The photo I’m sharing with you today may come as a surprise. After
all, you’re used to seeing the faces of tea pluckers, planters, farmers, people
from diverse ethnic backgrounds in colorful traditional garb, and passers-by
encountered at the summits of various mountains.
But back in Paris, there are also teams working to bring the
superb teas we discover safely to their destination—that is, to you! It
wouldn’t be fair to talk only about faraway people without also showing you who’s
hard at work in Paris. A few days ago, the team decided that we should wear
costumes for Christmas. Surrounding me, from left to right and top to bottom,
let me present Clément, Charlotte, Lucille, Laura, Anaïs, Chloé, Eléa, Céline,
Juliette, Laurie, and Sonia. I wish each and every one of you a very happy
The winter in general and especially the festive season is an ideal opportunity to explore dark teas, which have been fermented. The best known come from Yunnan and are called Pu Erh. They are sold in loose-leaf form or compressed into cakes (see photo). Dark teas undergo a slow ageing process (sheng) or an accelerated one (shu). They are prepared in a teapot or a gaiwan (gong fu method). Pu Erhs give off powerful aromatic notes of wood, undergrowth, spices, damp earth and animal aromas. And if I add that these dark teas are popular in China to help ease the effects of overeating, you’ll understand why this is a good time of year to discover them!
Until recently, I searched for rare teas on my own, but for just over a year now I have been assisted by Léo. Sometimes we travel together, sometimes Léo visits a country on his own to find remarkable teas or farmers capable of remarkable work. This photo taken by Léo in Georgia is an accurate depiction of what we do. We clear the way. As we set off on our adventures to discover rare teas, here in Georgia the brambles have invaded the tea plants and it is time to clear them away.
To give someone who doesn’t know about tea the desire to explore it, to lead customers on a journey of discovery through single-origin teas, growing regions, rare and premium teas… that is what makes our work so special. The essence of Palais des Thés is captured in the way we support our customers. Our raison d’être is our warm and friendly welcome that we extend to everyone. Our raison d’être is the incredible choice of teas and attention to quality that we offer. Our raison d’être is our ability to convey our impressions to you, our emotions and expertise – in a word, our passion.
One question often crops up when I meet customers – it’s about how we source our premium teas. With the growing number of Palais des Thés stores, people want to know if I can always find enough fine teas without compromising on quality. The answer is simple. Right now, I have to taste about 100 teas on average to identify one or two premium teas. But it’s not a problem to try more and choose more. However, I can’t alter the size of the batches. If a farmer has produced 100 kg of an exceptional tea, I can’t ask him to send me 200 kg without affecting the quality. But I have no problem finding other farmers who produce exceptional teas. So to sum up, it’s not difficult to find different premium teas, but the size of the batches is limited, so you won’t find the same choices of premium teas in different Palais des Thés stores on any given day.
Now the temperatures have dropped, we want to drink different types of teas from those we enjoyed in warmer weather. This season calls for rounder, fuller liquors; warm, woody notes; spicy and stewed fruit flavours. Here are some suggestions for teas to sip by the fire. Try a Jukro from South Korea for its cocoa notes, a Chinese Qimen Hong Cha Mao Feng for its leather notes, a Dianhong Jin Ya for its honey notes, a Dongyan Shan Tie Guan Yin from Taiwan for its stewed fruit notes, a Japanese Shiraore Kuki Hojicha for its toasted notes, and a Spirit of Smoke from Malawi for its smoky notes.
I dream of a world where everything is organic, everyone is kind. A world with flowers and bees. A world in which people still have a place, a world on a human scale. But when I go shopping, I don’t always buy organic products. Why not? Because when I’m in the countryside, I visit neighbouring farms, I know the farmers. They run small operations and don’t have certification, but I know how they work, the quality of their products, the care they take in production. I can see their facilities, I can see how they treat their animals, I can talk to them about their agricultural methods. This connection is valuable, it is based on trust, and is worth much more than a logo. The same goes for tea. I trust the AB organic label we have in France, and everything it stands for, but I am very happy to buy from small Nepalese farmers, for example, who have joined forces to form a co-operative with perhaps several hundred members, who I know, and whose practices I understand. These farmers know nothing about the world of certification, and probably would not be able to afford it anyway.
In China, the best jasmine teas come from the Fujian region (photo). They are made using the finest green teas in the province, harvested in April. The jasmine flowers are picked between July and early September. But if we go by volume rather than quality, the biggest producing region is Guangxi. There, they use green tea of a lower quality, while their jasmine flowers from early May to the end of September, hence the high volume, which is double or triple that of Fujian.
Mr Huang is one of millions of Chinese workers who have decided to leave their native region to earn a living elsewhere. It is much easier to find work in the wealthier coastal provinces than in the interior of the country. So every year, Mr Huang leaves Guizhou, where he was born, and where he grows vegetables in a mountain village, and travels to the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian. There, inhabitants’ incomes have increased significantly, and people no longer want to work in the fields, preferring to live in the city. So Mr Huang goes there to work on a wonderful organic plantation. He tends to the tea plants and helps with the harvest from early March until the end of September, before returning to his family in his own province. And every year, he never hesitates to repeat this journey, for a monthly wage of 5,500 yuan.
Smoked tea, or Lapsang Souchong, is a speciality of Fujian. It is not very popular with Chinese people, and so it is exported. European food safety regulations were tightened a few years ago, and it is now very difficult to find a smoked tea that meets those standards. This is not due to specific pesticides, but because of a molecule called anthraquinone that forms naturally during the smoking process. For several years I’ve been encouraging a number of farmers to modify their smoking technique so that their tea can be approved. This is a slow, ongoing process, but there have been some positive results.