Monday, August 21 2017

VietNamNews

Bringing the tea trade back to life

Update: March, 05/2017 - 09:00
Tea grown in Nguyên Bình District is free from harmful pesticides. VNS Photo Đỗ Doãn Hoàng
Viet Nam News

Up in the hills of the Phia Oắc Range, tea plantations left behind by French colonists have been kept going by a local.

Hoàng Mạnh Ngọc decided to save the tea trees after he had his first taste of the delicious drink.

Later, he visited Taiwan to learn more about tea.

He also went about learning how to make tea in the traditional way of his Dao community.

Now, the community is making money from selling its special tea to buyers in other countries.

By Đỗ Doãn Hoàng

To paraphrase a famous saying, to know Phia Oắc-Phia Đén is to love her.

It is thus that I hold deep affection for each mountain pass, village and community in Cao Bằng Province, and this deepens perceptibly when it comes to the Phia Oắc-Phia Đén area.

With a climate that seems to have four seasons in a single day, the area has invited comparisons with renowned resorts in Việt Nam like Sa Pa, Tam Đảo and Đà Lạt, but the fact that it is lesser known lends it a different charm.

A favourite resort of the French colonists a century ago, Phia Oắc-Phia Đén, has been, in relative terms, deserted for over 70 years. Remnants of beautiful French-style villas and other buildings covered in moss are like sleeping beauties waiting to be woken up.

One person doing his bit to nudge them awake is a man I have been “following” for several years via media reports about his passion for ancient tea trees in the high mountains of Nguyên Bình District.

Hoàng Mạnh Ngọc, an ethnic Dao man in his mid-forties, has protected dozens of hectares of tea in Phia Oắc-Phia Đén to create a trademark for high quality produce that is distributed nationwide and exported to foreign markets.

Ngọc is a native of the mountainous district , home to renowned Phia Oắc Peak. Justifiably proud of its misty winters and cool summers, he had long aspired to do something to preserve the ancient pine forest and majestic villas.

At a time when the district was struggling, Ngọc took the risk of establishing his own construction company to build roads and some homes. After saving a little bit, he thought of starting a business making fresh food and medicines to create jobs for local residents.

The Kolia Company sought to exploit the area’s ecotourism potential, while producing fresh tea and the Cao Bằng cassava vermicelli or glass noodle. Modern technique was infused into the traditional methods of the Dao people to harvest tea of high quality with a distinctive flavour that would meet international standards.

Taste of the mountains

The Phia Oắc Range, with its highest peak at more than 2,000m above sea level, has been recognised as a precious natural reserve with an area of 25,000 hectares.

Misty all year around, the mountain boasts the ecosystem of a cloudy forest with lots of flowers, especially the Rhododendron, which is in full blossom during spring.

Phia Oắc also contains the headwaters of many big rivers in the northeast of the country, and it is a huge source of minerals that used to be exploited during the French colonial time.

What makes the area special is that it still has many old, huge tea trees tended to by the Dao Đỏ, Dao Tiền and Nùng ethnic minorities.

Ngọc used to spend several days visiting these tea gardens and fell for the taste of the tea, flavoured by the mist and minerals of the mountains, that impresses at first sip and leaves a lingering sweet, acrid taste.

The very first time Ngọc enjoyed the subtle and distinctive taste of the local tea, he was moved to preserve the ancient tea trees, protecting the vast area and producing tea for domestic and foreign markets.

Ngọc travelled to Taiwan several times to study their tea industry and invited specialists to visit each ethnic household in the area and study the old tea trees.

“The specialists and tea masters from Taiwan were astonished on discovering that the mountain range in Phia Oắc-Phia Đén seemed to be naturally created for tea planting. The natural conditions were so perfect. The temperature during the day never exceeded 22oC, dropping to 15-17oC at night.

“The plants are covered by fog all year round. Sometimes the rainy clouds open up to refresh both people and nature.  The height of the mountain is perfect for growing Chinese Ba Xian (Eight Immortals) and Oolong tea species.

“Furthermore, the fresh tea of Phia Oắc-Phia Đén rarely suffers the equatorial climate of the renowned tea planting area in Taiwan,” Ngọc said.

