Artisan Hoang Anh Suong shares with Pham Oanh his experience of enjoying tea in Vietnam as well as the art of tea in Vietnamese culture.
|Artisan Hoang Anh Suong
Vietnamese tea ceremony for Japanese royal party
Having spent many years researching Vietnamese tea culture and introducing it to many countries around the world, I was honored to present a tea ceremony for the Emperor and Empress of Japan. On March 3, I brewed and offered tea for General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and the Japanese royal guests at a special welcome tea party.
I felt somewhat nervous about serving such high profile visitors. I chose two famous specialty teas to prepare for the honored guests-high-class Tan Cuong tea from the most famous green tea area of Thai Nguyen province and Tay Ho lotus tea that I marinated in the traditional style.
The scent of the Vietnamese tea tantalized the taste buds of the Emperor and Empress as well as all the other guests. They drank tea with pure enjoyment and gave me endless compliments.
At the end of the tea ceremony, the Emperor and Empress of Japan approached my serving table, and said, “The tea is delicious!”
Their friendliness and warm smiles spread positive energy throughout the room. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong cheerfully told me: “You are exactly like your name, Hoang Anh Suong.” Hoang Anh Suong means happiness.
The opportunity to meet the heads of two countries brought me great joy and a sense of pride in what I do. Only tea can bring the Emperor from far away Japan to a Vietnamese citizen like me in such a close and intimate way. The tea played a meaningful role, helping people of two countries meet and find friendship and peace. Tea is also a means of expressing hospitality and beauty in Vietnamese culture.
For me, the tea ceremony for the Japanese Emperor and Empress will always be a beautiful memory and as a tea artisan I consider it a great honor.
Tea art in Vietnamese culture
Making artisan tea is a long journey, from selecting the right soil, topography, mountain air, levels of sunshine, rain, and watering, nursing the young leaves until harvest and finally drying the tea leaves to ensure a perfect flavor is achieved.
It is no accident that of all the beverages of this human realm, tea is considered the most sophisticated. With the same tea hill, tea grown to the east is always better than that grown to the west. As the tea plant facing east receives the sun rays early in the morning, the growth response is different from that of the tea in the west.
Moreover, within the same tea garden tea harvested in the four seasons spring, summer, autumn, and winter have different flavors.
The most excellent is the tea ‘Xuan 1’ or ‘Tien Minh’ (before the Ancestor Day). When the cold winter passes and the first sunshine of spring arrives, the buds start sprouting on the tea scrags. If those buds are picked early, still covered in dew, and brought home to dry on an iron pan, they will possess a very unique and fresh fragrance like the aroma of a steaming sticky rice bowl. Our ancestors had a saying: “Drink a cup of tea, travel a thousand miles”. That kind of tea used to be offered to the King in ancient times.
Along with China, Japan, Sri Lanka and India, Vietnam is home to vast amounts of tea plants. The vestiges of fossil tea trees have been found on the land of Hung Vuong and Phu Tho. Many researchers believe that the tea plant appeared from the Stone Age Son Vi about ten thousand years ago.
Vietnam still has over 40,000 ancient tea plantations in Suoi Giang commune in Yen Bai province. These are considered a treasure and source of pride for Vietnamese tea culture.
The Vietnamese are thought to be one of the earliest tea drinking nations in the world. The Vietnamese way of drinking tea is also varied, from the sophisticated style of the ancient kings to the more relaxed styles popular today.
Tea is taken to a new level and considered a great art. Tea drinkers can enjoy in silence and sometimes silence is a way to communicate. Through enjoying tea, Vietnamese people can predict the attitude of their partners and also tell something about their personality and education level.
The tea drinking habits of Hanoians are a typical example of Vietnamese tea culture. If people of other areas like to drink tea “plain” (tea without embalming), many families in Hanoi enjoy tea flavored with lotus, jasmine or chrysanthemum. In particular, lotus tea is a precious tea that in the past was only offered to guests or as gifts.
Lotus tea made with Ha Giang black tea is flavored with between 1,000 and 2,000 lotus flowers per kilogram of tea. This must be lotus planted in West Lake that has not yet bloomed to reach the highest level of scent. Special-priced lotus tea fluctuates at VND8-10 million per kilogram. Currently in Hanoi, only about six families make this kind of tea.