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” 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, 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” tea – 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 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.
‘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. It accommodates quite a proud reserve of 100+ years old Thuyet Shan tea trees. The plantation adheres to biodiverse and organic 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 Vietnamese Thuyet Shan tea tree
Ancient Artisan Snow Shan White Silver Needle – Harvest Time and Picking Standard
Ancient Snow Shan White Silver Needle Tea is a typical, adequately spring-picked pure buds white tea. It has a lot in common with the “White Moonlight Buds” that we know from ancient tea trees in Yunnan. What initially stands out, however, is the ever greater size of the white buds. Like other Snow Shan teas, it is yielded from Vietnamese Thuyet Shan (= “Snow High Mountain”) tea tree.
Picking standard for the Snow Shan White Silver Needle are only the young spring buds. Rainfalls must have ceased for at least 3 days, before the buds for this tea can be picked. Preferred picking times are early morning and late afternoon. This is due to the prevailing cool temperatures at those times of day, which not only sooth the pickers, but also benefit the tea. The Vietnamese method of processing White Silver Needle tea resembles in principle that of Chinese pure buds white teas.
However, just like with all Snow Shan teas, what really sticks out is less the theoretic framework, but rather the virtually unparalleled diligence and passion for detail. This applies both to the picking and the processing of Ancient Snow Shan Silver Needle tea.
Ancient Artisan Snow Shan White Silver Needle Tea – Processing
The processing of Snow Shan White Silver Needle Tea takes more than just the right equipment. Know how, good technical skill, rich experience, lots of empathy and focus, and a set of appropriately sharpened senses are all factors that are crucial for an optimal outcome.
Step 1: Withering
The processing of Ancient Snow Shan Teas is an artisan process that even today is still done manually at a large part. This applies also – or even especially – to the White Silver Needle tea. After picking, the freshly plucked 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.
Tea leaves withering inside the factory
Step 2: Roasting
After reaching the desired aroma, the tea is roasted in a machine at high temperatures, with the oxidation process being stopped this way.
Step 3: Roasting
In the next step, the tea leaves are distributed on the bamboo trays again and then pan-roasted for ca. 15 minutes. During this time, they’ll take on their final shape.
Step 4: Final drying
Now, the tea buds’ remaining moisture is still about 40%. This is removed by means of 3-5 drying cycles in the dryer machine, each of which takes about 3 hours. The buds have to rest and cool down for 3-6 hours after each drying cycle. With decreased residual moisture, the temperature the dryer is gradually reduced from cycle to cycle.
Taste and Preparation
The taste of the ready prepared Ancient Snow Shan White Silver Needle 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 the tea is reminding of the finest Fuding Silver Needle or Yunnan Moonlight Bud Teas. The lovely floral and light nutty notes are characterized by both subtleness and elegance. In the cup, the tea shows a crystal-clear bright yellow color.
For the preparation of Ancient Snow Shan White Silver Needle Tea, we recommend to employ a general standard for pure buds white tea preparation. Pour 200ml water of a temperature of 90°C (calmed down after boiling hot) over 4g of tea leaves and let infuse for 2-3 minutes for a delicious first infusion. Just like all Snow Shan teas, also the White Silver Needle Tea surprises with extraordinary potential. With 1 additional minute infusion time each, the tea will produce 4-5 valuable infusions. And prepared the Chinese way – with higher dosing and shorter infusion times – quite some more.