Tea plants don’t like to stand in water. When tea is grown on flat land, like here in Rwanda, it’s important to dig out ditches so that the rainwater runs away and doesn’t linger around the camellia’s roots. What’s clever here is that the drainage is designed not only to allow water to run off, but also to irrigate the crops during dry spells. For the system to operate, you need to be near a reservoir, or a river, like here, so the water can be diverted into the channels. The frogs love it, judging by the racket they make, and a whole ecosystem thrives in these damp conditions, including colourful kingfishers, which I’ve startled into flight a few times.
This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to visit some beautiful tea plantations, like the ones I went to in Kenya and Rwanda. I’ve seen a lot of tea fields in my life, yet I still discover breathtaking landscapes that resemble nowhere else. For example here, in Rwanda, tea grows not on hillsides, as is often the case, but at the bottom of the valley. The valley in question may lie at an altitude of 2,000 metres, but even so, it’s flat. And it’s still hot enough here for dense vegetation to surround the tea plants. In this “Land of a Thousand Hills” you’ll find incredible scenery, but also some remarkable and little-known teas. If you want to taste the tea that grows here, and feel connected to this beautiful place, it is called “Rwanda Silver Mist“, a powerful tea with fairly fruity, spicy, honey notes. It is a delicious discovery, a door that opens onto a very beautiful corner of our planet.
It takes a lot of manual work to produce a high-quality tea, except in Japan, where they have designed incredibly sophisticated machines.
Tea leaves are sorted one by one, like here, in China. This is done for any tea worthy of the name; in other words, whole-leaf, good quality tea. This leaf-by-leaf sorting eliminates tiny pieces of stem, as well as any coarser leaves. It is also an opportunity to remove the occasional insect: tea plantations are living environments, and the presence of weeds and insects can be a sign of good farming practice.
I spend a good deal of my time training people. Between tea tasting sessions, between trips abroad, I invite colleagues or students to join me at my tasting table. For me, it’s important to impart knowledge to my colleagues, and share with them what I’ve been lucky enough to learn on my distant adventures. Tastings are an opportunity for plenty of conversation, about the quality of the teas, and their organoleptic profiles (touch, aromas, flavours). We talk about how the different sensations interact and complement one another. And because I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the places where tea is produced, the discussion moves on to the broader subject of how teas are made, and to the many aspects of the incredible world and culture of tea.