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Shan Tuyet tea in Ha Giang

Wed, 03 Sep 2014 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:48

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Oldest Shan Tuyet tea lives in the high mountains of Hoang Su Phi district, Ha Giang province that has the cool climate all year. This is a cleanup tea product, not using pesticides and preservatives so it is safe for uses.

Ha Giang is the province which is known for the oldest Shan Tuyet tea in Vietnam. Shan Tuyet tea is characterized by the slightly white as snow of the leaves after processing tea and this is also the popular green tea in the North of Vietnam.  In Ha Giang, Shan Tuyet tea is grown in the districts which generally have an elevation of 30 to 1000 meters above the sea level. Continuing my trip in Ha Giang province, I could ignore the great opportunity to discover about the tea varieties.

I am in a green tea heaven and welcome to the program “Vietnam Discover”. People in Phin Ho village mainly rely heavily on Shan Tuyet tea trees. The tea tree is considered a huge part of the lives of people who live here are mainly the Dao ethnic people. For a long time the region was covered by the green of the tea trees, though no one knows exactly when the tea grew and how old the oldest tea. The smallest tea trees that I see here was around 50 years old.

I'm on my way to the Phin Ho village, I'm a bit lost and do not know where I am going. I really hope this is the right.

- Excuse me, sir. Where are you going?

- I am on my way to harvest tea leaves.

- Is that Shan Tuyet green tea?

- That’s right.

- I really want to learn about Shan Tuyet tea.

- Do you want to harvest Shan Tuyet tea with me?

- Yes, that’s good, let’s go.

- Let’s go.

- Thank you.

I'm lucky to be here when local people are harvesting tea leaves in spring crop. Tea is harvested at this time will give good flavor of the year. People often climb up the mountains to pick tea leaves from early morning to the late afternoon and picking tea leaves requires very special technique.

- Hello, you guys. Your costumes are very nice.

- Thank you.

- You need to pick the tea leaves like this, choose those which have two leaves and one bud. If the leaves are too big, you can choose the ones like this: one leaf and one bud.

- Is this one leaf and one bud?

- That right. Even if the leaf tea is small, you can pick ones like this. Could leave

I’m unable to identify good tea leave as Mr. Phau. I was taught that the beautiful tea leaves will determine the quality of the tea. So it is very important to get the right tea leaves.

- The two clumps look the same. This one has one bud and one leaf but its leaf is bigger.

- It is too big, isn’t it? This one has one bud and two leaves but the leaves are smaller, so this one is better. So it seems to be the amount of leaves and the size of leaves which will show how old the leaf is. It is so important to taste the flavor of the green tea. If you come to Vietnam and taste the different green tea, you will feel the difference in the taste of them. And it is good if you understand what the difference is. Mr. Phau will explain for me.

Knowing that this tree was 250 years old and when I was climbing up it, I feel very interesting.

- I’m really envious with you because your costume looks better than mine.

- I will ask my daughter to make one for you if you like.

- Really? Oh, thank you very much, I’m very excited.

It’s quite difficult to select the clumps with 2 leaves and one bud as Mr. Phau is looking for. But somehow he finds very quickly and I cannot find as quickly as him. How did he do it? I’m trying to pick the leaves according to the right technique.

According to the customs of Dao people, the people will not collect tea leaves on certain days of the year. They have take “thunder day” in the first day of March lunar month, “wind day” on the 20th day of the first lunar month and “wild pig” day on the third day in March lunar month. According to the legend, if people do go out and pick tea in those days, the tea will be completely ruined. I think I've learned to pick techniques. Why not try a contest to pick tea with people here.

- You do it very fast, do you think you can collect the leaves faster than me?

- I think I can do it faster than you do.

- Really, do you want to compete with me?

- Yes.

I want to try a contest with these women because I can see they are the fastest people. I have been spoken to Mr. Phau and I want to speak to more Dao people. I don’t quite know what I have got myself into? We get two empty baskets and we are going to have one minute to go anywhere and pick as many tea as we can. I don’t have many chances. Looked she is very confident; she seems to be happy with this contest.

- Let’s start.

- Start? Let’s go.

Before we start the competition, my initial strategy was not cheating. I have cheated so much during that minute. Just to see I have the chance to win, so I have taken tea leaves from basket of another people, then I took her tea leaves and I ask some other girls to  help me.

