photographer. Photo taken in the indian tea plantation of Puttabong in Darjeeling (India).