Vietnam – a country where anything can grow: from bananas and pineapples to peanuts, and of course tea. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Vietnam ranks 5th in world tea production (Vietnam’s tea production is more than double of Japan). However, even if about 60% is exported abroad, Vietnam’s tea seems to be fairly unknown.
Vietnam is able to produce all kinds of tea from green and black to oolong, white and puerh, with green tea being the most common kind. Local to Vietnam is also jasmine tea and lotus tea, that is made by mixing green tea leaves with dried lotus flower. Another unique kind is red tea made from tea trees of over 1000 years old.
Most of the tea is made in northern Vietnam with Thai Nguyen (about two hours north of Hanoi) as the leading region. Tea here is still handpicked and often hand processed. The grade varies by which leaves are picked: just the bud – for the top quality, a bud and one leaf – for higher grade, a bud with more leaves – for lower grade tea.
In Vietnam tea can be harvested all year round with about 35-40 days in between the harvests. Tea workers spend most of the sun-light time of the day on the farm collecting the leaves and each can pick about 3kg of tea per day. Compared to Japan where tea industry is mostly mechanized and 500kg of tea leaves can be harvested per day, Vietnam seems to be on a much slower pace with about 30kg-60kg of tea per day depending on the number of workers.
In making Vietnamese green tea, tea leaves are first heated in a rotating drum for about 5-6min. to stop the occupation. Then they go directly into a heavy rolling machine, where they are pressed down and broozed in a rotating motion for about 30min. After that the leaves go through a few rounds of drying in a rotating drum until completely dry and ready for packaging.
While most of Vietnam’s tea would be sold in bulk with no name attached, younger generation in Vietnam is growing eager to promote Vietnam’s tea brand and bring Vietnamese tea to the world. One such example is Tra Bavan tea room in Hanoi, run by Hien Xuan. Hien started his career as a civil engineer and now he travels to remote mountains of Vietnam to find the best tea to share it in Vietnam and around the world.
As Vietnam keeps growing and developing, it will be exciting to follow the developments of its tea. And maybe one day finding Vietnamese tea in your local tea shop will no longer be a surprise.