Lotus Tea – Trà Sen
Trà sen is a sweet-scented tea, with a honey yellow colour that was developed in and is peculiar to Vietnam. The leaves of green tea are carefully placed inside the bud of a lotus flower which is then reclosed and left overnight to infuse the floral aromas and tastes. The lotus flowers are best picked in the late afternoon or dusk and the tea is ready to be brewed the following morning. In earlier times women would row boats out into the lotus ponds and gently place tea leaves inside the flowers, rowing back out the next morning to harvest the ingredients for this unique drink.
In Northern Vietnam the best lotus flowers are said to come from ponds along the edge of West Lake (Tây Hồ) and accordingly tea made from the buds fetch the highest prices.
A variant of this tea involves marinating green tea leaves with the stamen of the flowers over a longer period of time in clay jars. There is also a tea made solely from the roots of the beautiful lotus plant known locally as Trà củ sen.
Lotus in Vietnamese Cuisine
Lotus plants flourish naturally all over Vietnam and accordingly have a place in the native diet. The leaves grow up to 60cm wide, the flowers can reach 20cm in diameter and the roots can develop to 4m in length, all parts are eaten in different forms.
Lotus seeds are used in a sweet desserts soup such as Chè hạt sen or eaten dried like popcorn. Roots can be made into a hearty dinner soup with pig trotters (Canh củ sen hầm chân giò) or fried with beef (Thịt bò xào ngó sen). Leaves are added to dishes as an ingredient in dishes such as salads, used in medicine or simply just as packaging to wrap up other food.
Trà sen is a sedative, it’s useful for relieving stress, helping you sleep and is said to improve your mental function. Lotus leaves and roots are just as beneficial and are particularly good for weight loss and also blood problems as they contain anti-hemorrhagic properties.
The lotus has a deep symbology in Asia and the pink lotus flower (hoa sen hồng) is the national flower of Vietnam. It’s mentioned in ancient Vietnamese poetry, widely pictured in art, and has a significant role in Buddhism, the country’s main religion.
People offer lotus flowers at temples, where they are often depicted on the holy buildings themselves, on altars, or even with statues of deities holding them. The Flower represents virtue and purity and its symbolism of a beautiful flower arising from muddy, murky waters equates with man’s journey from earth to nirvana.