I’m often asked what the letters and words mean following the name of a tea. Let’s take the example of a first-flush Darjeeling, Singbulli DJ-12-SFTGFOP1-Clonal-Superb.
- Singbulli is the name of the plantation
- DJ12/19 means it’s the 12th harvest of the year 2019 (when you see EX12/19 instead of DJ12/19, EX stands for “extra”, meaning an additional batch, processed in addition to the main batch of the day)
- The letters SFTGFOP1 refer to the appearance of the dry leaf. The grade FTGFOP stands for “Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”. This means it’s a whole-leaf tea with plenty of tips, or buds. Over the years, the story has grown and the description has expanded. S means “Super”, and 1 means… Who knows? It’s a mystery!
Today, only Indian producers use the grade SFTGFOP1.
Next week I’ll tell you about the descriptions Clonal, Superb, Exotic and Delight!
First flush teas are often the best, as
the year’s first harvest. With winter coming to a close, cold nights keep the
plants growing slowly, which results in richer flavours. Every year, it is Darjeeling
that opens the season, before Nepal, China, or Japan.
In March, I sometimes taste nearly a
hundred teas a day, with each of the 87 tea estates in Darjeeling manufacturing
very small batches—sometimes no more than 20 or 30 kilos. In this region,
during the period when the highest quality of tea is produced, one day’s
harvest is never mixed with the next. The result is a constant parade of very
different tastings. Buyers snap up the very best batches in a matter of hours, at
premium prices, which is why it is so important to know every producer and
maintain the best possible relationship with each of them.
On tea plantations, I come across pickers, of course, as well as villagers walking home. More rarely, I also come across television crews. I’ve just spent two days with Julie and Romain, who asked to join me. Julie is a journalist and Romain, pictured here, is a television reporter. They wanted me to talk about my work, and also to carry on as if they weren’t there, so that they could observe me in the tea fields, tasting tea and talking to people I meet. With them in tow, my work is a bit different from usual, but just as interesting. As with customers who come into a shop for the first time and ask “Tell me about tea!”, I explain as much as I can to them – about life on the plantation and how to make the best teas. Now I’m looking forward to seeing their wonderful report, which will be broadcasted on 16 March at 7 p.m during the programme “50 Minutes Inside” on the French television channel TF1. I think it will only last a few minutes – the time it takes to have a cup of tea.
You can drink your tea in the kitchen, in the living room or in bed. You can enjoy it on the balcony, in the garden, at your desk, or while admiring a beautiful view. You can also taste your tea on the plantation itself. First, you cover a simple table with a red cloth, to contrast with the green. Next, you place the dry leaves on a white sheet in order to examine them while the liquor reaches the right temperature. Then you savour your tea surrounded by tea plants, the same ones your leaves have come from. Thanks to Vinod Kumar for this wonderful tasting on the Achoor plantation.