- Let’s see who gets more tea leaves.

- Oh my god, I still lost. She cheats back to me. We cheat or I cheat? I cannot believe she still won. Congratulation, you are the best.

- You also did it well.

- You threw most of the tea leaves outside the basket you have yet to get familiar with it. If you did not miss the basket, you might equalize her.

- So I miss, I miss my chance.

- She is the number one in the world, she picks tea leaves so well. 

- Thank you so much.        

I fell very happy but I am quite thirsty now, do you have water at hand?

- Yes, but now we have to pick the tea leave and cut the bamboo pipe to boil the water.

When Mr. Phau invited me to see how make tea according to the traditional way, I don’t know what we will do. We go into the forest and cut down a big bamboo tree.  It was awesome, we are using a age-old technique of boiling water to make tea. I don’t know how many people that would even know this technique, but I would try it.

- Done?

- Ok.

- Is the water here clean?

- Yes, it is.

- can I drink it right away?

- Yes, you can.

The water is so fresh and pretty cool. It’s a delicious drink. It is difficult to control them. What an incredible way to make tea. The method we used to make tea in the bamboo tube is Mr. Phau will set up the fire just next to rock, pour the water into the bamboo tube, then put on the fire. You can really get a sense that this is what people used to do in the past. You know where completely in the middle of up nature just by a stream that we collect water making water from a fire against rock and this really is an experience to be back in the time. While waiting for boiling water, we will pick old tea leaves. Phau explain to me that to make tea in the traditional way, we have to use old tea leave, not the young tea leaves we picked before. This creates a pressure flavor and is appropriate this method making tea. In the past, people used to make tea in this way when they were in the deep forest.

- This leaf has no worm, this one is eaten by the caterpillar.

-The caterpillars appear all over the world, I can find them in these tea leaves, they eat away at the leaves and we do not want to use those leaves to make tea. Just a quick look inside those pipes, you could see the water was boiling very quickly. This is a pretty quick method of boiling the water. I thought I don’t know what is he doing? And I realized that he has been doing cup from the small bamboo sections. A brilliant ideal.

- Ok, Cheer.

My first experience was drinking tea in the traditional way. It takes much fresher than dried green tea that I used to drink, it is really delicious.

- Is it good?

- So good.

- Boiling in this way will increase the tea flavor and smell.

Mr. Phau told me that, in the specific harvesting times during the year, they not only work all day but they often have to work all night as well as doing various things.  

- Hello! Is this your daughter?

- Yes.

- Nice to meet you.

- Thank you. It is a traditional Dao cloth.                                          

I have seen everywhere in this village the girls wear different shade, kind of brighter shade in the men based a traditional color. But because this is the traditional clothes of Dao people, so you can see at everywhere.

As you know or as you might know, green tea is the popular drink of the northern Vietnam, especially you can find at everywhere, every street corner. So see how they make tea in the traditional way is going to be a cool thing to say. We putted the tea into the pan and started to stir.

- Be careful. It is very hot.

- Yes, it is but we are familiar with it.

- Can I try?

- Yes, you can try.

- Why can I not do like Mr. Phau?

- I can see the tea leaves themselves start to tightly shrink and definitely dry out, you can hear the water popping. Mr. Phau used his own hands because the tea leaves have many resin so it can stick to the pan. He had to do it fast as possible to prevent the tea leaves from turning yellow. We need to make sure that we keep the fire burning brightly enough. 

- I’m crying. Oh, of course. You are the same as me in the past.    

My drops of sweat and tears are going into this. We kept on having to do the drying out process again and again and I did not know when it was ready. He said he did not know while my eyes were streaming with tears. 

-Why aren’t you crying like me?

- I got used to it already.

Every time, I go to drink “tra da” in Hanoi from now on, I will remember this moment, crying over the green tea.

With the traditional way, local people make only 4 to 5 kilograms dried tea per day, despite the whole day of picking tea and whole night of drying tea. The tea leaves could not be done until the tea leaves are totally dried. This is the way people in the past often dried tea when they had no machines to support.

- When will the tea leaves be done?

- The tea leaves is small and soft now, they are done.

Although I don’t know how they do it in the modern time yet, but they do not do this prolonged process like this considering the whole time since we pick and stir it. Certainly it is not pleasant at all when the smoke is in your eyes like this.

