As I resumed my quest for a better understanding of Vietnamese tea culture, I chanced upon this tea house hidden in a small alleyway – Tra Dao Viet, 7G Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Q1, HCMC.
As I took a seat in this peaceful abode, I felt a calm surge of excitement. In Hanoi, I had given up on finding such a refuge where tea could be enjoyed and shared far from the bustling of the city streets. I was gently greeted by a quiet young woman who presented me their handwritten tea menu. She had the kindness of reading out the menu for me since I was unfamiliar with Vietnamese calligraphy. As I asked her more about the different teas, she suggested that I return when the owner would be present and offered me her phone number for an appointment. Not knowing much about the teas that she described to me, I settled for a Thai Nguyên green tea.
Mrs. Viên Trân, the owner of the tea house, turned out to be quite the expert in Vietnamese tea culture. Being a very humble person, it was only by the end of our encounter that I came to realize that, among other things, she taught tea classes, spoke about Vietnamese tea on national television, and made her own lotus and jasmine tea. Her family had been aromatising and preparing teas for three generations. She only started making small quantities of teas for sale in the past 10 years.
She greeted me with her personal stock of pink lotus tea. She only makes this tea on request.
As she poured each of us a glass, she explained to me her process for making her lotus tea. The overall explanation coincided with what Mr. Tuân from Hanoi had taught us. Although, she gave a much more detailed account of the finishing touch. After the few cycle of aromatisation, she would put the tea in small paper pouches before roasting it to allow the aroma to settle into the tea. The paper pouches are used to protect the tea from the extreme heat. She showed me up close the part of the lotus flower used to aromatise the tea. The stamens are responsible for its scent.
She then proceeded to make me sample a white lotus tea that she had just made. The tea had an initial sweeter vegetable taste than its pink counter part. She explained that the tea used was different. For the white lotus tea, she used Chè Tuyêt Dai Tu Tân Cuong, tea made from pekoe originating from the Dai Tu region. It is apparently the region in Thai Nguyên that produces one of the best teas. I bought 100g of its unscented version to sample and compare with the other Vietnamese teas bought during the trip.
According to Mrs. Trân, people from Northern Vietnam prefers to drink non-scented green teas and lotus tea while the Southerners prefers Ô long (wulong) teas and scented teas, particularly jasmine. The tea house culture is mostly present in Southern Vietnam. Many of her customers are younger in age, under 30. The older people who savors tea would own their personal tea set. This surprised me since I was told by the people from Hanoi that coffee is more widespread than tea in the south. For Southern Vietnamese, tea seems to have a more intimate connotation than coffee. One would go for coffee with acquaintances while one would only go for tea with close ones such as intimate friends, significant others, and family.
While I was attentively listening to her explanations, she presented me with a jasmine Ô long from the region of Câu Dât close to Dalat. Many of the Vietnamese Ô long are from that region.