Blue and green are my favourite colours. Blue, because the sea has been very important to me, and the island in Brittany where I spent all my childhood summers taught me a lot about life. The blue that comes and goes with the tides, a blue that turns green then brown when the tide goes out, the blue of the swollen sea, the blue of Brittany’s skies (though there are those who love its drizzly rain too)…
Blue and then green, the green of tea fields, the green of camellias, a dark green or a yellowish green, depending on the variety. A glossy green or matt green leaf, depending on whether you look at it from above or below. The green of the rice fields that meet the slopes covered with tea plants, the green of forests, so essential to keeping our climate balanced, the dark green of cryptomeria japonica, that spindly, rather bare tree that I love, found from Kyoto to Darjeeling, whose needles hold the mist so well. The green of the forest school I attended, the green of the countryside, of my little piece of nature where I’m so happy, the different greens of all the herbs I use to season my food, the green of young shoots, the green of springtime, the green of nature awakening; green, the symbol of life.
A tea plantation, a farm that produces tea, is a whole world in itself. Wherever tea is grown, wherever it’s processed, there’s both an agricultural aspect and a human aspect. Tea is where these two paths meet: plants and people. So when I meet tea producers I naturally take an interest in every part of life on the farm: the quality of the tea, of course, as well as the plants and soil, and how they’re respected. Also the quality of the environment, forests and rivers; the quality of housing, and the treatment workers receive if they’re injured; the quality of all preventive measures put in place and, most of all, the quality of education. Visiting schools is part of my job, and I really enjoy talking with the students and teachers alike. I wouldn’t miss these moments, or rush them, for anything in the world.
Recently a blogger asked me what my favourite tea was. I couldn’t answer, as is the way every time I’m asked this question. I love so many different teas! How could I choose just one among the most remarkable teas? How could I choose one when they’re all so different? How to choose between a Japanese Ichibancha, for example, a Dan Cong, a Jukro, a Pu Erh Sheng, a Darjeeling AV2, an Oriental Beauty, a Taiping Hou Kui and an Anxi Tie Kuan Yin, to name just a few among my essential favourites? And that’s leaving aside all the other teas that can also be classed among the best in the world! Then there are the less well known ones, which I’m proud to have discovered in regions unknown by connoisseurs, such as Africa, for example.
No, I don’t want to answer that question. I don’t want to choose. Every tea has its moment, its day, time and surroundings. This morning, for example, a cold rainy day in Paris, the day of the American presidential elections, I warmed my body and soul with a Pu Erh Shu, a dark tea with earthy, animal notes; disturbing, powerful notes. A tea that is initially scary; a tea that smells of stables, leather, worm-eaten wood, cellars, moss, undergrowth, humus and decomposing plant material. A tea that nonetheless has a wonderful richness and is special because it improves with age. And that’s what I wish for the new American president: to improve with age.
Tasting dozens of teas like I do every day of the year requires the ability to be present in the moment. You can’t compare several teas or form an opinion on the aromatic richness of a liquor if you’re rushed, stressed, preoccupied or simply thinking about other things. Tasting involves analysis, and this sensory analysis means you need to be very present. When I’m not in exactly the right state of mind for this task, which can happen to anyone, if there’s noise around me or if I’m distracted by something, if I’m tense or the slightest bit annoyed, I get away from everything. And I take however long I need to look at a beautiful landscape like this one. I focus on the scene before me. I gaze at it until I’m thinking of nothing else. I dive into it in the true sense, until I’m ready, free from all distractions; until I’m present in the moment. Then I can go to my tasting sets and contemplate the flavours and aromas of the teas I drink.
I recommand this focusing exercise before every tasting session.