We have just received a new first flush Darjeeling, Longview DJ1, the first lot of the year from the Longview Tea Estate. Because of its location, this garden fortunately avoided the road blocks recently put in place, which I told you about last time, and managed to get its tea to Kolkata.
In the mouth, this tea develops planty, almondy notes. It has a fresh start, followed by delicate aromas of camphor.
These smiling faces belong to pluckers who work at Longview, enjoying a well-earned break.
The news from Darjeeling is not improving. The Gorkhaland separatists have stepped up their campaign and have basically blocked the movement of the trucks transporting tea. Every day we receive samples, and we can buy the teas, but if they can’t be taken to Kolkata airport, what’s the point? This could last a few days, or several weeks. So the struggle with the government goes on, but where will it lead?
“Where will it lead?” That’s exactly the question I ask myself as I walk the little paths of Darjeeling, like here in Badamtam. I walk without really knowing where I’m going, just following my nose. It’s wonderful! And if I get lost, what does it matter? After all, it’s only me.
With the terrible images coming out of Japan at the moment, and with so many people in distress, I wanted to show you another side to this country, and pay homage to its beauty.
In the east of Kyoto, next door to the Chion-In temple, the Shoren-In temple hides in the shade of maple, eucalyptus and willow trees. Cross the stone garden, remove your shoes and step onto the wooden walkway. Admire the soft light filtered by the shojis, stop to look at the pond and then the garden, with its different coloured mosses. A little further on, a tea ceremony is taking place. The host takes the bowl of tea in both hands and raises it slowly up to his forehead, as a sign of respect.
The social life of tea growers is not what it used to be. Look what has become of one of the Darjeeling growers’ clubs today!
This magnificent building is in an advanced state of disrepair, and every time I pass it, not far from the Namring Tea Estate, it saddens me. Situated at the top of the valley and enjoying a magnificent view, its abandoned state sadly only seems to affect me.
Under British rule, and up to around 20 years ago, planters would meet at least once a week, and would value this special opportunity to get together. Today, there is greater competition, and television, like everywhere, is destroying social life. So people stay at home.
Here we have, from left to right: B157, P312 and AV2. These are their familiar names. Their full names are as follows: Bannockburn 157, Phoobsering 312 and Ambari Vegetative 2. They are cultivars, or “clonals”, as they are called here: tea plants created using different methods, generally by taking cuttings.
Each of the three cultivars has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of its weather hardiness and resistance to pests, its taste and aromatic qualities, and its productivity. They take their names from the plantation that created them.
These cultivars, along with some 30 others developed by the Tea Research Association, are suited to the Darjeeling region. Different cultivars are grown in other parts of the world.
This image of a stream gently winding its way between the ancient wooden houses of Kyoto’s old town haunts me as I think of all the victims of the terrible earthquake.
The contrast – particularly strong in Japan – between the tranquillity of nature and an earth capable of rising up and swallowing so many lives, reminds us of the fragility of our existence.
Of course, I am thinking of all my friends over there, of the people who work for Le Palais des Thés in Tokyo, of our suppliers, and particularly of those in the prefecture of Iwate, north of Sendai, which has been so badly affected.
This is Abhishek Dev, the tea grower at the Teesta Valley Tea Estate. He is one of six brothers, and most of them work in the tea trade. He started out as assistant manager at Puttabong, then at Sungma, among others. He was then offered a position managing a plantation that was not in a good state.
Everyone in Darjeeling agrees that he has really improved the quality of the teas produced here.
Abhishek had quite a surprise for me when I visited him on 23 February. He had just produced a single lot, especially for me. Just ten kilos of tea, the first Darjeeling of the year, so it was quite an event. The very small quantity is due to the fact that the leaves have not grown much at this stage. So this is an exceptional plucking, due to both its earliness and because it is made up of only very young shoots. In the cup, it has a wonderful subtlety, the freshness of spring, and a unique vitality.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Balasun plantation, in Darjeeling. The plantation got its name from the river Balasun, which runs below it. Anil Jha, who manages the Sungma Tea Estate, and who you can see beside me in this photo, also supervises the Risheehat Tea Estate and the Balasun Tea Estate. He is one of the most respected and most experienced growers in Darjeeling. There are only three or four others with his level of expertise – and authority. I admire him, and I’m also grateful to him, because he was the first person to teach me so much, here on these mountains. We first met 20 years ago, so he has seen me progress, professionally speaking.
Whenever we meet, we talk for hours, united by the same passion.
This is the type of house I stay in when I’m in Darjeeling. It is a grower’s bungalow, and is typical of the region. There is one on each tea plantation, where the grower and his family live. I took this photo last week. When I woke, I sipped my early morning tea, served in bed as is the tradition, and waited for the sun’s rays to warm up the ground and flood the flower beds with light.
The situation in Darjeeling has improved considerably. The road blocks have been lifted, the shops have reopened and life is getting back to normal. But the tea trade is still affected, as the party campaigning for independence is threatening to prevent the movement of trucks carrying the tea in a few weeks’ time, in order to demonstrate its political clout and bring negotiations to a conclusion.
However, this does not stop me from enjoying a quiet moment tasting teas, as I am about to do here at the Teesta Valley Tea Estate factory.