Vietnam – ancient tea culture and “cradle country” of the tea tree
Vietnam’s Identity as one of the evolutionary “cradle countries” of the tea tree surprisingly is still not common ground in western tea lover circles. Similarly unknown is the fact that – without any exaggeration – some of the world’s best teas come from Vietnam. The country’s ancient tea culture – rooted in the tending of wild tea tree resources through ethnic minorities, had to defy quite some challenges and time and again adopt to new situations.
In particular, the long Vietnam’s colonialization through the French, the communist revolution and the Vietnam War have left their stamp on the tea cultivation and tea production in Vietnam and influenced them lastingly. You will find more general information about Vietnam’s history as a tea producing country in our relevant article at Siam Tea Blog,
Ancient Thuyet Shan (“Snow High Moountain) tea tree in ha Giang, Vietnam
In Vietnamese, tea means “Trà”, which – spoken correctly – sounds a lot like “Cha”. Today, besides the maintenance and cultivation of ancient tea tree reserves, conventional tea cultivation is also widespread in Vietnam. This applies especially to a range of Oolong tea cultivars imported from Taiwan. Nevertheless, when it comes to tea, the ancient tea tree reserves remain the country’s most precious treasure. Particularly sticking out here is the “Thuyet Shan” (“Snow High Mountain”) tea tree variety native to the mountainous central Vietnamese provinces Suoi Giang and Ha Giang.
4 Snow Shan Teas – excelling in picking and processing standard
Tra Thuyet Shan – Snow Shan Tea
The Vietnamese “Thuyet Shan” tea tree (thuyet = snow, shan = high mountain) is growing up to 15 meters tall. The extraordinary strength of his trunk, tightly covered with moss and mold, the long large leaves and the record-breaking giant buds additionally advocate the idea that the Thuyet Shan could belong among the most ancient tea tree varieties in the world. In the old times, the Vietnamese used to preferably consume tea leaves fresh, i. e. without any “further” processing after picking. Meanwhile, however, the production of green tea, black tea, white tea and a Vietnamese black tea specialty called “Trà Pai Hao” from the leaves of the “Snow High Mountain” tea tree also looks back on a long reaching back tradition.
The variety has its name from the white color of its buds, tightly covered with long white hair. Even after processing the buds and leaves to green tea, these are still well visible in the resulting leaf material. They’ll remain white with green tea, while appearing slightly yellow-colored with Snow Shan black tea and Tra Pai Hao.
‘Bach Shan Tea’, our producer partner in Vietnam, exclusively processes tea leaves and buds from the family’s own tea plantation. The same is located in altitudes of 1400+ meters in Ha Giang province and accommodates quite a proud reserve of 100+ years old Thuyet Shan tea trees. The plantation adheres to biodiverse and health and environment-friendly cultivation principles. This way, the tea trees benefit from the input and the regulating mechanisms of a naturally grown, biodiverse environment. Moreover, the use of pesticides becomes unnecessary.
Seeds on Thuyet Shan (“Snow High Mountain”) tea tree
Ancient Artisan Snow Shan Black Tea – Harvest Time and Picking Standard
In orientation on the Chinese tea color code, the Snow Shan black tea produced from the Thuyet Shan tea trees in Vietnam is referred to as a “Red Tea”. Picking periods for the tea leaves producing Ancient Snow Shan Black Tea are from March to the middle of May and then from September to November again. Picking standard are only the young buds plus their two youngest adjacent leaves (1+2). The Vietnamese method of processing black tea resembles in principle that of Chinese black teas.
However, what really sticks out with Snow Shan Tea processing is less the theoretic framework, but rather the virtually unparalleled diligence and passion for detail. This applies both to the picking and the processing. Whether in China, Japan or India, you’ll rarely find such a consistently realized picking standard and such fabulously preserved whole leaf in a ready processed black tea. Also the aesthetical overall impression owes a lot to the love for detail infused in the processing of Snow Shan teas. The dry leaf material pleases with an overly attractive and mouthwatering appearance.
