Posted in Kafevend Blog
Tea through time in Vietnam
Carrying on from our delve into Australian tea
from a couple of weeks ago, today on the Kafevend blog we are scooting north west to Vietnam in order to have a look at the country's relationship with tea. First up- what history does Vietnam have with tea?
Ancient tea trees
Vietnam has a fairly long association with tea, with a tea culture stretching back hundreds of years to the early to mid second millenium. Huge, ancient tea trees in the north of the country give tantalising hints of this past, as their regular arrangement shows that they were planted by human hands. Some of them are still harvested to this day, requiring the pickers to climb up the trees to reach the tea leaves!
In a similar fashion to a great many countries across the globe, it was the arrival of a domineering European power that saw tea turn from a small scale but culturally rich aspect of Vietnamese life into a coldly efficient cash crop. The nation that showed up on Vietnam's doorstep was the French, who established many colonies around that region. These colonies joined together to form French Indochina in 1887, bringing together places such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia under a united French rule.
The French quickly began working with tea in Vietnam, establishing three research institutes, a nursery containing dozens of cultivars as well as a few plantations. The industry grew steadily over the decades, until WW2 signalled the end of French Indochina as a whole. With the Fall of France, Japanese occupation and later the defeat of French forces at the pivotal battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French were finally ousted from the region.
It took some time for the tea industry to recover, but help was received from many neighbours. In the 1950s, Russian technology and machinery were used to create new, modern factories for producing tea. In the 1980s, Vietnam turned to Japan who helped them to establish the groundwork for producing the hugely popular sencha style of green tea which was grown in Japan. As if this wasn't enough, Vietnam also went to India for help with black tea, and finally Taiwan to learn about oolong. As you might expect, Vietnam now produces a little bit of everything!
The majority- 60%- of the tea produced in Vietnam is black tea, some of which is further processed using the crush, tear, curl method. The next biggest sector is green tea weighing in at 35%, with various speciality teas making up the final 5%, such as jasmine and oolong tea. A decent chunk of the green tea is consumed by the Vietnamese themselves, as green tea ranks as their favourite making up a little over 60% of the volume sold.
Vietnamese tea has been somewhat obscure over the past decades, but initiatives have been put in place to raise its profile. One of these is a badge which can be applied their teas, certifying it as being grown in Vietnam- if you're looking to try some tea from the country, be on the lookout for it!
References:The tea detectiveWikipedia- French Indochina