Among the plantations worthy of attention recently is Pathivara, in Nepal. Here, I’m with the plantation’s father, the man who started it. In just a few years, he’s succeeded in producing delicious teas, so far with very modest resources. What’s more, the teas are certified organic. A new building is going up; I laid the first stone on my previous visit. It will house more sophisticated machinery, although the team is already producing some very fine teas. Since the start of June, I’ve bought three batches: Pathivara Classic, Pathivara Black and Pathivara Dragon Yeti – these mountains are full of poetry. Each tea is very different, with very varied aromatic profiles. Here, poetry and gastronomy come together.
I’m concerned about the state of the planet, and the proliferation of plastic is one example of this. We might think of tea plantations as idyllic places high in the mountains, some on steep slopes, far from cities, surrounded by beautiful countryside. And all that is true. But tea requires a lot of manpower, and many people live in villages around the plantations. These people buy products that are often packaged in plastic, and this plastic needs disposing of.
On the tea plantations, it’s not unusual to see rubbish lying on the ground between the rows of plants, simply because people don’t think about it and throw away a bag, a packet of cigarettes or biscuits, in the middle of the field. This waste accumulates! The ground is sometimes littered with it after people have eaten their meal. The best solution I’ve seen involves holding a litter-picking day, once a year, for all villagers, including children. The atmosphere is good-spirited, it makes people take more responsibility, and at school on the same day, they talk about the lifetime of the different types of rubbish. A plastic bag will last for 400 years!
My blog is about tea, but it’s also about meeting people. I didn’t know this lady. She was just standing outside her house, opposite a tea factory. I liked her pretty purple hat and the touches of purple under her coat set against the purple backdrop behind her. I knew nothing about this lady, except where she lived; we simply smiled at each other and I held up my camera – by way of asking her if I could take her photo – and she agreed. And there she was, and here she is. I’m so happy when I’m travelling, walking down the lanes of remote villages, or through the fields. I’m so happy when I photograph them, these men and women… we exchange a few words, we laugh and often we sit a while together, on a bench, a step, a stone… any place will do. And we get to know each other – just a brief encounter – then I go on my way again. And to share them with you, these faces, these moments… as I see it, that’s just as important.
For me, tea is more than a goal, it’s a path. I can’t imagine ever knowing everything there is to know about tea. A lifetime isn’t enough. Tea is a path: what’s important to me isn’t arriving, but progressing. Progressing in my knowledge of the plant, in my knowledge of the art of processing the leaves, progressing on my journey through the tea fields to reach the villages where the communities live. Progressing slowly but surely, in a world where everyone is rushing.
It’s no mean feat to obtain a Tea Sommelier diploma. First, the candidate must answer 24 open questions in just an hour. Then they must prepare, in front of three examiners, a tasting of six teas from among 22. The leaves placed in front of the applicant have no written indication of their type, colour or origin. Then they must perform a task chosen at random: prepare a matcha tea correctly, serve tea in a kyusu, or serve a pu erh using the gong fu method. That’s what this esteemed exam consists of, meaning that those who obtain the diploma are true experts! Here, I’m meeting some of them, with my assistant watching on. Bénédicte has infused a few premium teas, which we are discussing.