The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
The Three R's Defining Vietnam's Tea
Industry Today-Rebuild-Revitalize-Renew
Vietnam has a long history of tea consumption and cultivation, but up until 1880
had no formalized tea industry until the French established the first cultivated
tea gardens in Pho Tho, in what was then French Indochina.
During the next 65 years the
French established three re-
search stations in northern
Vietnam to study the local tea varietals and
by 1945 had 33,000 acres of tea under
cultivation, and exported approximately
2,500 tons of
black tea to Europe and green
tea to
Africa.

During the mid 1950s Russian tea processing
technology and machinery were used for
pro- cessing and exporting Vietnamese tea
to Russia. In the 1980s
Japan helped
Vietnam establish the production of
sencha
style green teas to aid in the growing
demand for tea.  Later Vietnam sought
technical help from
India for black tea pro-
duction, a style in which they had no experience.

Taiwan also provided their expertise in producing pouchong style
oolong teas which are manufactured today in Lam Dong Province,
located in the central highlands.  Five tea growing areas were
designated after 1975 in the midlands, northwest, northern-cen-
tral coastal areas, northern highlands, and Viet Bac, lying north of
Hanoi, and the stronghold of the Viet Minh during the First
Indochina War of 1946-54.

Lam Dong is Vietnam's largest tea growing region with upward of 20,000 hectares under culti-
vation, that produces around 100,000 tons of fresh leaf yearly.  All told the area under cultiva-
vation totals approximately 140,000 hectares, with annual production about 145,000 tons of
orthodox and
CTC (cut-tear-curl) black tea,
green tea, oolong, white, and aged pu-erh
style teas.  CTC and black tea make up 60%
of production, green tea 35%, and
specialty
teas including jasmine, lotus, oolong, and a
specialty highland green tea, Shan Tuyet or
Snow Green Tea, all combined make up the
last 5%.

The harvested tea that comes from these
tea
growing regions is processed in both large,
well equipped factories with the latest in new
machinery and tea processing technology, but
also in smaller scale home farms, where famil-
ies process small amounts of handmade arti-
san teas.

         These smallholder farmers play an important role in Vietnam's tea production, selling
         either fresh leaf for processing or small amounts of processed green tea.  Over 500,000
         smallholders, some who have previously worked on state owned
         farms have been allocated land and are under contract to sell a cer-
         tain percentage of their leaf to state farms. Others are contracted to
         supply fresh leaf to medium or large processors, and lastly, there are
         smallholders who sell the majority of their leaf on the open market.

         Both researchers and tea farmers are working to match varietals and
         processing methods to satisfy the tastes for both black and green
         teas in the domestic and export markets worldwide.  The types of
         Vietnamese teas currently available and of interest to worldwide
         buyers are large leaf, small leaf, and
fannings grade black teas, large
         leaf green, fannings, gunpowder, and jasmine green tea and
lotus
         flavored and cinnamon flavored green teas.

         Today, however, Vietnamese tea growers and producers still are facing many problems.
         These include competition for good quality raw material, low levels of productivity, some
         of which can be blamed on previous tea plantings being the wrong cultivar for the
         climate and soil type.  

                                                         There are also problems with inconsistent leaf quality, not
                                                         following standard tea growing and harvesting methods,
                                                         tea gardens that have become too old or over picked and
                                                         which no longer deliver quality leaf, yield, or flavor.  Also
                                                         the plucking of a new bud and three to four leaves, rather
                                                         than the preferred bud and two leaves, small and scatter-
                                                         ed production areas, the overuse of pesticides in some
         areas, and finally prolonged draughts that Vietnam is subject to that decrease produc-
         tion, resulting in poor harvests with inferior quality leaf.    

         Also, until recently Vietnam didn't have a recognizable trademark or market brand to
         identify its country's teas and tea products.

         Vietnam has worked hard to address its problems and today
         there are government run programs that help advise farmers
         on new tea bush cultivars selected from China, India, and
         
Sri Lanka, that will increase productivity, crop yields, and
         quality of flavor in the cup.

         Issues of inconsistent leaf quality have also been addressed, and guidelines are in place
         to help maintain strict quality control and consistency from year to year.  And they have
         
created a national trademark-Cheviet, to establish their market brand, identity, and guarantee of origin.

Vietnam's tea harvest runs from April through October, with 34 provinces in the north, central, and southern coastal
regions.  Subtropical weather brings warm days and cool nights in the north. The central regions are tropical with high
humidity bringing needed moisture during the hot summer months.

                                             In the northern uplands of the mountainous provinces, indigenous tea trees are found
                                             close to the border with China, growing in groups of 30 to 40 trees.  No one knows
                                             who planted the ancient trees but they grow in somewhat regular rows, indicating
                                             purposeful cultivation at some point.  But after 100s of years they've become scraggly
                                             and overgrown.  In Yen Bai Province there are 500 year old tea trees that must be
                                             climbed to gather the leaves.

The variety of tea tree that grows there is Shan Tuyet. The tea made from Shan Tuyet is naturally high in antioxidants,
is mildly astringent, and can be manufactured into black, green,
yellow, or white teas.  These specialty teas are just
starting to become available in 2011, in the local and international markets, so keep your eye out for them and other
Vietnam teas which now proudly displays its trademark- Cheviet, on all their country's teas and tea products.  
Enjoy.
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