This week I had the immense pleasure of tasting a fine selection of premium teas with Anne-Sophie Pic and her team of sommeliers. Anne-Sophie is such a kind and considerate person and treated me like royalty in Valence. She is eager to learn and so generous with her time, especially considering she’s the only French woman to hold three Michelin stars. She listens attentively and asks plenty of questions. Together, we tasted teas infused, both hot and cold. Our tastings took us to Darjeeling and Japan via Nepal, South Korea, Viêt Nam and even Africa. We talked about ways to use tea in cooking, and possible pairings between teas and dishes. It was incredible to contribute, however modestly, to her inspiration! And what a treat to share an unforgettable meal with her afterwards, an explosion of textures, flavours and aromas. Thank you Anne-Sophie.
The use of an aroma cup offers a unique tasting experience. It allows you to focus on olfaction – the smell. As soon as it has been filled, the aroma cup is emptied into the tasting cup. The former retains the tea’s aromas thanks to its tall, narrow shape. You lift it to your nostrils and try to distinguish each note left by the liquor. A few minutes later, you taste the tea itself, by which time it will be at the perfect temperature.
How much longer will tea be harvested by hand in India, where there is ongoing conflict over employment conditions? The pickers are demanding justified pay rises, but the plantations are only just profitable, while some are even loss-making. Tea is already sold at a high price without the benefit being passed on to local populations. Do we risk seeing mechanical harvesting replace manual picking due to a lack of workers? And what will be the consequences on quality? Or are we moving towards plantations being turned into cooperatives so that everyone has a stake in them and can live decently on their wages? These questions have not yet been answered.
Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is known as the “city of joy”, but it’s also the city of tea. All the producers of Darjeeling and Assam teas have their office there. Auctions take place in the historical district of BBD Bagh, supplying the lifeblood of a whole economy. And the precious cargoes of tea are dispatched from the city’s port.
Kolkata, a sprawling city of ten, fifteen, even twenty million inhabitants – who knows? – extends outwards from the banks of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges. Its public transport system includes many boats which offer a peaceful crossing, away from the busy traffic.