Four Snow Shan Teas – wet leaves speaking of true artisan processes
Ancient Artisan Snow Shan Black Tea – Processing
The processing of black Snow Shan Tea takes more than just the right equipment. Know how, good technical skill, rich experience, lots of empathy focus, and a set of appropriately sharpened senses are all factors that are crucial for an optimal outcome. Even today, about 60% of the total processing procedure is still manual work. Manual processing sequences bear the risk of human mistakes. Only one such mistake can ruin a whole batch, with the natural economic consequences for the producer.
Even more so with our producer partner Bach Shan Tea, where the quality bar is set at an extremely high level. Even the tiniest deviation of best possible processes will already qualify as such a mistake. The only possible strategy for best results is therefore excellent mastery of processes and undivided attention during the complete processing sequence. For Ancient Artisan Snow Shan Black Tea. this will be up to 30 hours.
Step 1: Withering
After their arrival at the tea factory, the freshly picked tea leaves are thinly distributed on large round bamboo trays. These are initially stored in a well ventilated room with low humidity and temperatures below 36°C for a period of 12-13 hours. From there, the tea leaves proceed to outdoor withering, with exposure to sunlight at temperatures around 40/41°C for about 6 hours.
Withering of tea leaves on round bamboo trays
Step 2: Roasting
Once the residual moisture in the tea leaves has dropped to a level of about 30%, it’s time to start the roasting. The roasting takes place on high stoves made of bamboo that are positioned over charcoal hearths. It is important for the resulting tea’s quality that the tea leaves are still completely unbruised at this point. During the 2-3 hours of this process, they will further lose residual moisture. This phase is also decisive for the aroma, color and taste of the resulting tea.
Step 3: Rolling and oxidation
Upon this process’s completion follows the rolling of the tea leaves in a mortar for 35-40 minutes. This is a sensitive process, at which the leaf surfaces have to be broken up without destroying the actual tea leaf. At some point, the procedure is interrupted for a visual, olfactory and haptic examination of its results. This way, the tea leaves have time to cool down before undegoing another 10-15 minutes roasting round. Though the leaf structures further break up in the course of this process, the tea leaves are still remain in one piece. They are taking on a slightly curled shape now. This process requires the processing personnel’s utmost diligence and focus, along with relevant skill and experience. Another examination serves to decide, whether there’s need for a third rolling run or not.
If the tea leaves are passing the tea master’s thorough visual, olfactory and haptic examination, they proceed to the oxidation room, where they remain for another ca. 3 hours. During this time, there is consistent testing of fragrance, taste and color, until reaching the optimum oxidation level.
Step 4: Final drying
Heat treatment in a dryer machine finally effects the full stop of the oxidation process. At the same time, the tea leaves lose their residual moisture and take on their final shape. The drying, done by an electrostatic dryer machine, takes place in 3 runs of 3-4 hours each. There’s a break of 3 hours after each individual run. At this, there’s a gradual reduction of temperature in the dryer from run to run. This is based on the decreasing residual moisture in the tea leaf.
Taste and Preparation
The taste of the ready prepared Ancient Snow Shan Black Tea reflects 100% the efforts invested into its processing. There are few better examples for how only best processes can lead to best results. The general taste pattern of this tea is strongly reminiscent of that of Yunnan black teas. At this, the most coining features are malty and cocoa notes and a pronounced, but nevertheless pleasant roast aroma. In the cup, the tea is of crystal-clear transparency and intense bright red color
For the preparation of Ancient Snow Shan Black Tea, we recommend to employ a general standard for black tea preparation. First, pour 200ml water of a temperature of 90-100°C (boiling hot) over 4g of tea leaves. Then, let infuse for 3 minutes for a highly delicious first infusion. What is definitely not standard and a strong quality feature of Ancient Snow Shan Black Tea is this tea’s potential. 2-3 more infusions are possible by adding one additional minute to each steep’s infusion period. At this, the second infusion hardly falls back behind the first. And a third and a forth infusion are still well worth it.