The terrible weather in India and the Himalayan regions has caused many casualties and considerable damage, and has had severe consequences in several tea regions including the Darjeeling district and the eastern valleys of Nepal. Southern India was not spared. The devastation was caused by violent rains that led to landslides and tore up roads and bridges, on top of human activities ranging from deforestation to the construction of dams and unchecked urban expansion.
We should pay more attention to our planet and think of future generations with greater compassion at all times and in everything we do.
For those so inclined, I suggest taking some time today to make yourself a delicious cup of tea from Darjeeling or Nepal, to drink it while contemplating a beautiful landscape, for example, and to think of our friends.
When people ask me which trips have left the greatest impression on me, I naturally think of the breathtaking landscapes, the Himalayan foothills, the active volcanoes rising up behind the tea fields. I remember the beautiful Japanese tea gardens, the multi-hued trees of Sri Lanka standing in a sea of Camellia sinensis. I recall the long train journeys through all kinds of jungle, and all the times I’ve sat down on a mountain road just to contemplate the beauty of the world. But the experiences that have marked me the most are the human encounters. They are in essence all unique and so many memories come to mind. Among them, the tea pickers of the Golden Triangle from one or other of the region’s ethnic groups (shown here, two Dao women), who we would come across at random in a tea garden hidden deep in a remote forest, after hours of walking.
I’m often asked if there are teas, regions or plantations yet to be discovered. But a tea sourcer is not the same as an explorer. You don’t suddenly stumble upon tea factories in the middle of the jungle that no one knew existed, or a part of the world where no one had any idea that delicious teas could be made. We know where tea grows. There are some tea-producing countries and regions that are unknown to the general public, but not necessarily to a tea sourcer. Tea is grown in New Zealand, Cameroon and Chile, for example. It also grows in Hawaii, the Azores, and even in France, in Brittany and the Pyrenees. The real work of the tea sourcer is not so much about discovering unknown places; rather, it involves keeping track of plantations that are still in the learning phase, preferably plantations that show strong potential (which means an ideal soil and climate), and supporting them, so that one day we can bring you delicious teas from these new regions.
The job of a tea sourcer requires patience. Tea grows at its own speed; you can’t rush it. Manual harvesting requires precision, as does each stage in the processing of the tea. And lastly there is transport, which essentially takes place by boat, truck and sometimes horseback for the first stage in the tea leaves’ journey.
We must also take into account random events – an accident, a strike, political tension and, of course, Covid.
A year and a half ago we bought a delicious green tea and an equally delicious oxidised raw tea from small producers in Shan state in northern Myanmar. No-one knows where they are. They might be on one of those flimsy boats you see on the country’s waterways, unless they haven’t left the farm yet. That’s life.
In Georgia, the soviets left behind residential buildings that look as if they were built in the middle of nowhere. In the days when tea was an intensive industry, these buildings had a purpose. But today, with the rural exodus and many plantations disappearing under weeds, the same buildings evoke a bygone past.
In Georgia, tea grows mainly in the provinces of Guria and Imereti, where the prevailing westerly wind blows in moisture-laden clouds from the Black Sea all year round. These are mountainous, jungle-covered regions. The tea bushes weren’t tended for nearly 30 years, so between harvests, ferns and brambles must be uprooted in order to find them. This is a mammoth task for the small producers and their teams who, in the space of a fortnight, see their Camellia sinensis disappearing under the dense vegetation.
During the Soviet era, Georgia produced a lot of tea for the whole of the USSR. But when it gained independence and the troops withdrew, there was nothing left of the production facilities but deserted buildings.
In the space of a few years, its annual tea production of 152,000 tonnes fell to just 1,800 tonnes. But since 2016, tea cultivation has been revived by the Georgian government, which is encouraging small producers to start new farms, produce quality tea and hire employees, with the aim of helping to stem the rural exodus.
One silver lining of Covid-19 is that it has brought some tranquillity to beautiful places that are often overrun by hordes of tourists. In Myanmar, Inle Lake is one of those wonderful destinations that it is important to protect. There’s no doubt that, for the planet, the pandemic has brought some peace.
I hope you all have a good summer and I look forward to seeing you back here on 10 September.
I long for life to return, in all its glory, in every aspect.
I long for our senses to be restored and for us to rediscover, when we walk, the sense of smell.
I long for the taste of things to come back to us; the taste of tea, of course, the tea offered to us when we are greeted at the end of our journey.
It takes a lot of attention to detail to produce fine tea, harvested from this beautiful emerald expanse. Only the bud and the first two youngest leaves at the tip of the shoot must be picked. The subsequent stages in production also play an important role in quality. Let’s roll out the green carpet for everyone who helps to create such delicious teas.