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Việt Nam’s tea culture is steeped in history

Update: July, 15/2018 - 09:00
All natural: Hùng relaxes next to an old tea tree which is free of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Viet Nam News

Modern life can be very tiring. Let’s have a seat, enjoy some good tea and chat with Nguyễn Việt Hùng, the Tea Master of Việt Nam, who won the Tea Master Cup competition in 2016, about his passion for organic tea and stories of 300-year-old tea forests in Việt Nam. Bùi Quỳnh Hoa reports.

 

Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us how you got involved with organic tea?

I started to study organic tea 10 years ago, but became more seriously devoted in the last five years. At first, I did it because I loved drinking tea and wanted to brew tea in my own way. But gradually, after travelling to northern mountainous provinces such as Hà Giang, Sơn La and Yên Bái, where tea forests can be up to 300 years old, I’ve fallen in love with organic tea.

I took part in the Tea Master Cup Competition in 2016, which was held in Việt Nam, and became the champion. This was a chance for me to meet other tea masters in the region, and to learn more about their tea products.

Later, in a trip representing Việt Nam at another tea competition in China, I had the chance to introduce different kinds of Vietnamese tea, especially organic ones, to foreign tea experts who had little idea about Vietnamese tea.

I wondered why Việt Nam was not a bigger name on the world tea map although it ranks fifth in the export of raw tea. I wanted to find the answer, and my journey with organic tea began.

Inner Sanctum: Why is organic tea so important?

Our tea products are always priced low, although we rank fifth as tea producer in the world.

In fact we have old tea forests in the northern mountainous areas of the country, which are rare. Our tall trees have deep roots at a height of 1,000m above sea level; are free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides; and are picked by the ethnic Mông and Dao people. Organic tea agriculture sustains the health of the soil, ecosystem and people. It’s said that these are a ‘super organic’ raw material source for our tea. They meet certain standards for consumer safety and environmental friendliness.

Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us about the organic products at your tea house - Hiền Minh Tea?  

Naturally, consumers have become more concerned, wanting to know how and where their tea is grown, and what kind of impact their cup of tea might be having on the planet. The easiest place to start is by looking for tea which has been certified organic.

So, no matter how good the tea tastes, the most important thing is the safety of the product.

Our tea is processed from old Shan Tuyết trees which are grown in northern mountainous provinces. All the products are harvested in spring and autumn, the seasons which provide the highest quality tea over the whole year.

At present, our tea house – Hiền Minh Tea – supply 20 kinds of organic tea, including self-grown Hiền Minh lotus-scented tea, which are the most popular kinds of tea at our tea house.

Inner Sanctum: Why do you have to grow lotus by yourself while other ponds are full of lotuses for you to purchase and collect?

I grow lotuses because I love lotus so much, and I want to have my own organic lotus ponds which are strictly controlled by required standards. In this way, I can take the initiative to ensure high-quality materials for our lotus tea.

So far, we have three lotus ponds on an area of more than 10,000sq.m which can provide 50,000 lotuses per year.

Inner Sanctum: What about the yield? Low yield means low income and low profit.  How do you deal with the challenge?

Each season I can only supply about 30kg of white tea, 200kg of green tea, 30kg of lotus tea, and a small quantity of other kinds of teas like jasmine and chrysanthemum tea.

I think low yield but good quality is much better than high yield but low quality. Only high-quality products help with prestige and long-term development. Our customers agree with me on that, and willingly pay high prices for quality products.

Furthermore, as I mentioned, I want to show the world that Việt Nam has many kinds of specialty organic tea, not just raw tea. I want Việt Nam to have a place on the world map of tea.

And yes, in order to maintain the operation, along with producing high-quality organic specialities, I have created favourable conditions for my customers, from old to young, from locals to foreigners who come from Japan, France, England, Bolivia and Argentina and other countries, to have a chance to experience brewing tea at my tea house, and to help them learn more about Vietnamese tea culture. I’ve also opened workshops introducing tea art, and set up many tours to Việt Nam’s old tea areas. This is a good way to show our specialities of organic tea.

Top brew: To tea master Nguyễn Việt Hùng, organic tea is a passion which changed his life. Photos courtesy of Nguyễn Việt Hùng
High quality: Organic tea agriculture sustains the health of soil, ecosystems and people. Photo kienthuc.net.vn

Inner Sanctum: What did you do before working with organic tea? Why did you turn down a good job to produce organic tea and open Hiền Minh Tea?

In the past, I worked for the Viet Nam Posts and Telecommunications Hà Nội, commonly abbreviated as VNPT Hà Nội. I quit the job because I realised that it’s not suitable for me. I thought life was too short and it’s a real waste if I kept doing something that made me bored and felt no significance to my life.

To me, organic tea is my great passion, and I want to devote my life to it. It changed my life.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any plans for the future?

There are three things I want to do.

First, I want to organise a tea tour through the country, and then a tea tour around the world with the aim of introducing Vietnamese tea to the world.

Second, I want to research more and create more kinds of organic tea from old trees in our country in order to attract more young Vietnamese people to the art of tea.

Finally, I want to keep opening classes to help more people understand and love our tea culture. VNS

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