ABOUT THE TEA TREE/PLANT
Thái Công Tụng
(Translated by Nguyễn Văn Ngưu)
Among the plants/vegetations that enter the Vietnamese culture, we could name the betel tree, the tea tree, and the areca tree. If a piece of betel is for chewing, a cup of tea is for drinking – drink during a break from work, drink in the fields, drink when entertaining visitors at home. Tea in social communication, in wedding procedure, in worshipping ancestors, in short/summary tea is an element of Vietnamese culture, Vietnam country/land. The Vietnamese tradition of drinking tea has created an identity. The beauty of tea drinking tradition had been expressed in poems, in ca dao and tuc ngu, in lovely popular work song, and poetry and articles of famous Vietnamese writers and poets:
Làm trai biết đánh tổ tôm
Uống trà Mạn Hảo, ngâm nôm Thuy Kiều
Man know how to play the draw and discard card games (tổ tôm)
Drink the Mạn Hảo tea, recite Thuy Kiều poem (by Nguyen Du)
Chồng em đi ngược về xuôi,
Buôn chè Mạn Hảo tháng ba thì về
My husband travels back and forth
Trading the Mạn Hảo tea, will come back in the third month of the lunar year
Mạn Hão tea, or Man tea, is the tea plant that grows at highland areas, Northern Midlands. It is tea plants of ancient forest, wooden trunk in area of Hà Giang – Lai Châu – Yên Bái and is packaged in form of a cake covered with red paper with label at center indicating year of production. Man tea is very popular. The materials are from old Shan Tuyết tea plants in Hà Giang upstream, grow naturally onto mountain ranges at elevation ranging from 800 m to 2,400 m with dew cover all year round. They selected young buds, the tea leaves are washed very well and after forming the tea cake (Fig 1), drying, they let the tea into the jar, cover with a layer of banana leaves for 3-4 years for the tea to weather off the tannins remove bad smell, with porosity as rice paper (giấy bản) but still retains the special flavors have just been used, therefore it must always provide the processing time.
Fig 1 Shan tuyết tea, Hà Giang – specialty that is like by consumers
Fig 2 Different forms of Mạn Hão tea cake
In some places tea (Trà) is called chè. In folk poem (ca dao) there are two lines below:
Chè ngon, nước chát xin mời
Nước non non nước, nghĩa người chớ quên
Good tea (Chè), bitter juice you please
Country, human meaning please not forget
In Vietnamese culture, tea has an important role in social communication. In the old time, Vietnamese living in mountains, in river delta, or on seaside, being rich or poor, government officials or workers, etc … all have and keep a custom of drinking tea. In village meetings, festivals, and funeral tea helps people to be closer to each other, to forget complexity, resentment in order to live more human. In life, tea is not only a popular and simple drink, but it is a topic, an inspiration for poets and writers. Tea is used as means for communication, in gift giving, in engagement and wedding, in worshipping ancestors and funerals. Tea shop along roadsides in Vietnam are the place where people come to enjoy the tea and exchange news, money exchange rates, gold selling prices, bets on football teams, etc… In social behavior communications, Vietnamese often offers tea, betel and areca, white wine to visitors, leaving friends, marriage engagement, funerals, worshipping days, gifts, etc… This tradition is expressed in folk songs, proverbs, and other popular arts as parallel sentences (câu đối), quan họ songs, etc … In the countryside of Bắc Ninh the following quan họ folk singing is popular (Dân ca quan họ Bắc Ninh):
Mỗi (Mấy) khi khách đến chơi nhà
Đốt than quạt nước pha trà người xơi
Trà này quý lắm người ơi
Mỗi người một chén cho tôi vừa lòng
Muốn cho sông cạn núi liền
Để anh đi lại chẳng phiền đò giang
Vào chùa thấy chữ linh nhang
Gần chùa mà chẳng bén duyên chút nào
Sáng trăng sáng cả vườn đào
Hỏi rằng ngồi đấy ai nào còn không?
Nên chăng? Se sợi chỉ hồng.
Every time (or when) a guest is visiting
For your guest, burning coal to boil water for tea preparing
This tea is very precious my dear
For my pleasure, let us each having a cup of tea
And wish that rivers and mountains are connected
So that you could travel without bothering for boat riding
Entering pagoda and seeing no incent burning
Near to pagoda but not keen at all
The moon lighted the whole peach garden
Ask if anyone else sat there?
