At the Amgoorie Tea Estate, tea is tasted both with and without milk. This is because some of the tea produced by this plantation is particularly full-bodied, and is appreciated by British consumers. So by lightening each cup with a cloud of milk, we are tasting the tea in the same way as the customer.
While adding milk is sacrilege for the finest teas, it is natural for more powerful brews. The milk reduces the astringency and sensation of bitterness.
I have chosen this photo of a lovely landscape, taken at Wasuka near Nara, to tell you that it would be a shame to miss out on the Japanese spring teas, the famous ichibancha, this year. Le Palais des Thés has sent all batches of its Japanese tea to be analysed by a laboratory, which will check whether their radioactivity levels comply with European standards. Only once we have received the results can we start distributing the teas to our various stores. In the stores, you will be able to ask to see the laboratory test results for the tea you want.
So you will be able to drink the best shinchas with complete peace of mind. Japanese farmers have suffered enormously this year due to the tsunami, and we must not abandon them, or their deliciously delicate teas!
The factory at the Amgoorie Tea Estate (Assam) has a remarkable size. It is the pride and joy of the planter there, Amar Nain, who designed it. The light, clean space make a change from the rather dilapidated, dimly lit buildings I often visit.
On the floor are pyramids of teas of different grades, waiting to be packed after a final quality check which is carried out by hand, leaf by leaf.
Assam is one of the regions in the world with the highest rainfall. So it’s no surprise that it’s so green here, from these tea plants growing so densely they look like a carpet, to the trees that shade them from the sun.
Despite the abundant rains, this region enjoys plenty of sunshine, which means the tea plants need protecting from the direct sunlight more than elsewhere. Hence the density of the trees.
For years, I dreamt of just one thing: to go to Assam and see the famous tea plantations. And here I am! The political situation has greatly improved, and it is now possible to travel around this state in the north-east of India, which is generously watered by torrential rains and by the Brahmaputra floods. Here, the tea fields adjoin the paddy fields. However, a slight difference in level separates them so that the water does not stagnate around the roots of the tea plants, but drains away into the paddy fields.
After being fired, then rolled individually by hand, Taiping Hou Kui leaves are placed between two meshes. Moments later, the upper mesh is covered with a cloth and pressed with a roller, to flatten the leaves.
This painstaking task does not take place for any other tea. In this photo I took during my last trip to China, you can see how proud this producer is, preparing for the last stage in the processing of this fine green tea, the drying. The leaves you see here are held in place between the two meshes, and have just been flattened.
In the Dooars region of India, tea is often harvested by the people known as the Adivasis. Often despised by other Indians because they are right at the bottom of the social ladder, they benefit from positive discrimination, along with the lower castes. They don’t get much attention, which is another reason to talk about them here.
The Adivasis are one of India’s biggest tribal populations. They descend from the aborigines and live in the north-east of the country.
I took this photo at Meenglas, near Mal Bazaar, a few kilometres from the border with Bhutan. The Dooars region doesn’t produce very good quality tea, but that’s not important here. It was the smiling faces of these workers that I wanted to tell you about, not the rather coarse leaves filling their bags.
The plantations in the valley of Hile, in Nepal, were established recently. The oldest garden among Kuwapani, Guranse and Jun Chiyabari was created not much more than ten years ago. This might in part explain the quality of their tea, because the bushes they chose to plant on these mountain slopes are recent cultivars, famous for their aromatic properties. In addition, each of these plantations has developed innovative techniques for rolling the leaves, which is unusual in Nepal and India.
These three plantations are also special in that they are situated right next to each other. In this photo I took of Kuwapani, you can admire its splendid views, of course, but you can also see the red roof of the Guranse factory, close by.