It’s now been a month since I exchanged my first words with Mr. Thanh, our driver in Vietnam. I was calling him from Canada to inform him of our visit in the up-coming month since we were going to be needing his services. At that point in time, I had to resort to broken Vietnamese. I was nervous, ashamed, and out of practice. Despite having never met or spoken with me before, he was very patient while I made him repeat himself numerous times asking him to explain every three words that I didn’t understand. He could have just hung up the phone.
Here I am, on the back seat of a silver Toyota, with 10 kg of tea separating me from Hugo Améraci, the founder of my favorite tea house in Montréal, the Camellia Sinensis. In the driver seat is our joyful and energetic Mr. Thanh driving away in the sinuous mountain roads of Northern Vietnam. Sitting next to him is Sabrina, a very perceptive young woman who has been working with Hugo for almost 4 years.
How did we end-up having to squeeze 10 kg of tea into whatever space was left in the car while the trunk was full from housing our three large pieces of luggage?, you might wonder.
Yesterday, in the early morning, we headed out in the early morning with the hopes to uncover the secret and put our hands on this mythical Vietnamese tea coined Che Tuyet San, literally Snowy Tea from the Mountains. I am calling this tea mythical because, as I wondered the streets of Hanoi in the attempt of discovering the various types of teas grown in the country, every so often, the name Che Tuyet would come up. People described it as being a tea made solely from young buds of wild ancient tea trees. It was said that it had a sweeter, but less astringent taste than that of the typical Vietnamese green tea. I asked everyone I knew and met where I could purchase this tea. No one knew… or rather, they said that it was a very rare tea and there was only a handful available in the faraway region where it was produced, hence extremely pricy. I was also told that it was not in season at the moment. It was said to be only produced in the winter months. Here I was, halfway across the world, learning about a tea that could not be seen, could not be found, and could not be produced at this time.
The first ray of hope was during an encounter with Mr. Cuong, Import-Export Manager of Vinatea, a government owned black tea producing company. He had seen AND tasted this tea. He even showed us pictures of the ancient tea treas. He confirmed that this tea is made in a region called Suoi Giang, 260 km from Hanoi at an altitude of 1371 meters. He drew us a map and gave us the phone number of a family who produced this tea. JACK POT!