Should be? Threading a pink thread
The history of the development of Vietnamese population attached closely to tea plants and the customs of drinking tea. Drinking fresh tea (chè tươi), mạn hảo tea is the identity stroke of the culinary culture of Vietnamese from beginning up to today. The welcome greetings “Good tea, bitter water you please/ Country, human meaning please not forget” of Vietnamese mothers wrinkle skin, sling a raven beak scarf, chewing areca nut and betel leaves or ladies wearing 4 body shirt (áo tứ than) with peach coveralls (chiếc yếm đào) inelegant but naivete, just stuck but impressive. Bowl of green tea, bitter water is the symbol of the soul of hospitable Vietnamese. Tea plant has always been closely attached to Vietnamese throughout the country history. Tea has entered popular poems and songs as a symbol of the soul of Vietnamese, bold cultural identity of Vietnam.
Several proverbs about the experiences of growing tea such as “Sunlight is good for tea, rain is good for rice” (Nắng tốt chè, mưa tốt lúa).
Tea production in Vietnam is more than one million tons and in addition to local consumption tea was also export to Pakistan and some countries in Middle East.
Fig 3 A tea branch
2. Tea in Vietnamese poetry
2.1 Tea in poems of Nguyễn Trãi
Nguyễn Trãi (1380-1442) featured tea in a poetry publication namely Ức Trai Thi Tập – at the time that already had black tea, green tea, ô long tea, yellow, white, marinated flower and his other poems also describe his habit of daily tea drinking:
Nhân nhàn quan rảnh sướng cho ta
Đóng cửa thâu ngày ít qua lại
Mây toả đầy nhà mai đốt bách
Tùng reo quanh gối, tối đun trà
Sửa mình chỉ biết làm hơn cả
Nên phận đâu cần học lắm mà
Vu khoát đời ta mang bệnh ấy
Không phương chữa lão nặng thêm ra
Thắp hương trước án, bên mai luỹ
Quét tuyết đun trà, trước trúc tiên”.
Retirement is good for me
Stay inside the house, no need to going out
Clouds are full of my house tomorrow burning cypress
Cedrus trees rings around pillow, boiling tea in the evening
Correcting myself just know how to do more
So do not need to learn that part
Carry my life, without doubt that disease
No cure for older men
Burn incense before the court, the cumulative tomorrow
Most importantly sweep the snow to boil tea
And in the poem “Ngôn chí” in published Ức Trai poem collection, (he) ever mentioned Hồng Mai:
Cởi tục chè thường pha nước tuyết
Tìm thanh trong vắt tịn chè mai.
Undoing the habit that tea is mixed with snow
Finding the clear dried apricot tea (chè mai)
Undoing the habit (Cởi tục) is to remove worldly sorrow, snow water is clearest water, water dew as snow. apricot tea (chè mai) is the Hồng Mai tea, the tea of mediators. In Vietnamese poetry, Hồng Mai tea shows off through many centuries and has been the inspired competition of many generation of celebrities – tea scholars. The special flavor of Hồng Mai tea still there after hundred of years regardless of many wars have taken place.
2.2 Tea in poems of Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm
At the end of the 15th century, Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (1491-1585) retired and lived simple as a fairy enjoying tea in charming landscape. He let us enjoy the apricot tea that made him faint in the dream reals:
Khát uống trà mai hương ngọt ngọt
Giấc nằm hiên nguyệt gió hiêu hiêu
Thirst to drink apricot tea (trà mai) sweet and sweet fragrance
The dream lies on the moon wind blows gently
2.3 Tea in poems of Tú Xương
The Poet Tú Xương has complained about the magic power of “tea”:
Một trà, một rượu, một đàn bà
Ba cái lăng nhăng nó hại ta.
Chừa được cái gì hay cái nấy,
Có chăng chừa được rượu với trà!
