Vertiginous slopes and lingering mists form the scenery of Darjeeling. Out walking, a tea plucker appears in the thick fog. She climbs amongst the tea plants with astonishing agility. Poobong, a long-abandoned and inaccessible plantation, is gradually coming back to life. I am visiting it for the first time.
My selection of first-flush Darjeelings is over, the Nepalese season is in full flow, and then it’s the turn of the new-season China teas, before the first Japanese Ichibancha are ready. Between 1 March and 10 May every year, I can taste more than 100 teas every day, not counting the ones I infuse several times, when I’m deciding between different batches. The peak of this pleasant activity, which I always look forward to, takes place around the end of April. At this time of year, so many samples pile up every morning in the packages sent by express mail from Nepal, India, China and Japan, that I sometimes don’t know which way to turn.
Tea pluckers work very hard, yet when I meet them in the middle of the fields they greet me with big smiles. They look at me with a happy expression. These radiant faces contrast with the ones we see so often around us. In our cities, life is no easier or harder than on a tea plantation. But sometimes we forget to pay attention to others. We look at each other harshly. We live a bit like strangers. We complain about nothing. I can’t wait to get back to my mountains!
Three plantations in Nepal are currently producing teas that in my view are worthy of the “grand cru” appellation. But in the past year, it has to be said that Guranse, Kuwapani and Jun Chiyabari are no longer alone in offering exceptional teas. Mist Valley and Sandakphu, both situated in Ilam Valley, are making teas of remarkable flavour quality. These teas will be ready to try in a few days, and are excellent value for money.