On this blog you follow me on my search for teas and at my tasting sessions, and I thank you. Sometimes I also talk about pairings of teas and food, and I should also tell you about the tastings I’ve enjoyed so much in the company of chefs and tasters of other quality products such as chocolate and oil.
But I have another mission, which is to share knowledge. I’ve learnt everything I know about tea from farmers and planters: every trip, everyone I meet, every tea I taste, throughout the year. I’ve been learning for 30 years and I know just enough to understand that I’ll never have time to completely get to grips with the subject. One lifetime is not enough, not nearly enough, to learn everything there is to know about tea. Since the start of our Palais des Thés story, and quite quickly with the Tea School, sharing knowledge has come to play an important role in our company. Today we’ve passed a very important milestone. With the help of my knowledgeable entourage, I’ve developed a practical and theoretical exam that will recognise, promote and encourage the best tea experts. So far, five people have been awarded this Tea Sommelier certification. Here I am with two of them, Nathanaëlle, our store manager in Marseille, and Manuela, a sales advisor in Paris, both of whom have accompanied me on a trip to Darjeeling. Well done to these two!
The landscapes of Darjeeling are among the most incredible in existence. Not because they’re better than anywhere else in terms of their beauty, but because of the unique speed with which the scenery in this region changes. You can go from a hailstorm to a beautiful blue sky in less time than it takes to say those words, and the mist can be so thick that sometimes, when walking in these parts, you even lose sight of the ends of your shoes. After all, the name Darjeeling comes from the Tibetan “Dorje Ling”, which means “the land of storms” – here, the skies rule. Naturally, these climatic variations and the extreme temperature changes that accompany them have a major influence on the quality of the tea, which is why, in Darjeeling and in Nepal, the characteristics of teas picked in the spring, summer and autumn differ so much. In no other tea-producing region of the world do we see such variation between teas from one season to another, in terms of their organoleptic qualities
I’ve just got back from Darjeeling. Every year I invite store managers to visit the plantations with me. I remember the beginnings of Palais des Thés. I spent the first three years of this great adventure in the shop, behind the counter, serving customers. At the time I’d never seen a tea plant. Then I packed my bag and set off to explore the tea mountains of China, Japan and India, followed by other countries. This experienced completely changed me and the connection I had with tea. Tea became my passion. This connection became strong, rich and powerful. My life changed.
That’s why I want our store managers to have the same opportunity as I did, to discover tea in its natural surroundings, to meet the people who work with tea, from the pickers to the farmers and those who manufacture it. The opportunity to understand the climate, the soil, the varieties and the production methods. Tea is a whole world in itself, just like wine. You only need to alter one aspect slightly – a change in altitude or orientation, a less steep slope, a hybrid cultivar, a downpour during processing, or whatever – to give tea a different flavour. Nothing replaces hands-on experience. These store managers return with joyful hearts and wonderment in their eyes. Now it’s their turn to dream of those misty mountains, of the people they met, the smiles they exchanged. And above all, to share their dreams with their staff, their customers and the people around them. You have to experience tea to understand it.