A tea, a wine, a woman
Three promiscuous that harm me
Whichever can be left behind is good
There always is room for wine and tea to spare
2.4 Tea in Truyện Kiều
Truyện Kiều also mentioned about Hồng Mai tea helped Hoạn Thư reduce her jealousy when she caught her husband, Thúc Sinh, is in love with Kiều: the meditation teacup has help her calm down, suddenly awake and become noble:
Thiền trà cạn nước hồng mai
Thong dong nối gót thư trai cùng về
Tea meditation over water of tea hồng mai
Leisurely follow the steps of male priest let’s go home
Trà Hồng Mai is the tea that was processed from old apricot trees cut into small split chops to roast, has pale pink color in brew boiling water, has bold taste, sweet very special taste. This is the meditating tea popular in pagodas in Northern region in the past. Tea was also mentioned in Truyện Kiều:
Khi hương sớm, khi trà trưa
Bàn vây điểm nước, đường tơ hoà đàn
Time for morning spices, time for noon tea
Fin table water point, hairbreadth harmonize
3. Tea around the world
The great part of tea is produced in India, called Assam tea (sometimes it is called C. sinensis assamica or C. assamica). Đây là loại cây nhỏ (thân đơn), lá to bản. In nature, plant of Assam tea can grow up to 6 – 20 m (20–65 ft); but in culture it is a tall as the person waist. In lowland areas, tea plants need more rains on freely drained soils. Assam tea has a sweet taste unlike the taste of the teas from China. In addition to Assam tea, one could have tea from Camellia sinensis plants, producing familiar teas such as black tea, green tea, Ô Long tea, etc … Tea plants have origin from China, but today they are grown in plantations in Ethopia, Rwanda, etc… In Vietnam, tea plantations are in Northern region such as Tuyên Quang, Yên Bái; in Central region tea is grown in Quảng Trị (Cùa), Quảng Nam. In Central Highland, tea plantations are in Pleiku (đồn điền Cateka), Dalat (đồn điền trà vùng Dran), Bảo Lộc-Di Linh
Fig 4 B’lao tea plantation. Photo: Newspaper (Báo) Bình Định.
4. Different teas resulted from processing
Fig 5 Preparing tea leaves for wilting
Depending on their ages, tea leaves could be used to processed into different tea products because of the different chemical compositions in leaves. Normally, only buds with 2 to 3 newly developed are harvested for further processing. The harvest is made by hand regularly once in about 1 to 2 weeks. The harvested leaves are 4 to 15 cm long and 2 to 5 cm wide. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffein.
Each type of tea has its own color, smell. There is green tea, Ô Long tea, white tea, yellow tea, etc … but all teas come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis plant from China. This tea variety has many types however it is not due to this the teas have different colors! Teas have different color because of the processing methods after harvesting, based on oxidation and fermentation.
In general, there are 5 main processed teas.
Fig 6 Tea at drying phase
4.1 White tea (Bạch trà) is the purest. In spring, tea plants have new buds and people harvest only the youngest buds when they are still cover by white fluffy furs, then the buds were immediately steamed to prevent the fermentation, then drying. This is the tea with least required processing. Upon heating, tea leaves curl into the form of hooks, and it is called hook tea (Trà móc câu). Based on recent studies, Bạch trà contains more antioxidant, against cancer more than other teas. Water of bạch trà has white color. Newly harvested tea leaves are spread onto bamboo woven sheet to wilt, helping to slow the oxidation and naturalization.
4.2 Green tea (Trà xanh) is made from young leaves, after harvesting the leaves are dried under sunlight, or frying in a frying pan. Drying in oven or rotating drums or steaming in a pan are modern processing methods. The objective is to destroy the yeast and therefore prevent the fermentation, then the fast cooling is followed in order to prevent the tea from oxidation and keep the green color of the tea leaves. Most famous Chinese green tea is Long Tĩnh tea produced in Hàng Châu. Green tea provides a king of drink that has light grren color or lemon yellow. Because it does not pass through the process of oxidation, the tea water has green or yellow color, a burning smell or young rice smell, bitterness. It is the natural color of tea leaves, not because of brewing or processing. Green tea is the type of tea that has not fermented because containing many against oxidation agents and more theine. Green tea help in increasing immune system, decreasing bad cholesterol, helping weight reducing. Green tea is popularly used in Vietnam. Number of green teas are flavor with flower in South Vietnam such as jasmine tea, lotus tea, pandan ginseng green tea, wolf tea.
