Tea is a popular drink in many parts of the world. In the Middle East where the vast majority do not drink alcohol, it is the main liquid consumed, perhaps even more than water. In the UK, a cup of tea in the afternoon is almost part of the culture of a housewife. Tea is most refreshing and ideal to cool the body in hot conditions. In Vietnam, tea is part of street life, often served in the narrow streets where many people stop for refreshments of all kinds. If you are thinking about a holiday in Vietnam, you can expect to see tea being served in several places. Undoubtedly your Vietnam tour package will include the old parts of Hanoi. It is likely to be point of arrival and it is worth exploring before you move on.
Ironically, while in Hanoi you will get a hot cup of tea straight from the teapot in a sidewalk café, down south in Ho Chi Minh City which is also a likely destination while you travel in Vietnam, it is much more common to see ice cubes in the tea. It may be a matter of climate because north to south in Vietnam covers several degrees of latitude and the south is much closer to the Equator. It cools the drinker in hot weather as well as warms and energises everyone when the weather is cool.
Tea is always available. It will be at every gathering, even weddings and funerals and it is always placed as an offering to ancestors at the altar in the home. It has been the same for centuries in Vietnam. Tea has been grown in this land for 2,000 years and Vietnam remains one of the major tea growers in the world. In the 11th Century, tea was central to the lives of Buddhists and a couple of centuries later during the Tran Dynasty, tea assumed a philosophical value. Nguyen Trai, a famous hermit in the 15th Century described life for him as ‘’tea, poetry and the moon.’’
Tea is the drink that villagers offer to their neighbours when they visit; it almost encourages the conversation which can be anything from family discussions to sharing problems. Tea was thought to be an inspiration to poets; it somehow sharpened the mind.
There are several types of tea and the leaves are often wrapped in flowers to add fragrance:
• Che Man with chrysanthemum
• Che Bup with hoa soi flowers
The higher quality of these two kinds may also be wrapped in lotus, jasmine or narcissus. In the case of lotus, that was formerly a tea just for royalty.
• Cum tea grown by the Tay ethnic people. The buds mature before being roasted, dried and cut up. The tea id then wrapped in palm leaves.
Tea is very much part of the Vietnamese culture. Plenty of coffee is drunk in the Country but it will never attain the status that tea has had for generation after generation.