Where are your teas from ? How are the selections made? What are the specificities of your job, of your brand?
These legitimate questions are very frequently asked during meetings, whether in store, or on forums, blogs and other media. Many things are told rightly or wrongly, and that’s why, for our first 'transparency' post, we wanted to discuss with you the issue of our teas’ origins.
From the garden to the cup:
Unlike most of existing practices and methods on the market by tea trademarks, THEODOR, through the infrastructures established by 'la Société Française des Thés et de l'Orient 1842', located in Bonnières Sur Seine (40km from Paris) (Note : better known as S.F.T.O 1842) is a PRODUCER - MERCHANT trademark.
Indeed, since day one, THEODOR displayed the ambition, and put as a prerequisite to its existence, to keep the full control of its product flow from the plantation to the cup of our consumers and customers, more than the simple ‘mission’ to affix its name, to only put a label on a wholesaler or an outsourcing product.
Producer here, clearly doesn’t mean owning plantations or tea gardens, as it is almost impossible for any Western operator. Often, state or conditioned ownership to a local citizen membership, agricultural tea lands, plantation hectares, remain small farmers business, thanks to the know-how acquired over generations, experts of one or many tea varieties or production related to the geographical position where they are located.
Moreover, we would have no interest in it, this would be like forcing us to purchase production or to compel the production of our plantations as an economic criterion rather than by the objectivity of the harvest quality.
No, our job of ‘producer’ starts with the selection and control of the entire jouney the tea, whether in its importation and exportation flows, its analysis, its storage, up to its manufacturing (blending, flavoring ...), packaging and of course distribution.
That is how since 2004, THEODOR has constantly invested and adapted its 'industrial' infrastructures to allow this mastered cycle of the origin of its products, their quality and the offer’s scope it aims to provide.
Then how do our teas arrive? Where do our teas come from?
Unlike the customs and traditions that are found throughout trading, which is to be supplied by ‘tonnages’ on a fixed date set in the year and defined based on statistics and sales data, from wholesalers and allowing a permanent availability of products, THEODOR has chosen a specific methodology, favoring 'the shortest flow possible’.
Our purchases and new consignments, are permanent and regular, taking into account the availability of crops, offered quality, seasonality, directly from a bunch of small farmers throughout the year, depending on the origins and listed throughout the years.
Away from all supplies resulting from cooperatives, where the harvested teas from several 'gardens' are assembled together, as it is unfortunately the case more and more frequently, this offering a guaranteed outlet for smallest and biggest productions, our teas will be selected through each plantation, based on a set of very precise specifications and a lot of checking.
Our consignments* can fit on a few pallets from the same 'garden' (note: what is shown by the picture of this article) to a full Container, which consists in conducting a ‘grouping’ of multiple selections from several plantations, gathered in a port of shipment of the same origin, to facilitate the import of the precious leaves and finally reach the customs clearance warehouses.
*An average of 1-2 Containers / month and 1 to 3 arrivals / by plane
The plane will be almost systematically preferred for green teas, for which a consumption timing as close as possible to the dates of harvests will bring a much greater quality on the palate, the preservation of its organoleptic qualities and the guarantee of the conservation of its specific flavors, for an informed consumer.
Obviously, this choice of 'the shortest flow possible’ has consequences. It involves two elements that are completely incompatible with the rules’ and trade’s fundamentals;
- First, the bias of risking to lose some consumers or their loyalty, to accept that a particular tea is regularly out of stock,
- And besides, the one that does not enable to offer a gustatory and permanent regularity of the offered teas, but a variability in the offer and in the specific qualities of a tea, depending on the season, on the harvest and the origin.
So why exposing yourself to such consequences, towards your consumers?
First of all, for the sake of consistency between talk and actions!
First, we cannot demand at the same time:
- Not to produce in intensive farming, to respect the fallow lands, not to use fertilizers, to ensure the best periods to harvest, to preserve their expertise beyond the simple methods of gathering, while asking our plantations to supply all year long.
