When we first got a strong Vietnamese coffee with green tea we thought it was a mistake. At first, we thought that we were misunderstood and that was why the old lady brought both energizing beverages to the table. By the end, we couldn’t decide what we liked more, the sweet thick Vietnamese coffee or the fragrant jasmine green tea. In truth, it didn’t matter, and we were happy to get the same service on many occasions even with improved vocabulary. Precisely that motivated us to look deeper into Vietnamese tea-drinking habits. Now we want to share the role of tea in Vietnamese culture with you, so you can see why is tea in Vietnam important thing.
Tea in Vietnam
Tea had a special place in the hearts of Vietnamese people long before the notorious afternoon tea came around. Actually, tea has been grown in Vietnam for well over 2000 years, which makes Vietnamese one of the earliest tea cultivators in the world. There is even a legend describing people enjoying tea about 4000 years ago. We can assume it was used as a welcome drink for guests just like it still is. Although today people drink it everywhere, no matter the time. On hot days it is usually enjoyed with ice, but when it is cold everyone likes it hot. Tea is a must-have for all kinds of gatherings and is an indispensable companion for farmers working in the fields. In addition to that, tea is placed on an altar as an offering to the Gods and ancestors.
Tea Time Has a Meaning
Serving freshly brewed tea expresses a warm welcome to guests and is an honest show of respect. People calm down by taking time to enjoy the aroma and flavor of the tea before speaking. So swimmingly as the tea is poured it brings people together and builds a strong community. Back in the day, village folk took turns in hosting evening tea. That time was used to discuss important matters and life’s simple pleasures. In contrast to loud gatherings, tea is also known as an opportunity to rest the mind and focus inward. The beneficial properties of tea are proven by science but Vietnamese people knew that very well even before modern techniques were put into action. For a long time, tea has been seen as a medicine for healing many health issues. Basically, tea is a source of medicinal, and spiritual purity and holds philosophical values.
Art of Tea Drinking
Some say that no special rules apply to the Vietnamese way of tea drinking. Could this be because of the simplicity? Simple doesn’t mean easy, let us be clear on that. After all, the whole process includes a few steps that cover all the basics for a perfect tea time.
There is a foundation for everything. The vessel that bears tea is water, soft water to be exact. Naturally, pure spring water is best. Although, Vietnamese royals didn’t accept anything less than morning dew, collected directly from beloved lotus plants. It is hard to imagine their reaction if morning tea would be made from modern tap water. One wouldn’t be amused, for sure. For solid extraction of tea leaves the temperature of the water also matters, but it depends on the type of tea. Most important is not to burn tea with the use of boiling water. The best temperature for green tea is above 70°C, while oolong and black tea need a bit higher temperature, around 85°C.
The use of leaves is left to the individual’s personal preferences. Today people mostly use dried green tea leaves, but the oldest way to brew tea is by steeping crushed fresh tea leaves in hot water. However, aromatic tea is favorite of Vietnamese people and each tea variety is combined with a specific flower. The most popular flowers for tea infusions are jasmine, chrysanthemum, and lotus. By the virtue of the unique characteristics possessed by the lotus plant, lotus tea became the symbol of Vietnamese tea. Not surprisingly the lotus-infused tea is most precious to this day. However, back in the day, it used to be reserved for royalty, made from collected drops of morning dew, of course.
We must mention the celebrated lotus tea, which comes in many different types. The one on top of the tea lover’s bucket list is a very special kind of lotus tea. So-called “Tea for the King” is a specialty made by filling lotus blossom with loose dry tea. High-quality tea leaves are left to infuse the floral essence of newly opened flowers. The best lotus for this task is a variety known as hundred-petal lotus, for obvious reasons. Length of infusion defines types of lotus teas, like quickly-scented or well-scented lotus tea. As with everything else, the modern age brought shortcuts to the tea world as well. Because of that one can easily get the lotus flavored tea yearlong, without much effort.
One must think of many things when making tea. Ask anyone how hot should water be for the best tea and you can find yourself in a day-long conversation. While water temperature is important it isn’t the only element to consider. The preserving aroma and process of washing tea with a flush of hot water also matter. Not to mention that recommended heat source is wood for its scent and vigor. Le let’s not get into the details of complicated tea-poring ways where hands position, cups, and people all matter.
Then, of course, a host must present tea in a teapot with small cups. All utensils should be heated with boiling water when tea is ready for pouring. The preferred tea set is a traditional ceramic pot called Bat Trang. This kind of teapot improves tea quality by keeping tea hot for longer. On account of the special clay that teapot is made out of, it also holds more flavor. The least desired teapot is made from iron because it is said to degrade the taste of Vietnamese tea.
Where to enjoy tea? Anywhere. The natural scenery comes with the bonus of unlocking extra flavors with fresh air. Second-best is a lovely spacious space with good airflow. Although, early birds like to enjoy tea in a peaceful spot close to their hearts at sunrise. That is when yin and yang harmonize, or in other words at dawn darkness gives way to light.
Sound is for those, whose ears are open and the mind present. Basically, it is about the sound one hears during tea time. That is why tea time can also be a form of meditation.
Vietnamese Tea Plantations
Given that Vietnam is the world’s fifth largest tea exporter, it is fair to expect large tea plantations in Vietnamese highlands. The largest tea-growing regions are; the mountainous Thai Nguyen province in Northeastern Vietnam, the majestic mountains of Northwestern Tay Bac, the mainland hills of Phu Tho province, and the Lam Dong province also known as the Vietnamese tea capital. Most tea plantations are made of tea shrubs that are harvested many times throughout the year. With that being said, there is a special tea plant to be found in northern Vietnam some 1400m above sea level.
Ancient Tea Forest
Yen Bai province in northern Vietnam is home to a wild tea forest where trees are up to 8 meters (26 feet) high. This treasured canopy of tea trees has individuals known to be over 400 hundred years old. It is hard to believe that one can come upon an old timer counting thousand years, but it is true! These ancestral tea trees thrive in a cool climate with plenty of rainfall high above the sea. The best thing is that these small trees don’t need any special care. All people have to do is pick young leaves when the season comes. As you can imagine trees have larger roots through which they can absorb many nutrients. Because of that, we can say, the older the tree the more precious it is. When it comes to making tea from the old tea trees every step, from harvest to drying, is done manually.
Tea in Vietnam is as important as in almost any other old culture. Hence, in England, there comes the whole ritual with it and its famous is spread worldwide. I am talking about afternoon tea or high tea. High tea comes with delightful snacks which makes this tea enjoyment even better. It is a snack and drinking combined. What can make it easier to wait for your dinner than this? We do reviews of only the best high teas that are offered in the place where we stayed. In Vietnam we reviewed:
Vietnamese tea history is entangled with the country’s invaders and colonizers. For example, the Chinese contributed to the booming tea culture, while the French launched large tea production for export. Of course, the past presented many challenges and it is a safe bet that challenges will show up in the future as well. Luckily, tea has many friends to help around and safeguard it. As long as help comes with pure intentions and not for the sake of exploitation. Surely, Vietnamese tea growers have a long way to put regenerative practice into action and reduce the heavy use of chemical concoctions. There is no better time than now to start working with nature and not against it.