Second stage of my adventures in Northern Vietnam: I chose to set the tea aside for a little while, the time to share a special moment with the children of Nam Hong primary school. I met them within the framework of a project dedicated to bring...
VIETNAM: fairies and dragons
Before I go further into my matcha adventures in Japan, let's make the most of the recent good news we have just received: two of our Vietnamese teas have just been awarded! The perfect occasion to tell you the story behind these rare and very special teas, that grows wildly high in the mountain in a truly magical soil.
Last May, I flew to Hanoï, starting point of a trek through mountains and forests. My first stop is Hà Giang, up North East of Vietnam. I have an appointment with Mr Menh, local tea producer of out of ordinary teas, who will guide me all along this trip.
Our schedule is very busy: we will first meet the Zdao ethnic group and their wild tea trees, we will then visit Mr Menh's tea workshop, take part in a nice project with children from a local school, then discover a cooperative that gathers small fine tea producers... I have so many things to share! But let's start with the beginning!
Mr. Menh guides me through the mountains from Hà Giang to the almost inaccessible territory of the Zdao people, whose teas seems particularly interesting to me. We soon have to exchange our four-by-four for a motorbike, and sometimes even walk on the steep and rocky trails. But these hardships are worth q shot, comparing to what awaits!.
We eventually arrive in Hồ Thầu, a small secluded village. I am staying with a local family, in the middle of paddy fields roamed by buffalos, in stunning wild landscapes. We are 2.000 meters high in the mountain, everything is green as far as my eyes can see, the air is deeply damp, the forrest everywhere.
Warm welcome and homemade cooking! - Photo: A. Dhénin @L'Autre Thé
Nature and human life are totally co-dependant here. Forrest provides for medicinal herbs, food, financial resources, when human respect it, take care of the trees, replant and protects this fragile ecosystem. This land belongs to no one.
Nature gives a wide range of resources (I am so pleased to learn new skills!) - Photo : @L'Autre Thé
Amazing multicentennary wild tea trees
This ancestal forest is an actual jungle, where wild tea trees thrive since hundreds. The species is endemic, we do not know exactly wich cultivar it is about. The exact location of the best tea trees is by the way kept secret: only Zdaos know the way.
I am totally captivated by these tea trees: since they have never been trimmed, they are huge and live in symbiosis with the primal forest around them, amongst a wide range of plants. They feel serene and inspire respect.
Deep inside the forest - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
These tea trees are huge! - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
To harvest the young sprouts, there is only one way: climbing! The Zdao people climb the trees barefoot, and collect the precious leaves and buds they bring to Mr Menh. He takes all the further steps in charge, from drying to selling. Ethics is at the heart of the project: everyone is fairly paid, which allow Zdaos to preserve their unique lifestyle and deep connection with the forest.
Mr Menh and I immediately went along very well: same commitments, same love for nature and same passion for tea. He inherited his company from his father, and he wants to see this inheritage thrive, even if staying out of the big companies path makes it harder. His approach and the high quality of his work are in keeping with L'Autre Thé's values. Chatting together made us want to go further in our partnership and we had tons of ideas for the future: share the buying of new equipments, produce some oolong teas together... I cannot wait to start! The idea to contribute to the preservation of Zdao's way of life, so close to Nature, is also a great motivation to me.
With Mr. Menh in front of the tea trees - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
But let's come back to our teas - this partnership and promising encounters led us to the birth of several exceptional teas.
This magical land produces exceptional teas
TEAS OF THE FAIRIES
This nickname is used by locals: the wild tea trees are so well hidden at the heart of the forest that they say only fairies could find them. The youngest sprouts are carefully harvested by hand: leaves will be used to create our Fairies Black Tea whereas buds will produce our Fairies White Tea. The drying phase is essential to produce two such different teas from the same harvest. Mr Menh sundries the buds in baskets for about fifteen hours whereas the leaves for black tea are dried inside and regularly mixed to slow the drying and oxidization process down. Black tea leaves are then roasted. From the same harvest, the differences between the two teas are more than interesting. Natural, wild, centenary tea trees, harvested by hand and worked with tradional and careful processes make unique and high quality teas in the end.
The harvest of the day is spread to prepare the drying phase - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
Traditional baskets made to sundry the tea - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
Our Fairies Black Tea has just won a bronze medal at the international AVPA "Teas of the World" contest, as part as the "Assamica/taliensis" category. Its cocoa and fruity hints, as well as its creamy texture, have enchanted the jury.
OUR "DRAGON'S SCALE" WHITE TEA
A proper wonder. The height of the land where tea trees grow is decisive for the quality of the teas. The altitude forces the tea trees to deploy its deepest resources and to make the most of the soil, in order to resist the tough climate. It gains a strong personnality which makes this tea totally different from a tea grown on the plains. Our "Dragon's scale" white tea embodies all that, and even more. The wild tea trees have been living in symbiosis with the forest for hundreds: this perfect match bewteen the land, the forest and the wild tea trees gives a lot of body and subtleties to the tea. Even its aspect is closely connected to its environement. The purple hue of the buds comes from Anthocyanin, a pigment naturaly present in the forest soil.
This unusual colour and the shape of the buds made the locals call it "Dragon's scale", as a tribute to this legendary animal known in Vietnam to embody the strenghts of Nature, both unpredictible and marvelous.
The natural and pretty purple shade of buds and young sprouts - Photo: @L'Autre Thé
Drinking this tea is experiencing an outburst of various flavours: apple and lychee combined with rose and blackcurrant hints, with no astringency at all. A suprising and higly attractive profile, which made him win the gold medal at the International AVPA "Teas of the World" contest for White teas. I am so thrilled (and proud!) that the jury recognized the value of this tea and of Mr Menh's work!
The wild tea trees inspired me a lot - I could not resist trying the ascent! I am still a child at heart :)
I am doing quite well, don't you think?
I really hope that I made you want to discover those teas, that are truly unique. They are representative of what I am trying to do at L'Autre Thé: finding teas in believe in, that have a meaning and a story, while supporting independant producers commited to Nature at the same time.
As I was saying at the beginning of this post, this Vietnamese trip was filled with ancounters and discoveries. In the next episode, I want to share with you a project that is really important to Mr Menh and me, involving the children of a local primary school. See you very soon for the next episode!