The next day, over lunch before parting ways. We had Mrs. Hiêp explain to us in further details the functioning of her cooperative. She explained that it is currently made up of 37 families. 32 out of the 37 families representatives are women. Men usually take care of trimming, watering, spreading manure, and feeding the furnaces with wood. Women would usually take care of everything from picking to transforming the tea into its finished products. The profit from the finished products would be shared evenly among all the members of the cooperative.
When we learnt that, to become a member of the cooperative, one had to be 18 years of age, to have the financial means of paying the annual membership fees of 1,000,000 VND (50$), and no criminal record, we jokingly asked if we could join. Mrs. Hiêp answered that we technically could.
Hugo, Sabrina, and I decided to join the cooperative! It took some explaining before she understood that we were being serious.
The three new members of the Tân Huong Cooperative with its management team (from left to right): Mrs. Thao, Mrs. Hiêp, Mrs. Nhai, her grand-daughter, Hugo, Minh-Tam, and Sabrina
Shortly after we arrived at the Tân Huong Cooperative, Mrs. Hiêp announced that she was considering making Ô long (Wulong) teas as long as we were willing to buy it from her. Wulong teas would solely be for exportation purposes since the Vietnamese mainly drink green tea and cannot afford the more expensively priced wulongs. We were very curious to taste Vietnamese wulong. We knew that there were Taiwanese who came over to Vietnam to make wulong for resale in Taiwan because Vietnamese wulongs are cheaper than Taiwanese wulongs.
Mrs. Hiêp introduced us to Mr. Hsu, a Taiwanese tea producer from whom she would be learning the art of making wulongs. She would also be buying the equipment to make wulong from him as well. A set of equipment cost approximately 50,000$ while a tea producing family in Vietnam would earn at the most 3,000$/year.
Mr. Hsu enthusiastically greeted us. He had wanted to meet Hugo since the day Mrs. Hiêp had mentioned his visit. He even delayed his return to Taiwan in order to make this encounter possible. As he greeted us in Chinese, it hit us… Mr. Hsu only spoke Chinese. He had an interpreter with him to help him communicate with the Vietnamese. She was fluent in Vietnamese and Chinese.
There was a brief moment of silence where all four of us, Mr. Hsu, his interpreter, Hugo, and I, just stood there looking at each other. We were coming to terms with how the rest of the evening would unfold since conversations would not only be held between the four of us. There would also be Mrs. Hiêp and her colleagues who only spoke Vietnamese. Mr. Xu and Hugo would have everything that they would be saying translated into Vietnamese. I would translate everything said in Vietnamese into French and Mr. Hsu’s interpreter would do the same for him in Chinese. Imagine a conversation taking place with two interpreters in between. How surreal is that?
Mr. Hsu proceeded to make us sample two wulongs and a black tea made from Vietnamese tea leaves. One of the Wulong is Bai Hao-like, but different. It had an initial honey sweetness to it. The black tea was similar, but lacked the structure that black tea would usually have. The other wulong, about 20% oxidized, was a bit light in flavour. There was potential.
We decided on purchasing Mrs. Hiêp usual green tea and the 20% oxidized Wulong since the other one had run out. The next picking for the Bai Hao-like Wulong will be August.
Not having planned on purchasing 10 kg of Che Tuyet San, Hugo and I were now sharing the cramped back seat with it. After Suoi Giang, our next destination was to be the Tân Huong Tea Cooperative in Thai Nguyên managed by Mrs. Hiêp.
Although, our jovial driver, Mr. Thành, decided on a surprise stop. He would turn a street corner, stop to ask for directions, then make a U-Turn. He did this several times in a row. We were starting to wonder where in the world we were going and when will we ever arrive to destination.
We were indeed pleasantly surprised. He brought us to visit a tea plantation in La Bang, owned by Mrs. Hai family. One of their teas won the Bup Vang Award (Golden Sprout Award) at the Thai Nguyên Tea Competition this year. She brought us three of her highest grade teas to sample. They were indeed interesting teas. Two of her three teas had this hint of tomatoes to them. As we were sharing our love of tea, we made her sample a Chinese green tea, the Anji Bai Cha. As she saw the leaves and tasted the infusion, she enthusiastically interrogated us on the transformation method of the Anji Bai Cha. She wanted to try to replicate its needle-like shape. It was a delight to see how her eyes lit up as we were telling her more about it. We promised to send her by email what we knew of its transformation process as soon as we got back home.
Since we already bought teas from Tân Huong Cooperative in Thai Nguyên, we settled for buying 500 g of each type of teas for our personal use. We then proceeded to visit her tea plantation.
Half the day had gone by as we unsuspectingly headed out to our final destination where another surprise awaited us.