Ngọc began learning the Dao people’s traditional method of exposing the tea leaves to the frost, and applying ten different kinds of organic fertilisers to as many varieties of tea trees. At the same time, he imported the Oolong, Ba Xian, Longjing and Bai Jiguan tea varieties to cultivate on the Phia Đén Mountain.

Ngọc also signed contracts to buy all the tea produced by local households and employed locals with the experience. International specialists were invited to train locals to apply international organic and VietGAP (Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices) standards in producing high quality tea.

The first consignment of tea exported to Taiwan in 2013 was a great success, fetching prices ranging from two to six million đồng (US$90-260) per kilo and receiving positive feedback from buyers. The Dao were very happy to harvest the first profits from tea trees that had been in their community for generations.

After six years of developing the tea business, Ngọc once again took the plunge, spending dozens of billions of đồng to expand his factory to over 400sq.m and purchase modern equipment to be installed right on top of the Phia Đén Mountain, increasing its capacity to one tonne of dried tea per day. However, the market demand for Phia Đén tea continued to exceed its supply.

Participating in many domestic and international trade fairs only increased Ngọc’s determination to follow the path of producing high quality tea. He expects Kolia to be growing tea on more than 200 hectares by 2020.

The impact

One time, Ngọc took me to visit the Vọng Tiên Cung Temple that was built hundreds of years ago and recently restored by him as a sign of respect to the area’s history. During this visit, he also introduced me to some tea producing households.

Triệu Văn Ngàn owns about 6,000 Phúc Vân Tiên tea trees. His family used to be very poor despite years of nurturing the trees until Kolia taught them new methods by bringing in tea specialists and introducing international standards for organic tea.

“We can now harvest better tea with less hardship. And we are proud to provide the market with tea products totally free of pesticides,” Ngàn said, adding that the income of local tea workers has increased four times since applying modern methods.

Now, in the dreamy foggy atmosphere of the Phia Oắc-Phia Đén Mountain that is covered with the evergreen colour of the vast tea farms, Ngọc and his partners have embarked on an ecotourism project, reviving it as a tourist destination.

Visitors can enjoy the taste of the forests and mountains, from fresh food to fruits and tea produced by locals.

After decades lost in beauty sleep, Phia Oắc-Phia Đén has woken up, thanks to a Dao man dedicated to his hometown, and is set to become a new hotspot for visitors. VNS

 

GLOSSARY

To paraphrase a famous saying, to know Phia Oắc-Phia Đén is to love her.

To paraphrase something means to rewrite it in different words to give it clearer meaning.

It is thus that I hold deep affection for each mountain pass, village and community in Cao Bằng Province, and this deepens perceptibly when it comes to the Phia Oắc-Phia Đén area.

Affection means fondness.

Perceptibly means noticeably.

With a climate that seems to have four seasons in a single day, the area has invited comparisons with renowned resorts in Việt Nam like Sa Pa, Tam Đảo and Đà Lạt, but the fact that it is lesser known lends it a different charm.

If the area invites comparisons with resorts, it makes you compare it with those resorts.

A favourite resort of the French colonists a century ago, Phia Oắc-Phia Đén, has been, in relative terms, deserted for over 70 years.

Deserted means empty of people.

Remnants of beautiful French-style villas and other buildings covered in moss are like sleeping beauties waiting to be woken up.

Remnants are remains.

One person doing his bit to nudge them awake is a man I have been “following” for several years via media reports about his passion for ancient tea trees in the high mountains of Nguyên Bình District.

To nudge someone is to give them a gentle prod. (You prod someone when you push your finger on to their body to attract their attention.)

If you have a passion for something you love it so much you do not care how much time or effort you spend on it.

Hoàng Mạnh Ngọc, an ethnic Dao man in his mid-forties, has protected dozens of hectares of tea in Phia Oắc-Phia Đén to create a trademark for high quality produce that is distributed nationwide and exported to foreign markets.

An ethnic Dao person is someone from the Dao community, who are different to other communities.

A hectare is a measurement of the size of a piece of land.

Ngọc is a native of the mountainous district , home to renowned Phia Oắc Peak.

