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.
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.