Posted in Kafevend Blog
Vietnam comes second only to Brazil when it comes to coffee production. It was after the Vietnam War that the government there decided coffee would make an ideal cash crop for the purposes of rebuilding their war torn nation's economy. At first the communist government promoted large collective farms, but since economic reforms allowing free enterprise in 1986 the coffee industry has boomed. You might think that a country so committed to growing and exporting coffee would have no time for tea, but you'd be wrong! The country also ranks seventh as far as global tea production is concerned.
Industrial scale tea production began in Vietnam during the 1880s when Vietnam was taken over by French colonists and became part of France's wider Indochina region. The colonialists saw the potential for production and export of both coffee and tea, but while coffee had to be introduced first, tea already had a long cultural history there, having been an intrinsic part of everyday life for countless centuries past. Given its proximity to China perhaps that's not too surprising. The plant is indigenous to the forests in northern Vietnam and it was from either local forests or plants grown in their own gardens, that rural communities would harvest leaves as they required them to make fresh tea. This long personal association with the plant, handed down from generation to generation, is still apparent today, despite the fact that the bulk of production is given over to black tea processed via the crush, tear, curl method. So let's take a look at some of the speciality teas that have a longer and more illustrious past.
First up is lotus tea, a type of green tea which can be made either the old way by wrapping the tea leaves in a lotus flower, tying the petals together and leaving the tea to absorb the scent for a day, or via the more recent, less time consuming practice of picking and taking apart lotus flowers and then placing the tea leaves and flower parts together in a jar until the tea leaves become infused with the aroma. Jasmine tea is produced in much the same way with jasmine blossoms being used to scent green tea instead.
Another very special tea is Shan Tuyet, which comes from ancient trees growing in the mountainous regions of the northern uplands. The trees grow in amongst other types of trees on the steep mountain slopes, in a cool and rainy climate – ideal tea growing conditions and no hint of the monoculture which plagues modern industrial scale farming. However, due to the remote nature of the trees and the labour intensive methods of harvesting and processing them, Shan Tuyet tea is not that easy to come by, but if we've piqued your interest it's worth knowing that it's often badged as Snow Tea or Vietnamese Wild Snow Tea; the tea leaves are covered in tiny white hairs, hence snow.
While the bulk of Vietnamese tea produced for export goes to other locations in Asia- Pakistan and Taiwan being the most prominent importers- manufacturers are looking west too, as the market for speciality teas continues to grow. Take a look on the websites of UK tea specialists to discover some great Vietnamese tea opportunities!