“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one” . . . . John Lennon
Today’s Tea & Peace Reflection
provided by Babette Donaldson
The Flavor of Peace
A cup of tea once sang to me. My friend owned a tea shop and recommended Bi Luo Chun. Tiny twisted green leaves rested in the bottom of the glass bowl; a Chinese-style gaiwan. She poured the water onto the leaves and I watched them dance in the warm water. I felt their rhythm and smelled their joy. And then the tea sang to me. The first verse was the soft voice of the young girl who had plucked the
Vietnamese tea and the Vietnamese
TEA IN VIETNAM·FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2015
Not being as particular as the complicated rites of the Japanese tea ceremony, nor as meticulous as the Chinese, the Vietnamese enjoy tea in a more normal way. It is simple, natural but still elegant and each cup of tea is an experience. Briefly, a cup of Vietnamese tea is a part of the culture.
What distinguishes pure Vietnamese tea from various Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Western European teas is the bitter taste on the tip of tongue at the first mouthful. At first such taste can easily let strangers down, especially the impatient ones. In other words, Vietnamese tea is somehow similar to local people. At the beginning they are reserved, timid, and even distant when communicating with strangers but later on these “initial reactions” are overcome by sincere emotions and a close relation is easily formed.
The Vietnamese often comfort each other with: After raining it will be bright; after difficulty there will be happiness. Drinking Vietnamese tea is the same. The bitterness exists in the first taste but it will be followed by a light sweet taste. It takes time to feel this later sweet taste and to understand that good Vietnamese tea must begin with the bitter taste. Seeing Vietnamese tea from the angle of culture, one will find that typical Vietnamese folk legends have happy endings. The wicked are always defeated and those who have to face challenges at first are fully compensated with happiness in the end. The same is true for Vietnamese tea. Thus, when drinking Vietnamese tea, people don’t care about the first bitter taste but concentrate on the after-taste which sums up the whole drinking experience. Good tea must have after-taste sweet.
When first hearing about tea-drinking one may find it a fastidious and selective pleasure compared with the dead drinking of “native tears” that all people experience at least once in their life. On the contrary, enjoying Vietnamese tea is a diverse experience, which expresses one more valuable feature of the Vietnamese. This comes from the rich men of old days who were addicted to sitting by a set of cups patterned with Apricot blossom. Crane patterns were formed by one cup-general and three soldier cups and written with two poetry lines that many stylist Vietnamese drinkers learned by heart: “Singing and enjoying a peaceful country – Apricot blossom is an old friend while the crane is an acquaintance”. Such a cup-set used to be made at Guan Yao kiln in Zing De Jhen, China at the order of Mr. Nguyen Du on his business trip to China. Tea in a precious cup set must derive from a good variety and must be made by complicated processes, from scented tea with the lotus flower for tea flavouring, catching early dew drops from lotus leaves for boiling water to many other ways of drinking tea. Each scholar or poet has their own style of enjoyment from scenting tea with jasmine, daisy or aglaia flowers to enjoy tea “alone”, “with someone else”, sharing all aspects of life with best friends, or even to drink tea “in groups” with people from many places. It is really the great pleasure of the Vietnamese at all times.
Vietnamese tea is familiar to people because it doesn’t follow any specific rules or ceremony. Vietnamese tea is also frugal, natural, popular and easy to enter people’s lives from rural areas to cities. A pinch of tea with boiled water is supplied by water shop keepers in many places in the North of Vietnam. Keeping a hot cup of tea in hand and sitting on an A-shaped chair, drinkers can access a wide range of interesting information (from weather, rumours in hamlets, villages to even economic or political news of the country and the world) which is delivered by talkative shop keepers who have luckily collected or overheard it from their customers.
Southern people usually drink iced tea, which draws attention to their easy-going qualities. Iced tea is found everywhere from luxurious restaurants to common shops. Iced tea, which means simply a cup with a little tea flavour and some ice, is always welcoming because, for Southern people, drinking tea is to quench thirst! Iced tea, being popular, natural and simple performs exactly that function. Iced tea keeps penetrating into the community of tropical people from all walks of life. People drink tea not to comment on the quality but, since iced tea has become a common noun, to quench their thirst.
Honestly, when enjoying a Vietnamese tea cup in any form and in any place, it is easy to learn the emotions of the Vietnamese. Just to drink a cup of Vietnamese tea feels like you are tapping into all the senses. It seems like you are opening your heart and soul to a world of culture.
Nguyen Dinh Thien Y
· Jing De Zhen – a place so-called “the capital of pottery” in Jiangxi province, China.
