Vietnam has a long history of growing tea. Recently, a forest with many big old tea trees has been found near the border between Vietnam and China. These trees are believed to have lived for millions of years. At first, Vietnamese people only grew some small trees near their houses or picked up tea leaves in the forest. After the French invasion, they invested in researching and expanding the tea-growing scale by opening plantations and enhancing the quality.
Until now, tea leaves are grown in different regions throughout Vietnam. Together with the tea-growing industry, the Vietnamese have developed the tradition of drinking tea. In the past, only the elders enjoyed having tea and serving it to distinguished guests. Nowadays, many tea houses and milk tea shops have incorporated tea into serving drinks to customers of all ages.
Since many kinds of tea in the world are produced from a plant called Camellia sinensis, they are divided into different types based on the shape and chemical composition of the final product.
Tea processing includes five basic steps:
-Plucking: From tea bushes, the buds and two young leaves are carefully picked. Hand-picking is applied when high quality is asked, as plucking by machines might lead to broken leaves.
-Withering: This step is to remove water and moisture from tea leaves by laying them under the sun.
-Disruption: Tea leaves are rolled and tossed to make sure that they are ready to be oxidizing and shaping later. It used to be done by hands but today machines assist are getting popular.
-Oxidation: This is the important step that would decide the taste and color of the tea.
-Fixation: After the oxidizing processing, leaves are dried to keep their shape and flavor.
Tea leaves after being plucked
The three most popular groups of tea in Vietnam are black tea, green tea, and oolong. However, green tea is the most favorite kind of Vietnamese, and almost all types of Vietnamese tea belong to this group. It has the least oxidation level compared to black tea and oolong tea. After brewing, the tea has a limpid green or greenish-yellow color, a slightly burned scent, and a bitter taste. Green tea can be scented to make jasmine tea, lotus tea, pandan tea and more.
Vietnamese green tea liquid is yellow to green
Oolong tea is said to be a suitable choice for anyone who first tries drinking tea. The tea water is amber yellow to reddish-brown, and the aroma is fresh, fragrant and flavorful. Black tea is the completed oxidizing tea and also the strongest in terms of taste. It is not used as frequently as the two previous types since it is hard to find high-quality loose tea leaves in Vietnam.
Besides selling traditional tea leaves, tea filter bags, instant tea, and herbal tea, ready-made tea bottles are now easily found in Vietnamese markets.
Vietnam has plenty of tea-growing regions. The most popular ones concentrated in northern provinces such as Thai Nguyen and northwest region and in central highlands like Lam Dong.
Thai Nguyen has a reputation for perennial manual tea plantations. It has the largest cultivated land for tea in Vietnam, and the quality of the tea here is inexpressibly good. A famous and high-grade product of Thai Nguyen is Non Tom tea from Tan Cuong Ward. Instead of plucking the buds and two young leaves like the normal procedure, tea growers here only take the buds. For a better taste, the picking process must start from dawn until midday, which is the beliefs of the locals. Like other types of Vietnamese tea, Non Tom is bitter when you have a gulp, but a sweet lasting flavor would follow and make people fall in love with it.
Thai Nguyen is 80 kilometers away from Hanoi so the fastest way to visit this landscape of tea is to take a flight to the capital of Vietnam, and then book a taxi or a rental car to Thai Nguyen. Don’t forget to learn tea processing and tea drinking etiquette from the locals for an unforgettable experience.
Tea plantation in Thai Nguyen
Tay Bac Highlands include some provinces surrounding the mighty Hoang Lien Son mountain range. It is the Fatherland of many hundred-year-old tea trees that are only known and harvested by the indigenous minorities. The pure water flows from the mountains and becomes the natural irrigation system for the tea fields.
Provinces like Son La or Lai Chau have unending tea hills that provide smooth and soft oolong tea. Especially, Yen Bai province is well-known for Shan Tuyet (Snow of the mountain) tea. These tea leaves are coated with a layer of milky lanugo. Its smell is heavenly and its taste is persistently sweet, which gives it the title as “the Queen of Green tea”. The method of traveling to Tay Bac regions is the same as the one of Thai Nguyen.
Farmers pick leaves from big old tea trees to make Shan Tuyet
With suitable soils and a cool climate, Lam Dong is another ideal place to develop the tea-growing industry. This place is famous for not only for plain tea but also scented tea and flower tea. The farmers here rarely use pesticides, and if they do, it has to go through strict surveillance. Besides refreshing tea hills, Lam Dong also has breathtaking waterfalls, paths of yellow wild sunflowers that make it a place to escape from the hustle and bustle cities. To get to the tea plantations, you need to get to Dalat City and then rent a taxi or a coach to Bao Loc, Lam Dong.
A path that leads to a tea hill in Lam Dong
Although Vietnamese tea plants are lush and verdant all year round, we recommend you to visit this place in spring or autumn. The weather is more enjoyable at these times of the year, and if you are lucky, you can participate in some festivals of local farmers.
Learn more about the Monsoon season in Vietnam and its effect.
You can either buy some bags of tea leaves and brew them yourself or visit tea houses to enjoy a stimulating hot cup of tea. Check out some famous tea houses in Ho Chi Minh City in case you want to add them to your tour plan, you can also get some packs of tea there too. Other distribution channels of Vietnamese tea in the supermarket and local markets like Ben Thanh Market. If you are looking for herbal tea, a visit to Fito Museum in Ho Chi Minh City or the L'angfarm store chains will give you some options to choose from.
It is hard to find a brand that stands out in the tea-growing industry, most companies in this market are small to medium. Therefore, one of the best ways to get your loose tea leaves is to visit the provinces, which have a good reputation in the tea industry and buy directly from the farmers. If you do not have time to visit the plantations, ask the locals for the addresses of some stores specializing in tea in that area. You can buy about 100-200 grams of tea to try out or give them to your family as Vietnamese souvenirs.
Note that tea prices fluctuate for many reasons. The factors that determine tea prices are the seasonal yield in quality and quantity, tea types, and the production method and process that go into making the tea.
Here are the price ranges per 100 grams of some popular types of Vietnamese tea:
- Non Tom tea: 60,000 - 90,000 VND
- Jasmine tea: 50,000 VND
- Shan Tuyet tea: 80,000 - 380,000 VND
- West Lake Lotus tea: 600,000 - 800,000 VND
- Oolong tea: 48,000 - 80,000 VND
- Tieguayin tea: 70,000 - 180,000 VND
Nowadays, there is a rising trend of drinking milk tea and fruit tea among young Vietnamese, so you can see a lot of bubble tea stores in large cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Although these beverages are quite different from our traditional tea, they can still give some clues about our modern culture.
We believe that there is no better way to learn about a country’s culture than having a meal and a drink with the locals. Not to mention that besides tea, there are other must-try drinks and dishes that you might want to taste in your trip to Vietnam.
Our team at i Tour Vietnam offers some well-designed and highly recommended private tours such as i Love Food tour and i Really Love Food tour to fulfill your experience of Vietnamese cuisine in Ho Chi Minh City. Sign up for your food adventure today!