Anne Jeschke / Übersetzung: Dorothée LanghoffSimone Sohl

Palatinate Perfume

In the hub of German viniculture, the Palatinate, Jessica Schönfeld and Christian Weiß grow herbs in an organic-style agricultural way for the production of tea. It is a story of hard work that results in fine scent and amazing taste.

Peppermint perfumes the air. It wafts gently above the grass-green lacquered herb-cutting machine and lurks in an intense form behind the wooden door to the drying chamber. The chamber itself reveals a feast for the senses: scent and rustling of dried leaves, pale-green colour. Christian Weiß built the dryer, a large wooden device for recirculating air, himself, just like he grows and harvests himself the herbs on the field close to Ruppertsberg in the Palatinate.

A feast for the senses: dried peppermint leaves.

Together with his wife Jessica, Christian runs the enterprise named after their family name: “Schönfeld – die Tee-Gärtner” (the tea gardeners). They moved to the picturesque Palatinate village in 2015. He comes from close to Cologne and she from Leipzig. They met and fell in love in the Hessian town of Geisenheim, where Jessica studied International Wine Business and Christian Beverage Technology. He had worked as a freelance landscape gardener before. His family had owned a nursery for ornamental plants, “but to work at over 40 degrees Celsius in a greenhouse was not for me.” He was looking “for a chance to enter agriculture, in a niche” instead. Tea made him find it.

“Made with love in Germany” is their slogan: sowing, harvesting and packaging has been done (so far) just by Christian and Jessica.

Since then, Schönfeld herbs have grown on a good hectare of land in and around Ruppertsberg—a variety of more than 30 sorts, some of them rarely found in Germany, such as lemon verbena, lemon grass or liquorice. “Bloody Hell” is one of their teas, blended with chilli and labelled with a ‘warning’. Another one is called “Casanova” said to “taste of summer” with its lemon grass, thyme and oregano ingredients. “Made with love in Germany” is their slogan: sowing, harvesting and packaging has been done (so far) just by Christian and Jessica, who is also employed part-time in a wine-growing estate.

The herbs are dry enough for further processing after 9 to 18 hours of drying, depending on the sort, at a maximum temperature of 34 degrees Celsius in the chamber. Now, the peppermint has to be treated by breaking off the leaves from the stems and separating them. Christian converted a de-stemming machine for this process. It works like a de-stemming machine in winery that takes off the grapes from the vines. The herbs are then transported into a so-called Zick-Zack-Sichter device, which is a curious machine with thick hoses and a transparent plastic funnel. The peppermint leaves dance inside of it. The machine separates the leaves from the stems through recirculating air and sorts them according to size into the corresponding storage containers by means of two loudly shaking sieves lying on top of each other.

Christian Weiß improves exclusively old equipment or fiddles about new machines on his own, such as the lavish Zick-Zack-Sichter.

These machines stand between old walls—the couple bought a little farm that had been vacant for many years in the heart of the village to start their production. A lot remains to do here, but you don’t need a lot of imagination to get an idea of how beautiful this place once was and will soon again be. Particularly because Christian has shown himself to be a skilful workman as a tea gardener already: He improves exclusively old equipment or fiddles about new machines on his own, such as the lavish Zick-Zack-Sichter. And he really enjoys working on the field, do the harvesting in the early mornings, “when the aroma is most intense and the plants do not yet hang slackly by the influence of the sun.” Usually, he uses a little machine for harvest—and sometimes his hands, like in the magnificent field of cornflowers, which looks like a sea of blue, pink and dark purple blossom.

Oregano with “a lot of oomph”

Christian and Jessica buckle on their baskets and start to pick the heads—these parts of the flowers have a lot to offer after drying, not only in terms of taste but also visually between the green herbs. On a different field, also leased by the couple, thyme is in lilac blossom. Oregano grows next to it with “a lot of oomph” as Christian puts it. It has a remarkably spicy tang, indeed. When you do a guided tour of the tea gardeners’ estate, you may touch, smell and try: the various sage sorts, for example. Christian’s “favourite one” is Marzipansalbei (marzipan sage). “It is a bit of a diva, brings relatively little yields—however, the tea is stunning,” he goes into raptures. The plant doesn’t taste much of marzipan, “but there is a certain natural sweetness to it.”

When you do a guided tour of the tea gardeners’ estate, you may touch, smell and try.

On this night, like most nights, Christian wants to go out to the field again. Even if he has been “crawling on his knees along the field” very early in the morning already—to remove weeds. The couple works their fields almost entirely in ecological ways. “Rain is not for the benefit of our herbs only,” he says. Weeds have gown like a weed.

Jessica with son Thor Alexander.

Jessica has a hard time accepting that she can’t help much on the fields—now, at the peak of season: Thor Alexander, their son, is sleeping in the sling. “The two of us are movers and shakers. I can hardly keep my feet still,” Jessica says. She shares her partner’s passion for tea, “because it is so multi-facetted and there is a broad range of tastes. People associate something beautiful with tea, something cosy.” There is a blend for every situation in life. Even more so, when it grows right on one’s doorstep.


www.schoenfeld-tee.de