When I left Darjeeling in October, it didn’t seem to sadden these school children in the slightest, and they had fun clowning around while I took a photo of them. This image of happy children is a good reflection of my feelings as we finish the year on a high note. I hope you enjoy the celebrations.
I have no more regrets about leaving 2011 behind me than these kids had at seeing me depart for the valley. I welcome 2012 with open arms, as they will do when I return to see them next time.
It only remains for me to choose the tea on which to end the year. After the meal I’m serving on New Year’s Eve, I think I’ll make my guests a mint tea, known for its digestive properties and as a symbol of hospitality.
See you next year!
As we walk the final stretch of the path together in 2011, I want to show you this photo of two tea pluckers in the Assam region who are returning home to their village after work. I think the sight of these women protecting themselves from the sun’s rays beneath their pretty parasols brings a touch of warmth to our grey winter. In this season, Paris lacks bright colours. Apart from the inevitable Father Christmas here and there outside the department stores, you don’t see much red. So it’s funny to think that somewhere else on this earth, people are taking care to protect themselves from the sun, while here, the slightest ray of sun makes us close our eyes and purr like cats.
Red is also the colour of some chillies, so I’ll take this opportunity to tell those who’ve never tasted Assam teas that they develop subtle notes of tobacco, honey and also… spices.
I am well aware that at the moment, everyone is looking forward to the imminent arrival of a certain somebody dressed in red and bearing a sack filled with wonderful things. I truly understand! This plucker dressed all in red and wearing her apron, is taking great care as she plucks the most delicate leaves of the tea plant before she places them in her basket.
If her slender ankles appear down your chimney, make sure you give her a warm welcome and put the kettle on. It’s time to honour the contents of that famous basket: it’s time for a cup of tea!
The end-of-year festivities are frequently accompanied by overeating: at a time when many of us welcome friends and relatives into our homes, we enjoy preparing delicious meals and treats for our guests. It is not only the quality that is often high, but also the quantity. As for me, I like to finish a good meal with a cup or bowl of tea, to help me digest. I don’t know if the effect is purely psychological but it feels real, which is good enough for me. In China, Pu Er is said to be the best tea to drink during times of feasting. This tea is special in that it is covered and fermented for at least 45 days. During this time, the temperature is checked, hence this thermometer stuck into a pile of tea leaves covered with a cloth. It reads 53°C.
Tasting tea is a bit like tasting wine. You take some of the liquid in your mouth and swirl it around gently. Then comes what we call “retro olfaction”: you exhale air through your nose, directing the aromas towards your olfactory bulb. With your head slightly lowered, your cheeks sucked in, you hold the liquid around your tongue and inhale through your mouth several times. By exhaling this air out through your nose, you increase your olfactory capacity to its maximum.
We use this method to enhance our assessment of a tea. It’s necessary when you want to describe a tea’s aromatic profile, for example.
Here, with one of his assistants, is my friend Anil Jha in action. His Turzums and other Sungmas have acquired an excellent reputation.
To illustrate this Christmas period, I searched among my photos to find something seasonal: a combination of green and red, for example, to remind us of the holly branches with their red berries.
I show you green throughout the year, with all those fields of tea, but red is much harder to come by.
Take a good look at this little winding path near Teesta Bazar (India) and you will spot three tea pluckers beneath their red parasol. They are like you, they have just done their shopping and are returning home, having a good chat on the way.
Tea tasting is a special moment for me. While we wait for the teas to infuse, we talk, or we look at the dry leaves. Then, when the tea is ready, we exchange cups, without a sound. We inhale the aromas of the leaves, look at the liquor, and taste it. Then we compare it with the cup beside it. It is a moment of pleasure and of concentration. Hand movements are precise and slow. To me, this serenity is important in order to appreciate all the pleasures offered by a cup of tea.
I know that your main objective at the moment is to wrap your purchases so they are ready to go under the Christmas tree in a few days’ time. Well, in China there’s a tea called Pu Er which requires wrapping with just as much care. Pu er can be bought loose, but it is mainly found in the form of a compressed cake. Having been left to dry on racks, each cake is wrapped in a sheet of printed rice paper, as you can see in this photo. The protected cakes are then wrapped in groups of seven in a dried banana leaf. The tea is then ready to embark on its journey and arrive with you after the festivities, which is just at the right time: in China, Pu Er is said to lower cholesterol. Rightly or wrongly, it is sometimes known as the “fat-eating” tea.
A few days ago I bought a wonderful third flush Singbulli, and this morning I have just confirmed the purchase of a Rohini, also harvested in November. The first lot only weighs 70 kilos, the second lot just a little more, and they will arrive in France in December.
Those of you who love fine Indian teas must remember that Darjeelings produced in March, June and the autumn have very little in common. The reason is that this mountain you see here, Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), creates a great contrast with the weather conditions of the plains on the subcontinent. Darjeeling is one of the tea-producing regions with the most varied climate.
In warmer seasons, the southerly wind brings some of the stifling heat of the plains to these mountains. On the other hand, as winter approaches, the peaks make their presence felt, the sky becomes clear and the temperature drops. And the growth of the tea plants gets slower and slower, which is another reason for the variations in their flavours.