4.3 Black tea (Trà đen) is processed similarly to the method for processing green tea, except the longer incubation time for full oxidation of the tea leaves and tea leaves turn to black. This process is called full fermentation. The processing of this tea passes several stages: wilting in oven at 90 degree C about 10 to 15 minutes, rolling, then oxidation in room with 90 to 95% of moisture content and temperature from 20 to 22 degree C from 1 to 3 hours. Black tea is also called rose tea (hồng trà) because tea water has rose color; depending upon the level of oxidation and fermentation the color of tea water is different. The famous hồng trà teas are Thiết Quan Âm tea, Đại Hồng Bào tea from China, Động Đình tea from Taiwan. Hồng Trà is most popular tea in the West. Western people called it black tea or Trà đen.
4.4 Oolong tea (Trà Ô-long) has color in between green tea and black tea; is processed from young leaves, drying under sun, smashed and contain in bamboo baskets. Objective of the smashing is to damage the plastic conductor circuit and green leaves, creating red color. After that the tea leaves were short tempering in few hours and quickly fried on hot frying pan and dry. More black tea is exported and occupied about 60% worldwide. Westerners used to drink this tea with sugar and milk.
4.5 Pu erh tea (Trà Pu erh) is the oldest and rarest tea, getting the name of an area in Vân Nam (China). This tea is for only people who know how to drink tea. First the tea leaves passed the fixing phase to stop the oxidation then rolled and dried. After that, subject to fermentation process in a room with high temperature > 25 degree Celsius. The water of Pu-erh tea is usually deep red or brown. The longer the Pu-erh tea is kept the better is the tea.
5. Processing Black tea (Chế biến trà đen). Black tea is also called rose tea (Hồng Trà) because the tea water has rose color. Famous rose tea are Thiết Quan Âm tea and Đại Hồng Bào tea from China; Động Đình tea from Taiwan. The legendary about Trảm Mã tea or Hầu tea are rose tea, very popular in the Western world. Different with green tea and white tea, black tea is the tea that has been fermented and oxidated. A processing process of standard black tea is the world is performed as following
5.1 Wilting stage To reduce the water content in tea buds, creating favorable condition for torching process. Wilting reduces 38 to 40% of the water content inside the buds making buds more supple preventing the destruction of the leaves during torching process. When water content is reduced, the dry matter content increased creating favorable conditions for biochemical reaction and other processes of transformation easily occur, increase the quality of the tea. Number of other elements such as vitamin C, chlorophyll, starch decrease, cafein increases a little because axitamin change to cafein. Conditions for good wilting are:
The classification process between each torching aim at splitting small tea parts enough cell crushing out of tea cubes, creating favorable conditions to reduce temperature and create new chemical properties for favorable conditions for next torching process.
After separation through mess sieve, tea that has standard size and cell breach will be sprayed on layers of 4-5 cm and pass through fermentation process.
5.3 Fermentation process: The fermentation process is the center of save processing black teas, is the extreme important process influence on quality of finished product. Thanks to this process that raw materials after two preliminary preparation processes: wilting and torching the profound transformation chemically in order to create color, taste, appearance of finished tea.
Scientists divided the fermentation tea leaf process into 2 phases. Phase 1 when leave cell was destroyed after first torching, this phase lasts 2-3 hours. Second phase start from the time of entering tea into fermenting room until the fermentation process end.
For convenience of the fermentation process, the temperature of rooms for torching and fermentation must be kept at 24 – 26 degree C and air humidity at 95 – 98%; the air in rooms for torching and fermentation needed to be regulated in order to assure that every 7 – 100 kg tea has about 1 cubic meter clean and cool air.
5.4 Drying phase: The objective of this phase is to use high temperature in order to stop the activities of the yeast aiming at permanenting the quality of tea, the remaining water content about 7 – 9% according to trade request on the market. Requested drying temperature of 95 – 105 degree C, drying period of 30 – 40 minutes. After drying phase is the completion of the processing finished tea, through classification, decentralize bagging, and launch in consumer market.
5.5 Tea sieving phase: Sieving tea has two different forms:
6. Processing green tea: Green tea is processed from young leaves, steamed, stirred well by hand or machine, then drying. Tea water has light green color. This is the original color of tea leaves that are not brewed.
Fig 7 Tea hand picking in Blao area
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