If you are a native of a district you come from there.

Renowned means famous.

Justifiably proud of its misty winters and cool summers, he had long aspired to do something to preserve the ancient pine forest and majestic villas.

Justifiably means “with good reason”.

To aspire to do something means to aim to do it.

To preserve means to keep.

The Kolia Company sought to exploit the area’s ecotourism potential, while producing fresh tea and the Cao Bằng cassava vermicelli or glass noodle.

Sought is the past tense of “seek”, which means to look for something.

To exploit means to make full use of something for your own good.

Potential means possibilities.

Modern technique was infused into the traditional methods of the Dao people to harvest tea of high quality with a distinctive flavour that would meet international standards.

Infused mean gently mixed.

Distinctive means standing out as being something of its own.

Phia Oắc also contains the headwaters of many big rivers in the northeast of the country, and it is a huge source of minerals that used to be exploited during the French colonial time.

The headwaters of a river are the waters of the river in its early stages, near the source, which is usually in the hills and in the mountains.

Ngọc used to spend several days visiting these tea gardens and fell for the taste of the tea, flavoured by the mist and minerals of the mountains, that impresses at first sip and leaves a lingering sweet, acrid taste.

Lingering means lasting for a long time.

Acrid means bitter and unpleasant.

The very first time Ngọc enjoyed the subtle and distinctive taste of the local tea, he was moved to preserve the ancient tea trees, protecting the vast area and producing tea for domestic and foreign markets.

Subtle, in this case, means very fine.

The domestic market is the market in Viet Nam

The temperature during the day never exceeded 22oC, dropping to 15-17oC at night.

If a temperature exceeded 22oC it was more than that.

“The plants are covered by fog all year round. Sometimes the rainy clouds open up to refresh both people and nature.

Fog means mist.

Ngọc began learning the Dao people’s traditional method of exposing the tea leaves to the frost, and applying ten different kinds of organic fertilisers to as many varieties of tea trees.

Organic fertilisers are fertilisers made from natural rather than chemical ingredients.

The first consignment of tea exported to Taiwan in 2013 was a great success, fetching prices ranging from two to six million đồng (US$90-260) per kilo and receiving positive feedback from buyers.

A consignment means a batch.

After six years of developing the tea business, Ngọc once again took the plunge, spending dozens of billions of đồng to expand his factory to over 400sq.m and purchase modern equipment to be installed right on top of the Phia Đén Mountain, increasing its capacity to one tonne of dried tea per day.

To take the plunge means to dive into something with full commitment, even if it is a risk.

To purchase means to buy.

However, the market demand for Phia Đén tea continued to exceed its supply.

Demand is the extent to which someone wants something.

Supply is the extent to which something is available.

One time, Ngọc took me to visit the Vọng Tiên Cung Temple that was built hundreds of years ago and recently restored by him as a sign of respect to the area’s history.

Restored, in this case, means brought back to how it was when it was great.

“We can now harvest better tea with less hardship. And we are proud to provide the market with tea products totally free of pesticides,” Ngàn said, adding that the income of local tea workers has increased four times since applying modern methods.

Pesticides are chemicals that are put on plants to get rid of pests.

Now, in the dreamy foggy atmosphere of the Phia Oắc-Phia Đén Mountain that is covered with the evergreen colour of the vast tea farms, Ngọc and his partners have embarked on an ecotourism project, reviving it as a tourist destination.

Evergreen means to do with a plant that is green throughout the year.

Reviving means bringing something back to life.

WORKSHEET

State whether the following statements are true, or false:

 

  1. Tea farmer Triệu Văn Ngàn does not use pesticides on his tea trees.
  2. VietGAP stands for Viet Nam Grand Agricultural Practices.
  3. After six years of developing the tea business, Hoàng Mạnh Ngọc found that supply for Phia Đén tea continued to exceed its demand.
  4. Taiwan produces its own tea but also buys tea from the Dao community of Viet Nam.
  5. The Phia Oắc range has the headwaters of many big rivers

 

 

ANSWERS:

© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. True; 2. False; 3. False; 4. True; 5. True.

 

 

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