· Guan Yao was the porcelain kiln making products for kings and mandarins only.
A Journey through the history of Vietnamese tea: Part 1
August 27, 2013
Vietnam is known as one of the oldest tea tree regions in the world, with a vast area of ancient tea trees spreading from northeast to northwest. The development of tea in Vietnam is closely associated with rich history and a thousand year culture of the Vietnamese people. A journey to discover the “ancient tea tree areas” is not only a trip to conquer the steep and dangerous mountains to investigate the origin of hundreds of years of ancient tea trees, but also a trip to re-discover the culture, and the myth of the ancient tea trees associated with the identity of the mountainous minority peoples in the distant remote east – northwest areas.
Follow the trace of ancient tea trees
The way Vietnamese people drink tea might not be as famous as the Japanese tea ceremony Cha no Yu, and/or Chinese Lu Yu’s Tea Bible Cha Jing, but the presence of ancient tea trees on Hoàng Liên Sơn and Tây Côn Lĩnh mountain ranges is proof to say that Vietnam is an ancestor of the tea industry in the map of the world.
It is easy to think of well-known tea production areas that make up the name of Viet Tea such as Mộc Châu, Thái Nguyên, Lâm Đồng, Phú Thọ to name just a few. But there is little information and very few people who know about the existence of ancient tea regions, where hundreds of hundred year old tea trees exist. Some of these ancient trees measure tens of meters in height and have a span of two to three men. These ancient tea tree areas are grown only on the axis of northeast to northwest from Hà Giang province to Lào Cai,Yên Bái, Sơn La and Điên Biên.
From the legendary
Our journey starts from a myth. In the mist and snowy areas in the highland of Hà Giang province, there were areas where hundred year old tea trees grew on the cliff and people would risk their lives for fresh tea buds covered with white snow, (not natural snow from the sky, but a kind of white fuzz surrounding the tea buds, only available on high mountains’ Shan tea variety). So to avoid injury or death, the people of Ha Giang trained monkeys to pick these very special tea buds.
The ethnic minorities such as Dao and H’Mong people living in the ancient tea tree areas, have their own legends. The H’Mong in Suối Giàng area have the notion that tea is a panacea. They call tea tree Sua Zie: Sua is a medicinal plant and Zie is tea. According to the legend, a couple, on the way to find new land, was taking abreak at Suối Giàng, and were boiling water under a tree canopy. A leaf fell from the tree into the boiling water. After drinking the water they felt cheery and their fatigue melted away. The couple loved the tea so much that they built their house there, describing the trees as medicinal plants and grew them in a wider area. These areas have developed into today’s ancient tea tree areas.
As a low lander, I am familiar with images of vast tea hills with low tea tree bushes, and cannot imagine that Vietnam has ancient tea trees with large, tall trunks that are thirty, forty meters high. When harvesting, pickers have to use a ladder, chopping off the tea branches to collect the tea buds and young leaves. Information on these ancient tea tree areas is very rare but is very interesting, mysterious and exciting for us to witness an ancient tea area which previously existed only in legends.
By Lam Phong
Old tea forests in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range
September 5, 2013
During the journey to find the old tea trees, we learnt that there is a tea forest that appeared for hundreds years on the roof of Dong Duong House in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range. The trunks of these teas are more than 30m high, lying in the remote forest in the height of more than 2.200m, around a mountain gorge where very few people come to.
We are surprised at the information about the old teas on the top of Hoang Lien Son mountain range, because Phanxipang is not really strange for the persons who love to discover and conquer the high mountainous area. Every day, many groups coming from everywhere in the world walk in this mountain range, but not all of them know that they were walking through an old tea forests. In case there is such an old tea forest, with the tea trunks of more than 30m high, they must be the highest old teas in the world. The information about the old tea is little but very interesting; this encourages us to find out the old teas on the impressive Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
From unexpected situation
Traveling through many tea areas,even the old tea areas in Van Nam of China, meeting with many tea producers in Vietnam, no one of them think that in Vietnam forests, there are great old teas like the teas described in Hoang Lien Son range.
Information about an old tea forest area in Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range has been known in recent years when a Japanese visitor had a journey to conquer mountain top of Phanxipang. At the height of 2.200m,the guide introduced the visitor a kind of leaf that he used for many years in order to treat the incurable disease, and the visitor found that the green leaves are tea buds, this means he was in the old tea forest under the roof of Dong Duong house. Feeling too happy and cheery, the Japanese visitor decided to build camp and lived in the old tea forest during a week in order to enjoy the wonderful feeling when drinking tea made from natural tea buds in the primeval old tea forest in the highland area, he couldn’t find this valuable medicinal plant in his country.
