Just a few days ago, Léo and I had the pleasure of tasting a sensational tea sourced from southwest China. In fact, the variety was one of the famous ‘Yunnan buds’ that is going down a treat with tea lovers all over.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the different stages of selecting a batch of tea.
Once the quantity we want has been decided, an order is placed. Because this is a small batch tea, it will be shipped by air. No sooner will the wheels touch the ground than a sample will be whizzed over to an independent lab for testing. Although not legally required to, Palais des Thés has made it policy to test any tea that has not been awarded French agriculture biologique certification, proof that is has been organically farmed. We are looking for over a hundred different molecules to confirm that the batch complies with European standards, known for being the most stringent in the world. Only if the tea passes muster will the leaves be distributed to our boutiques. It takes on average 4-6 weeks from when the tea is sampled to it being available to buy in store. A relatively long timeframe that Palais des Thés stands by because we understand the importance of guaranteeing food safety for the good of our customers’ health.
When I ask Bente, who makes the best teas in Tanzania, how Palais des Thés helps her and her community, her answer comes loud and clear: “It pays our employees!”
Then she adds: “It provides stability for the plantation and for our employees… And it makes us proud, of course!”
She continues: “Thank you for your support, and thank you for helping us to make a name for ourselves in the world of tea. When you come with your team, you show me and everyone here that you believe in us and that we can depend on you!”
I wish Bente and all our friends who produce tea, as well as our customers and employees, very happy holidays!
There is some sort of International or National Tea Day three, four or five times a year. Different organisations, some more official than others, have decided that such and such a day should be dedicated to tea – 15th December, for example. Fine. For me, every day is a tea day, starting in the morning with a lovely cuppa when I wake up. Then a bit later, a tea does me good, then later still I’ll have a cup of tea with colleagues and another with friends. I have one in the evening too – a chai, in this case – and enjoy inhaling its delicious scents. A day without tea would be pure misery!
I am often asked how much a tea can fetch. The answer can be found this week on the Sotheby’s auction site, which lists a lot of rare dark teas for sale, the oldest of which dates back to the early 20th century. When compressed into a cake and well preserved, dark tea has the reputation of improving with time. On the famous auction house’s website, one of them is estimated at no less than 900,000 Hong Kong dollars for a 270g cake, which is €378,148 per kilo. If you’re interested, you will have to add the shipping costs to that amount, and don’t delay, as the auction ends on 16th December.
The good news is that a tea of this quality can be brewed several times.
I’m back from Nepal, happy and surprised, after a trip with my friends from Karuna-Shechen, the non-profit association founded by Matthieu Ricard. I asked them to accompany me deep into the country’s easternmost valley to see for themselves the living conditions of the pickers in this region. My aim was to convince them of the benefits of Palais des Thés and Karuna working together to improve the villagers’ living conditions. But after we’d spoken with a number of people in their local language, Karuna’s enthusiastic response left me stunned. Their answer was this: in the 10 years since these villagers have been growing tea, their living conditions have improved to such an extent that we don’t need to be focusing our efforts on supporting them. Instead, it’s important for us to understand how worthwhile tea growing has been for these people, and how producing quality tea that costs 20 or 30 times more than mediocre tea has empowered an entire community to be able to take charge of its own future.
It now remains to be seen how we can help the people we visited so we don’t disappoint them, and above all to understand how this model of responsible tea growing could be easily duplicated.
Tea is steeped in tradition, for sure, but innovation is not forbidden. In Tanzania, Bente, who had the audacity to plant tea trees on a coffee plantation, cultivates a taste for creativity. Sometimes she hollows out papayas and fills them with tea so that the camellia leaves take on their aroma when they come into contact with the fruit. At other times, she blows hot air onto sliced bananas, infusing the tea with a new fragrance. And she does everything in the most artisanal way possible. Bravo Bente!
No two tea fields are the same, and growing practices vary from one planter to another. As far as pruning is concerned, some thin the tea bushes once a year and level out the branches to form what is known as the plucking table. Others, like our friend Bente in Tanzania, pictured here, use a different pruning method to allow more light to reach the bushes, even the lower branches.
It’s good to learn, but it’s even better if you can pass on your knowledge. I’ve been travelling around the world’s tea gardens for more than 30 years, and during that time I’ve gained enough knowledge that I can share it in my turn. I continue to learn something every day, every time I travel, and I now consider it my primary role to pass on what I’ve learnt. That’s why I ask my colleagues to accompany me on trips, and I plan to do this more. I want them to meet the farmers too, to experience their passion for tea first-hand, to form good relationships with the people who make tea on their mountaintops and who always welcome us with open arms. Here, I’m on the slopes of Kilimanjaro with Chloé and Nathalie and a team of pickers
The only plantation in Tanzania that produces teas that can be considered premium is situated an hour’s drive from the town of Moshi. Actually, it’s more of a garden than a plantation. It really is very small, as you can see from the photo. It makes different batches of tea using truly artisanal methods. The factory is run by a woman called Bente. From her house you can enjoy a magnificent view of Kilimanjaro in the early morning or late afternoon.
Palais des Thés makes a number of commitments to its customers including having a good knowledge of each growing region, knowing where and how tea is made, by whom and in what conditions. If one wants to give the best advice, to introduce people to tea in the best possible way, it is essential to understand how to choose tea, how to taste it and how to convey one’s sensory impressions. What motivates my colleagues is to be able to share their passion and help others appreciate tea. They are experts, enthusiasts and guides. They are tea sommeliers through and through.