Suối Giàng – Village of Ancient Tea Trees
Suối Giàng in Yên Bái province is a lovely spot to visit if you are riding on a motorbike tour through nearby Nghia Lo. Its a nice ride up to its mountain top location where you can partake in it’s famous green tea. Its home to the Hmong people, spans 190 hectares and has some 85 000 wild tea trees aged between 250 to some say 500 years old. The trees grow at elevations between 800 to 1200 metres, require neither irrigation or pesticides and still produce tea to this day.
Another industry of the village is the excavation and carving of marble. Here you can see all manner of marble products, from statues and tables through to fine jewellery.
Trà xanh – Green Tea
Tra xanh or Green tea is the most popular beverage in Vietnam, in the north it is also known as chè. When you visit a Vietnamese household the first thing that happens is you will be asked to sit down and enjoy a cup of tra xanh as a welcoming. It’s sold on the streets to people waiting for buses or passing time.
Older generations in Hanoi like to wake up at the crack of dawn and drink ultra-strong tea to kick start their hearts and their day. Green tea is supped after meals and most Vietnamese restaurants have a table at the front of or outside their eateries dedicated to tea drinking and smoking Thuốc lào (pipe tobacco).
In a break from tradition, younger Vietnamese also like to drink new green tea based beverages, sales of milk tea and bubble tea are booming. Corner stores and mini-marts stock flavour infused tea drinks next to cans of Coca Cola. In short, Tra xanh is drank at all times of day by all people all over the country.
How it’s drunk
Tea in Hanoi and Northern Vietnam is brewed much more strongly and tastes more bitter than in the central or south. It is usually served hot except for summer months when iced tea is offered to profusely sweating restaurant patrons.
Hot tea is served in either very small cups or what you could call a large thimble, when you sit down to a cup of tea it’s actually several cups due to the small volumes the drinking vessels can contain. Iced tea is served in a large glass, allowing the iced to mix with cool and water down the tea.
The taste of green tea varies depending on how long it has been steeped (an art-form in itself), leaf age, region it was grown and which one of the myriad of tra xanh varieties it is. It doesn’t take long to become an amateur connoisseur, after tasting only a few different teas you will find yourself comparing and rating the tea you are drinking to previous ones.
Tea Regions in Northern Vietnam
The earth and climate of Vietnam is very agreeable to the cultivation of green tea. This is perhaps why Vietnam has become the world’s 6th biggest producer and 5th largest exporter of tea with the North of the country producing the bulk of it.
The most renowned tra xanh province is Thái Nguyên with tea from it’s Tân Cương commune being held in especially high regard. Other major green tea producing areas include; Yên Bái, Phú Thọ, the Mộc Châu plateau in Sơn La and the extremely mountainous Hà Giang.
Aside from green tea that is commercially planted and propagated there is also wild tea. Wild green tea grows in jungle and forested mountain areas of the north that are the domain of ethnic minorities such as the Muong, Tai and Hmong to name a few. It exists in provinces such as Điện Biên, Yên Bái, Lào Cai ,and Lai Châu in the north-northwest. Those bold enough to venture to these realms still find picking wild tea mostly unattainable as it grows deep in forests, halfway up mountains and leaves must also be picked at the correct time.