After such discoveries, the old tea area in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range is still a mysterious and strange area, because among the immense old forests and the mountains stretchendlessly, finding out the old teas is really difficult. Moreover the old tea area is within the Hoang Lien National Forest – a forest is preserved and protected carefully so the forest management board is the one who know well about the trace of the old tea forest.
Finding old teas
After finishing some administrative procedures and spent two days waiting for the written permit, finally we are permitted to travel through the Hoang Lien National Forest in order to find the old tea area. Departing from Tram Ton, we travel along the trail that visitors usually use for their journey to the mountain top of Phanxipang, and we would stop at the height of 2.200m in the comparison with the sea level where we think that there is an old tea forest.
The path on the abrupt mountain slope and the beautiful forest was standing back, we spent two hours traveling in the forest, the trace of old teas is still something strange according to the story told by the guide. We met Nam by chance on our travel, he is an experienced guide of Phanxipang climbers with continuous journeys, he was very surprised when he knew that we were finding old teas as even him – a senior guide does not think that there is an old tea area on the mountain top of Phanxipang.
We continue to travel through the forest and reached to the height of 2.200m, we felt very tired, our legs were tremble, and we had a rest at the stop station. The guide told us that we had to walk along the path in more than one hour to a T-junction, the right turning would lead to Phanxipang top and the left turning would lead to a deep valley where the old tea area located. We moved to the old tea area with the warning by the guide that “you keep careful as the climate in the old tea area is verywet and there are many kinds of dangerous snakes. The previous journey when we had a survey of old teas, we met ten snakes along the path.”
From the turning to the old tea area,the path is not as clear as the path leading to the top of Phanxipang, we tried to slowly step after the guide and we had to face with many dangers when walking on the abrupt mountain slope, the cliff full of wet moss. After walking down to the mountain gorge, the forest become more bushy and gloomy; we felt really cheery when the guide said we reached to the old tea area. The first old tree we saw has the diameter large enough for two persons to embrace with the immeasurable height. It is very difficult to be aware of the old teas becauseall trees in the forest have the same dark blue, looking around, every foot of trees is covered with a lot of green moss, under the shade of old trees is the dense fern forest. Despite of having seen many old teas, we have never seen such a large and high old tea. Old teas stand close to each other and when looking at the old teas we found that every foot of the teas is covered with white moss, this is the tea’s feature that is different from the other forest trees.The guide says: “Old teas grow on the height of 2.200 m to the height of 2.800m around the Phanxipang top, the teas in the higher location are shorter and smaller than the teas in the lower location, teas in the height of 2.800 m are not as immeasurably high as the ones located at the height of 2.200 m”
The old teas grow among the other old trees in the primeval forest. The teas grow naturally; their trunks and branches are straight. We found no trace showing that people gather tea buds from the old teas in this area like they have done with the old teas in the Northeastern and the Northwest. No research or statistics is made for the old tea area. The rare and valuable tea is still a precious thing of Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range.
Leaving the old tea forest, we gathered some tea leaves and take to teas to the stop station at the height of 2.200 mand boiled. Strangely, tea drink was light green but its taste was very tasty and strong, we could feel its delicious taste at our esophagus. Catherine – avisitor coming from Hong Kong also talked with us in the stop station on that day. She had a cup of tea after hearing our story about the old teas and said: “Vietnam green tea tastes acrid and strongand it is difficult to drink and this tea is not acrid but very tasty. When just coming down from Phanxipang mountain top, we drank a cup of tea felt very cheery and comfortable. If nobody told me, I did not know that there was such a special kind of tea in this mountainous area.”
Although we made no specific research and survey of the old tea areas, tea breed as well as the longevity of the old teas; the careful preservation of the old tea forest in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range also affirmed that this was a valuable tea. In case we do not exploit the tea products, the old tea area is an interesting visiting place inthe journey to conquer the Phanxipang Mountain Top.
Part 3 Ancient tea trees of Tủa Chùa
September 12, 2013
We did try to learn more about the location of ancient tea tree area in Tủa Chùa but had no luck. Until we arrived to Điện Biên city, surprisingly we saw a picture of a Tủa Chùa tea tree on an advertisement board for a tea company: A tea tree more than we could ever imagine; very tall, with a span of two to three men, with strong branches and many buds . This ancient tea tree grows in the mountainous area of TủaChùa district, next to Lai Châu and Sơn La provinces.
