We often tend to think of southern China, and particularly Yunnan province as the home of tea. Yet anthropologists and tea historians often refer to the birthplace of tea as being a much wider area bound by Assam in India, southern Yunnan Province in China, the top of Myanmar and Laos, down to northern Thailand and across the northern regions of Vietnam.
Vietnamese tea has often been synonymous with inferior mass produced tea, and tea has been produced cheaply here for export. However, what is less known, is that in the mountains that blanket the triangle from southern Yunnan, Laos and northern Vietnam, there are ancient tea forests. And, the ethnic communities that inhabit the mountains have been plucking the leaves for many centuries in their own tea making traditions.
In northern Vietnam, the main ethnic group is the Hmongs. In the parts of Yen Bai, where the Wild Tree Black, Wild Tree Green and Swirling Mists Wild Tree White are grown and made, there is a tea forest containing more than 85,000 ancient trees, and these are some of the oldest in the world.
The trees grow ungroomed, and the tea pickers climb ladders to pluck the leaves. Much like the other successful tea growing regions, such as the Taiwanese central range and Doi Mae Salong in northern Thailand, the climate is humid yet cool due to the elevation. Rainfall is plentiful and the tea grows amongst other plants, trees and animals. The tea is grown organically and handmade.
We have been bringing in the wild teas from Vietnam since 2013 and have been pretty impressed with the quality of them. We also get some Taiwanese style oolongs from Son La, and these have also proven popular amongst some of our oolong enthusiasts.
In particular, we hope interest in the wild tea continues to grow here and around the world so that the locals continue to produce these teas, and protect the ancient tea forests as a valued resource.