A four hour drive and six Gravol later, as we drove up a steep slope, we arrived in Suoi Giang. Suoi Giang being a rather small village, it didn’t take us long until we arrived at Nha Che Tu-Hai. Nha Che means tea production house in Vietnamese. As we walked into the spacious house, we were quickly greeted by Mrs. Hai and her husband, Mr. Tu.
Mrs. Hai family has been making tea for three generations. After some small talk over tea and learning about Vietnamese tea history (more about this in a later post), we got down to tasting the three types of teas that she produced from the tea leaves of wild ancient tea trees : Che Tuyet San (Imperial picking – bud with one following leaf), Che Tom (Fine picking – bud with two following leaves), and a third type that didn’t have a name (Classical picking – bud with three or four following leaves).
We found the Che Tom to be the most interesting, but there were only 4 kg left and could only be produced again in July. We decided to settle for its higher quality counterpart, the mythical Che Tuyet San which she still had 10 kg. We bought everything she had. The next time she would be able to produce this tea would be in December.
We could tell by its more tannic and “fiberish” notes that the tea trees were definitely old, many hundred years old. As it is distinctive of Vietnamese green tea, behind this initial astringent tone, appears a sweeter gentler flavor, akin to a hint of maple syrup, as the warm beverage reaches the throat.
As she started to package the 10 kg of tea for us, we left with her husband for a journey through the tea forest.
Fun fact: It was the first time that we had met. We didn’t have enough money to pay her for the 10 kg of this expensive Vietnamese tea. She said that we could leave with the tea now and give the payment to Mr. Cuong who introduced us to her once back in Hanoi. We offered to pay her part of the money right away and to give the rest to Mr. Cuong. She refused explaining that we still had a long journey ahead of us and believed that we would still need the liquid cash. Talk about thoughtfulness and trust!