The way up to Tủa Chùa
We spoke with Phan Trọng Nhất – a 34 years old man who has 15 years experiencein tea production – we were attracted by his stories of trees and cultures of ethnic minority groups living in this area. We were pleased because we had met the right person but were disappointed when we asked to visit the area Nhất said “No way, you have no means of transport to visit there. No one will drive you because the road is very dangerous and the local people may not be happy to see you with cameras.”
However,when we explained our purpose for traveling to these remote areas, Nhất changed his mind and said “You can’t imagine how bad the road is. Drivers in our company travel to all areas in the north west but always refuse this journey to TủaChùa. I am the only one who will take you there. It is only 260km but it will take us a whole day to get there. Please don’t forget to carry with you canvas,hammocks, rice and boilers … you’ll find no services on the way to TủaChùa”.
We left Điện Biên for Tủa Chùa early in the morning with a lot of luggage.The road from Điện Biên to Tuần Giáo is smooth and good, but from Huổi Lóng the road becomes worse, It is muddy caused by heavy rain from the night before. Our small lorry becomes stuck many times in these marshy sections. Although we had beautiful scenery through out our journey of terraced rice fields, we understood early on just how difficult the trip from Tủa Chùa to Điện Biên city was!
We arrived to the ancient tea tree area of Tả Sìn Thàng in Tủa Chùa at night fall. To get there we spent 11 hour son the road, we were tired and dirty.
But,we had an unimaginable experience along the way to Tủa Chùa.
The impression of Tả Sìn Thàng
During June, the sun sets quickly, we were tired after a long day in the small lorry, and we needed a place to stay for a good night sleep in Tả Sìn Thàng, as we needed to continue the trip early the following morning. Tủa Chùa was only 10km away from Tả Sìn Thàng. Thanks to our kind-hearted guide, they introduced us to a Xạ Phạng family, who invited us to dinner. We took the opportunity to learn more about the culture of Xạ Phạng tribe in Tủa Chùa.
The host, Mrs Lò Lam Ngai, an 84-year-old lady of Xạ Phạngtribe, lives in a house near the centre of the commune, with her family of three generations (her son, grandchildren and great children). The dinner was served with a main dish of smoked pork, which was prepared for more than 20 days. Nhất said: “For Xạ Phạng people, also called Phạng Khoang people, smoked pork is only for special guests due to pork being aluxury food in this poor mountainous area. The way to marinate the pork for smoking is also very special, after mixing with spices and flavours, the pork is kept on the smoking-shelf for a number of months”.
The tasty meal helped us feel better after such a long trip. After dinner, the host invited us for a cup of Tủa Chùa tea which was made from tea buds gathered from the ancient tea trees. The distinguishing features of Tủa Chùa tea was that the tea water was red and thick like forest bee’s honey, the taste was a bit acrid but it was very delicious. The Xạ Phạng people we met that night did not know how old the ancient tea trees were. Mrs.Ngai recalled when she was very young, her grandparents always talked about the ancient tea trees, and when she was older she remembered that the ancient tea trees had already achieved 20m to 30m in height with a very big trunk.
Sleeping that night in Tủa Chùa in a warm bed with a comfortable pillow and blanket, we were so grateful for the Xạ Phạng family for their hospitality. It was a memorable part of the journey to re-discovering this ancient tea tree area.
Ofthe minority ethnic groups in Vietnam, Xạ Phạng belongs to the Chinese group (Han) including Quảng Đông,Phước Kiến,Hải Nam, Triều Châu, and Hẹ. But the minority people who live in the northern mountainous area in Tủa Chùa district, Điện Biên province is also called Xạ Phạng.
“Kingdom” of old tea and “Kings of tea”
October 1, 2013
Hmong people in Xin Chai commune of Tua Chuadistrict own an old tea forest that is regarded as the most beautiful, largeand dense old tea forest in the comparison with the other old tea forests.
After a night of falling into ecstasy with the Mong Pe alcohol yeast, with special eating and drinking ways and stories about life of Xa Phang people in Ta Sin Thang, in the next morning, we got up early to continue our journey with anearly 10km road to get to the area where most of old teas in Tua Chua grow and an old tea forest that is as beautiful as the one in the legend islocated
“Kingdom” of old tea
We had to leave the small lorry as the next route did not permit us to go by lorry. The road to Xin Chai was very bad (it is not like a road) because there were many muddy and slippery sections. Moreover the road was blown off. With three Win motorbikes called “motor-horses of the mountain and forest”, we continued the journey and went through the mountain dew, which disappeared and appeared suddenly, the views of mountain and forest were really beautiful before the morning dew, the route through the rough rugger rock plateau covered with the green of maize, our fellow travelers said that it is much more beautiful than Ha Giang rock plateau. Ignoring the difficulties of the dangerous roads, the beautiful views during the journey brought us the feeling of going into a area of legend.