Then, because even if it is at the expense of volume and that THEODOR deliberately chose the position of being a 'generalist' and not a specialist of one origin, we believe that we can be a generalist - expert of each origin, trying to offer the best in its selection and the common feature of each tea is the one of advanced expertise, in an accessible offer which is as consistent as possible with its agriculture.
Of course this will go against the flow to be able to find your 'Ceylan' all the time, but it enables to offer a larger variety, often synonym of discoveries, happiness and respectful of the inherent message linked to tea, the one of the richness of its varieties.
But how can we make sure that your tea is not the same as the one of a colleague?
Several possibilities exist for everyone to draw some conclusions through the wealth of information which are available.
- First, to compare the proposed selections between 2 houses.
It is often by looking more closely at the offer that you can easily identify, if you are a little informed about the subject, if this tea is comparable to another.
At THEODOR, our selection expertise allows us to offer for sale an unparalleled, incomparable, while being restricted tea. Whether it is in terms of teas, more scarce and difficult to import than others (such as a Y.Z. White Snow spiral or even a W.G. Silver Dragon / or our 'Baisen-Cha' Japan, etc, etc... )
Or regarding the proposed origins, some are more confidential than others. (Korea, Thailand, through China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and soon Indonesia...)
This selection, both sharp and various, is an evidence of our expertise and the 'sourcing' very far upstream developed by our teams.
- Secondly, a real player must be well established and with facilities available to the public.
In that sense, THEODOR, has always invited its customers to be able to observe by themselves by visiting our workshops, away from any confidentiality or secret it would be required to retain (note: for instance like during the 'Journées du Patrimoine').
- Finally, we will add that the best way to evaluate a tea house and its tea origins, if you have this opportunity, is simply to prepare your favorite cup of tea and to blind taste it, it could be an Earl Grey or Wulong Milky which can be found in many tea houses. Taste and quality don't lie, although our tastes can be various and the personal perception of a tea isn't an indisputable criterion, all of us can be amateurs enough to distinguish shades and notes between two apparently similar teas, either in their names or in their origins.
So, you select all your teas on the spot, in the gardens? You must be traveling all the time... !
Not that we find little interest in the glamorous charming side of the image of the adventurer, who's feet in the fog, at 5:00 am, selects tea leaves, at the dewy dawn of the day... NO!
We would love to maintain this fantasy of the coffee expert ’El Gringo', the tea's 'Indiana Jones' but in many ways, it would be ridiculous.
First of all, selecting 'leaves' on crops, unlike some other ingredients, wouldn't be useful since we don't consume vivid leaves but a tea which has undergone a human process which will either sublimate it or impoverish it, but in any case, it will make the leaves 'consumable'.
Although these operations are done immediately after picking, this single criterion is not enough to define a tea's quality.
For this purpose, land (by that we mean, the quality of th earth but also the plantation's geography, where it is located, its altitude and its region, which could be called its 'terroir') has a lot of importance, it will give to tea its notes, its identity.
But on its own, it doesn't guarantee a good tea. Climate, its whims, its seasons, will play a key role in the harvest's future quality. (Because of the hydrometric rate contained in leaves, sun exposure time, cold ... which are all essential parameters for the proper healthy development of each plant). Then, comes the transformation action, when the man's know-how starts making sense, from its precision when picking until the drying and fermentation steps.
No, a tea taster, will judge all of these items on an after production sample. And we are lucky, that nowadays, kilometers were significantly reduced between two countries via express specialized carriers, to receive, depending on the period, sometimes every day, a large number of samples from around the world, of available teas, within 48 hours to 7 days after harvest. It is therefore on these samples that we will make our selections and analyzes. But we will surely talk about that in another post.
However many trips are organized there, but they are not always courtesy trips, but those of ongoing learning, of knowledge, knowledge of the land, the farmer, the know-how, plainly of the meeting, they are also rather trips to audit, to control and necessary moments to build trustworthy relationships between two partners.
A last word to conclude this post?
There would still be many questions to be answered, many things to say on this topic of origins, and we invite you to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org if we have left out a key point regarding your questions.
But it is 'without taboos' in any avoided question that we have tried to tell you a bit more about our business.