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,
Wild Thuyet Shan tea trees 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, tea is also conventionally cultivated. 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 from Vietnam – excelling picking and processing standards
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 possibly 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.
Sprouting Thuyet Shan tea tree in spring
‘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 tea trees
Ancient Artisan Snow Shan Green Tea – Harvest Time and Picking Standard
As a picking standard, only the young buds with the youngest adjacent leaf each are picked. The Vietnamese method of processing black tea resembles in principle that of Chinese green teas. What really sticks out with the picking and processing of Snow Shan teas is less the theoretic framework, but much rather the incredible diligence and passion for detail applied. 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 aesthetically highly appealing overall appearance of leaf material is owed to that processing excellence.
4 Snow Shan Teas – wet leaves after infusion
Ancient Snow Shan Green Tea – Processing
The processing of Ancient Snow Shan Teas is an artisan process that even today is still done manually at a large part. After picking, the freshly plucked tea leaves are brought to the tea factory. There, after an initial pan roasting round, they are distributed on large round bamboo trays. They are left like that for ca. 12 hours in a cool room (glass house) at temperatures below 35°C and with good ventilation and exposure to sunlight. The purpose of this process is to reduce both moisture and the content of tannins in the tea leaves. At the end of this withering phase, the leaves will already exude the characteristic fresh and stimulating natural aroma of Snow Shan Tea, a proverbial olfactory highlight reminiscent of the original tea flower fragrance that will remain present up to the first opening of a package of Snow Shan White Silver Needle tea at the tea lover’s end of the value chain. During this process, the tea leaves run through a gradual natural oxidation process.
Withering of tea leaves on round bamboo trays
After reaching the desired aroma, the tea is roasted in a machine at high temperatures, the oxidation process being stopped this way. In the next step, which is particularly decisive for the final Snow Shan Green tea’s taste, shape and appearance, the tea leaves are subjected to 3 subsequent rolling cycles. Each rolling cycle takes 15 minutes. To give the rolled tea leaves – now still containing a residual moisture of about 40%, – their final shape, they are once again distributed on the bamboo trays and subjected to another roasting cycle. Finally, they are end-dried in a dryer machine. The drying cycle must be repeated for 3-5 times, with a break of 3-6 hours after each cycle. The exact number of drying cycles required varies from batch to batch. The drying temperature is selected based on the current humidity conditions.
Taste and Preparation
The taste of the ready prepared Ancient Snow Shan Green Tea reflects at 100% the fragrance of the dry leaf material: a fresh, slightly minty spring breeze with a wealth of subtle, smooth floral notes floods the tea drinker’s senses, wiping away even the most persistent shadows.
For the preparation of Ancient Snow Shan Green Tea, we recommend to employ a general standard for Chinese green tea preparation. Pour 200ml water of a temperature of 70-75°C (let cool down after boiling) over 4g of tea leaves and let infuse for 2 minutes for a highly delicious first infusion. 2 more infusions can be yielded by adding one additional minute to each steep’s infusion period, while gradually increasing the infusion temperature. And at least the second infusion is something you should never miss with this tea.