Phan TrongNhat – our guide is well aware of the old tea area, he introduced: “Accordingto my survey as well as data from the Agricultural Department of Tua Chua district, the old tea area lies scattered in four communes, including: Ta Phinh, Sinh Phinh, Ta Sin Thang and Xin Chai, in which almost old teas grow inTa Sin Thang and Xin Chai, there are 7000 old teas in the two communes and 4000 teas are under the exploitation”.
The“motor-horses” still roared and moved on the small path like the thread among immense forests, the route was only within 10 km but lasted a long time. Forest dew makes the path become more slippery, it is the road that controls the motor-bikes not the drivers. After one hour of sittingdown and up on the saddles, we met a big bamboo lying across the road. The guide said: “the route end!” Looking around, we realized that we were in the middle of the old tea forest that is so beautiful that we are charmed with.
The old tea area at the end of the road is Hau Chua mountain village. Only moving through some small paths and passing the small hill, we would reach to the border between Lai Chau province and Son La province. We were surprised at the old tea trunks that were large enough for two people to embrace and ten meters high, standing close to each other (the space among tea trunks was only some meters, tea buds were plump, the oldleaves were thick, tough and green showing a strong life, quick developmen tbefore the nature.
Nhat said:“this old tea area brings the highest yield in Tua Chua. Because of growing atthe height where mountain cloud cover all the day, the teas grow strongly without any human care. Sometimes, teas develop quickly and local people are not able to gather all the tea buds, and they have to cut tea branches and use them to build fence in order to prevent chickens from getting into their garden and destroy farm produce”.
“Kings” of old tea
The old teas gardens are the valuable assets of Hmong people in Tua Chua. The bigges told tea in Tua Chua area grow in the old tea garden of Hang A Chu in Hau Chua village, its trunk is large enough for 3 persons to embrace. Hang A Chu is the first King of old tea with whom we had the personal interview. A Chu said: “Hisgrand-father told him that 8 generations in his family saw the old tea in their garden, and regarding whether the previous generation saw the old tea or not he didn’t know.”
In HauChua mountain village, every family owns old teas in their gardens, the teas stand close to their houses. A Chu shared some more information: “In the old days, there were a lot of teas in Hau Chua, (like the maize in the terracefields). In the year 1982, I returned home after the period of serving in the army, seeing people cutting teas to leave land for cassavas, I tried to preventbut the local people had cut two third of the old tea forest. He told the localpeople that “the teas are very valuable, let them grow in our gardens, in case we collect nothing from the harvests, the old teas would support us. Anyone who want to cut teas, please sell the teas to A Chu, I would buy all the old teas that local people sell.” Accordingly, A Chu owned many old teas, and Hau Chua preserves the current number of old teas.”
We continued our journey to Trinh mouintain village in Xin Chai Commune, visited the old tea garden of Thao A Cua to see the most beautiful tea, its trunk is large, its branches are beautiful and looks like a perfect Bonsai. A Cua proudly said: “I do not know who grow the tea, when I grow up; I see it in our garden and collect teas without cultivating it. It develops and I collect the tender buds three to four times a year, each time I collect more than 20kg green tea”. A Cua’ house is the biggest in the mountain village with many conveniences, A Cua said: “Thank to the old tea, his family have everything”.
Coming back to the story of Phan Trong Nhat – our guide, who “Kings” of tea in Tua Chua regard as their family-member, some elders adopt him as their children, and the other local people adopt him as their brother etc. Nhat said: “I feel really regretful when seeing the old tea area left fallow as no region has such valuable tea material. I decided to meet the local people, build the ovens in the mountain village for the local people to process tea, introduce them the processing methods, urge people to gather green tea and process tea; then every week or every month I drive my small lorry to buy tea and carry tea to Dien Bien and sell the valuable product for visitors as well as introduce them the special old tea area.”
We also call Nhat “King” of Tua Chua old tea as Nhat is the only person who is patient and enthusiastic enough to exploit the valuable tea material and take Tua Chua tea to the low landers. It is said that a tea processing plant was established in Tua Chua then left fallow. The solution is now to establish the stable association between the tea processors and the material area where most of the local people are Hmong, Xa Phang and Thai people. We shall establish close relation with them, live with them, try to understand their habit and thinking; when the local people believe and love us, they are ready to co-operate in gathering and processing tea or else the great projects would be unsuccessful.The local people need a stable output for the Tua Chua old tea. The need seems to be very simple but in fact Nhat is the only one to satisfy the need.