Vietnam has long been a source of tea for China: for several centuries now. Here in Hong Kong, pu erh was imported from the Vietnamese highlands, where assamica trees are native to the landscape. During the Cultural Revolution, Vietnam became a source country for pu erh that closely matched the style of production just across the border in Yunnan.
The Chinese Emperors, however, considered Vietnam a vassal state. camellia sinensis var. sinensis trees were introduced for production for the Chinese Emperors, and the best of the tea produced there was sent to the Emperor as tribute for several centuries. I feel this tea is as close as we can get to the tribute grade that was sent north during Chinese rule.
Earlier this year, I visited Hanoi for the first time. I'd been to Saigon twice before that and knew Hanoi was where tea culture had been kept alive due to its proximity to China and centuries of Chinese influence. Vietnam in Cantonese is 'yuet lam,' or the 'far south'--Vietnam was considered a part of China for a millennium, and it is very evident in the culture, language and politics of Vietnam today.
While there, I visited a tea manufacturer that produced ripe pu erh. I was not happy with the quality of their ripe pu erh at all--it was perhaps the worst ripe pu erh I have ever had. On the way to the company's office in Hanoi, I had passed a tea store and it looked interesting enough for me to pop in and check it out. I wasn't expecting much as Hanoi is absolutely packed to the gills with tea from Thai Nguyen, much of which is advertised as being from the Tan Cuong commune, the premier area for tea production in Vietnam according to Vietnamese tea drinkers. I got on the phone with the owner and was allowed to try a tea bag of their tea, rather than the highest grade of tea they carried at the store, which is what I was really interesting in trying. Well, the tea bag blew me away--it was the single best example of Thai Nguyen green tea I'd tried until that point. I bought 100g of their best Tan Cuong tea and brewed it up right in Hanoi, and it was outstanding.
A few months ago, I got in touch with the company and expressed an interest in carrying their teas here at TeaLife, as I felt their price-to-quality ratio was the best I'd encountered for Thai Nguyen tea, which is the most esteemed tea in Vietnam and something I really enjoy drinking. I have several kilos of Thai Nguyen tea for my own consumption at any given time! They were happy to provide me with complimentary samples to test the market with before we (hopefully) move onto serious business. While at their store, there was a top grade of Thai Nguyen green tea that wasn't in stock (and which I obviously wanted to try). Well, they sent me a kilo or so of this very special tea, and this is what I'm offering today!
This tea is almost entirely tips, like the finest Chinese green teas. I feel this tea surpasses the quality of the best longjing I've had from Zhejiang, however, and at a much better price. You'll have to try this tea for yourself to see if you think so too!
While I gongfu brewed this tea in the pictures above, I feel the Vietnamese (and Chinese) know how best to brew green tea. The Vietnamese prefer large porcelain pots (and occasionally Yixing pots) for this tea, and I feel big pot brewing works best for a full flavor and texture profile. The Vietnamese brew at full boil, and Thai Nguyen tea tends to be very forgiving, but this tea would excel at a lower temperature too. The Vietnamese customarily rinse, and I would suggest you do so too to prepare the tea for the actual brewing to come.
In a large pot, brewed grandpa-style, this tea is sweet, smooth, green-beany in a longjing-like way, and has interesting fruit flavors I can't quite put my finger on. Letting the tea brew longer (five to ten minutes) brings out a natural sweet potato/yam flavor that is lovely (as long as you like sweet potatoes and yams)! There is subtle huigan too, which is lovely. There is nothing at all unpleasant about this tea. The best teas should never be unpleasant in any way. There is very light bitterness at full boil, which is to be expected, but this is something considered desirable by Vietnamese drinkers, especially in the north, where Thai Nguyen tea consumption is highest. This is a far higher grade than what your average Vietnamese drinker consumes, however, and is probably the highest grade of this tea available anywhere online today.
This tea is very reasonably priced, considering its quality, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! I hope there is sufficient interest in this tea so I can help bring it to the world. This tea is excellent iced, too, and iced Thai Nguyen green tea is one of the most popular beverages in Vietnam. This grade definitely isn't served as iced tea anywhere I've ever dined, however!