If you are finding the temperatures a bit cool this month, take note that that Western Europe is not the only place where it’s raining. In Northern India and Nepal, July and August are rainy months. It can rain for days on end, but people carry on working unperturbed. Or they take a break for a natter with friends.
Bitterness is the only intelligent flavour, Olivier Roellinger told me as we tasted a selection of teas together, when I warned him that some darjeelings have a touch of bitterness.
It is a flavour that, unlike sweetness, needs winning over, taming. It can be off-putting, but when we know how to appreciate bitterness, it offers such richness, such delight!
And Olivier Roellinger talked to me about the famous Italian gastronomy, a fine example of a bitter cuisine.
Among the “Grands Crus” I’ve tasted in recent months, among the many teas from every part of Asia, I have to say that the ones that have impressed me most are the teas from Nepal. Of course, I have been sent wonderful Ichibanchas, unique first-flush Darjeelings, exceptional Oolongs from Taiwan, and richly aromatic Long Jings. Nonetheless, what is happening in Nepal is unique. In the past decade, this country has been working hard to produce teas of a very high quality. And unlike what I see in other countries, where there is a tendency to perpetuate a highly respectable tradition, here people are trying to develop new teas, work with different cultivars, experiment with wilting and rolling methods, and so on. And often, with success.
When I visit a plantation, when I go to see a producer, I naturally spend time tasting the tea. But I also look at the growing conditions. I want to find out if the tea is produced cleanly, if nature is respected. For me, loving tea also means loving the ground in which it grows. The tea I drink, the tea that does me good – I don’t want it to harm the earth, or those who grow it. That’s why I also visit the clinics, nurseries and, of course, schools.