I came to tea by accident at the age of 24, nearly 30 years ago. I didn’t want to go to university, instead I dreamt of becoming a journalist. With a group of friends, and friends of friends, we set up Palais des Thés. We opened a small shop selling tea in a back street in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Then we opened a second one, in the 14th. Before then I didn’t know anything about tea. My interest in it gradually grew. The interest became a passion as I travelled and met producers, farmers and the people who process the leaves. I fell in love with this product and the people who make it. They have so much to give. They gave me everything – in other words, knowledge. What is fascinating is the amount of work, the slowness, the time it takes to make one kilo of tea.
I still spend more than half the year travelling through tea-producing countries like Nepal, India, China and Japan in search of the best harvests. The strict selection process continues in Paris, in our tasting room where thousands of samples arrive every year. At the high point of production, in the spring, I might taste more than 200 every day, in order to choose the best teas and the freshest leaves, those that stand out for their aromatic richness and perfectly balanced flavours.
In the space of 30 years I’ve learnt so much about tea, and the world of tea is as rich and varied as that of wine. Today, I know that you cannot learn everything in a lifetime. I know I still have so much to learn.
I’ve been writing this blog, Discovering Tea, since 2010, and every week I talk about my experiences and my travels. I also talk about the people I meet, the faces, the smiles. For me, it is just as important to share these moments and emotions with you.
In 2008, Mathias Minet and I published “The Tea Drinker’s Handbook” (Abbeville Press Inc.) following on from the original French volume the previous year (also translated into Korean). It describes the producers, gardens and plantations encountered over 20 years of travels. In the book we also reveal our tasting secrets and the best way to prepare and consume different teas.
In 2018, we published the English version of our follow-up guide, “Tea Sommelier” (Abbeville Press Inc.). This book (also available in French, Russian and Korean) consists of 160 illustrated lessons covering every aspect of tea, from how it is grown to how it has become a popular ingredient in cooking in recent years, as well as the various tasting methods used by tea sommeliers.