- When I come back to Hanoi, I will tell everybody that I am crying over the green tea.

Definitely this is one of those situations in life; you get through anything surely an unforgettable memory in my life. How did I end up here, English boy in Vietnamese mountain with a Red Dao men drying tea on an open fire.

- You have to stir the tea leaves until they turn slightly white and smell good like this. You Can smell it.

- It smells good.

-  And then you will break a leaf to know if it is dry enough or not.

- Is it edible?

Three words to describe the tea making with traditional tea drying process: buy some goggles to protect your eyes like the whole time I was just crying my eyes out as painful on your eyes. 

- Would you like to have a cup of this tea?

- Yes, that would be nice.

I helped to make it so I’m definitely having a cup with this.

- In the past, we used to dry tea leaves in this way. Now it is much easier thanks to the machinery. In addition, Mr. Nhan, a local man has developed a tea project here and provided the locals with the machines. The work is much more favorable now.

- Is it good?

- Yes, it is so good.

The flavor is very strong full-bodied green tea, I am not going to be one of those experts, but I can sense the strong flavor of the green tea is better and it is a little bit sweet afterwards as well. It is a good cup of tea.

As Phau said, Ly Choi Nhan, a local person who strive to bring Shan Tuyet tea from Phin Ho to other areas. What he did is to increase the value of the tea not only by creating a trademark but also marketing the cleanup organic tea. This has done a lot to increase its popularity. Thanks to him, people’s lives here have improved greatly.

I am lucky enough to visit the workshop for processing tea of Mr. Nhan.  Here I can see the machines used for drying and stirring the tea leaves. The first machine Mr. Nhan talks to me about dry green tea. It works by rotating the tea was bowing warm air to dry tea. To me, it looks a bit like a big tumble dryer that’s just something spent spinning round, the tea leaves going round and a little bit a warm air being pumped in.

- More tea leaves?

- Ok.

Thanks to these machines, tea productivity is increasing and the tea price is also escalating. Before one kilogram of tea costs about 30 thousand VND or $1.5, but now people pay $15 for one kilogram of tea.

- How much tea did you produce a day in the past?

- In the past, the local household processed the tea on their own. They could produce about 15 to 20 kilograms of dry tea per day. Now we collect the green tea from local households so we can have about 5 tons of dry tea per day.

I mean you know that in Vietnam people like drinking green tea. With this method, people can produce about 5 tons of tea per day.

-  These present day is very different from the past, the tea quality is better so its price is also higher. I have lived and worked here since I was a child.  And the workers are also born and grown up in this village.

You can see there are quite a lot of people wear traditional customs and they work very hard.

- Now the local tea has a brand in the market. People are no longer worried about poverty as well as their lives has been improving. They can afford their children schooling fee. I have mobilized the locals to preserve the old tea trees. I will show you how the locals plant green tea tree by seeds. They will collect the seeds from the old tea trees and grow new trees to expand the green tea plantation. 

Experience has given and the knowledge how to choose the best seed improving their harvesting capabilities. You can see here that its hollow say that one might grow even though this one is split, it will still grow, so you can still select it. Thanks to this, the tea productivity is higher.

- The first way is to pick those seeds which are black, heavy enough and big. The second way us to put them in water, those which sink are the good seeds. But if the seeds float on the surface it won’t grow. This is the experience of picking the tea seeds of Dao ethnic people.

- We will grow tea tree here.

- Why is growing tea tree here better than in other places?

- Because the soil here very fertile, Phin Ho village is at 1300 meters height above sea level. In addition, this place is surrounded by forest and there is a lake in the middle of the village so the soil here is very good.

- Can this kind of tea grown in England?

- If England has high humidity, much rain, fog and cold climate, you can plant tea tree there. You can grow it in sunny and dry weather condition.

- Thank you, I think this seed is the best. It is heavy, black and big.

This is like my tea seeds, many seeds this here but this is my grain. I will plant it, hoping that it will germinate and grow into a nice hot tea to. Hopefully when I get the chance to come back I can enjoy a cup of tea made ​​from its leaves. Let's grow up and become a real tea tree Sweet

This is my seed, there are many seeds like it but this one is mine. I will grow it and hopefully it will germinate and grow into a nice and big tea tree. Hopefully when I get the chance to come back I can enjoy a cup of tea made from its leaves.


Source: VTV4 –

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