Sunday, 31 May 2015

Producing Green Tea in North Vietnam

Fortune Cookie


Being happy is one way to be wise

Tea growing in the shadow of Ba Vi National Park

This is a tea garden in North Vietnam on the lower slopes of the Ba Vi National Park.

Ba Vi mountain enjoys fog and plenty of sunlight. The upper slopes are mainly cloud forest.

What I like about this tea garden is that guava and bananas and coconuts are grown inside the tea terraces.

Dat, tea grower. 

Drinking Hook green tea at Dat's house.

During my visit to three tea farms in this area I drank up to 14 cups of tea a day not including iced tea at dinner. We would travel to one farm sample the tea then arrive at another nearby farm meet the farmer and drink more. Me, Thuy, Quan and Dat riding around the tea terraces on motorbikes.

Dat's mother sifting green tea after roasting.

Tea leaves wilting before roasting.

The leaves have been roasted once and rolled. They rest before a second firing.

 Next to Dat's wife Quan wears the Viet Kong's apparel the non-coi pith helmet. An army veteran of Cambodia he helped liberate Phnom Penn from Pol Pot. Quan is a barrel of energy, a kind tormentor and real fun - you can see that in his eyes here. But we also know he has seen many difficult things in his time as a soldier.

Firing the tea again.

The 5 stages of roasting this hook tea, Vietnam's most popular.

Hook tea after the 5th roasting.

Thi, on the right, is the owner of this tea garden 

And there it is - 15 kilograms of Vietnam Hook green tea.

The full production of the tea took around two hours not including the wilting which began mid-morning.

The tea leaves just after roasting. Time to try her.

In Vietnam, and almost without exception, tea drinkers like to experience a bitter taste. They prefer to leave the green leaves inside the pot with the remaining water. The liquid is bright yellow-green. Vietnamese often smell the dry the tea before drinking and sometimes chew the roasted leaves to check the provenance before brewing. It is fair to say that sometimes teas are sold stale and the flower-scented teas often bear too sharp a perfume for them to be naturally produced. 

If you drink this Hook tea gong-fu style 3 grams with 150ml of water at 30 seconds yields good results. The tea has strength and offers multiple steeps. Leave for longer and you have a bitter cup which suits many people here. I notice the Vietnamese always place 6 grams or more into a medium pot and pour after 60 or 90 seconds. Any new water added sits in the pot for longer, while conversation opens out. The bitter flavour of the tea becomes quickly pronounced.

And Dien shows us her fingers after a morning of picking the spring tea. She has worked for Taiwanese growers in Vietnam who make use of Vietnam's greater land mass and cheaper labour. She wishes more people knew about Vietnam tea.

Home in time for another cup of tea before nightfall

Happy tea drinking!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Burmese Days

Burmese Days

Fortune Cookie

Humour is one of the best ingredients for survival.

Humour shinsaanrauttairayy aatwataakaunggsone parwainpahchcaeemyarr tait u hpyitsa.
Aung San Suu Kyi

Quite recently Singing Bird Tea took off for Myanmar.

Since independence from the British in 1948 Myanmar has largely been involved in civil war. The military dictatorship of 1962 caused Myanmar to become a paranoid, pariah state. Only in 2013 did Myanmar relax its border controls. It is a country very low in the human development index. Its international isolation is palpable. The Burmese, while quite friendly, are also sometimes threatened by foreigners. With beautiful countryside that resembles India more than South-east Asia Myanmar shows no sign yet of capitalising on it.

Buddhist Temple

The income gap in Myanmar is one of the widest in the world. To stem this the people I saw had recourse to the Betel leaf. The Betel leaf, and lots of sweet tea.

Tea in Myanmar

Tea dust is stewed in a kettle with milk, sometimes condensed milk.

The tea is aerated during the pouring process.


And there is your cup of sweet black tea.

Perhaps if the British had colonised China the Chinese would pour milk into their oolongs and red teas.

At a tea shop in the back of Kawthaung in Southern Myanmar I got a cup of local tea. Alongside the black tea were steel kettles full of hot Chinese tea as they called it.

In Myanmar it is necessary to have a guide. My guide said 'we drink Chinese tea to clear the palate, Chinese tea ... ' and he whispered, 'just hot water.' Further questions drew a blank as to its origin. The tea, from the fragments in my cup and the colour, presented like an oolong brewed with a lot of water.

Lahpet is a salad dish of various dishes in a sauce of pickled tea leaves.

The taste is, well, interesting. It is considered the national dish. 17% of Myanmar's tea harvest is eaten. The tea used here is a dark green colour - just like fresh leaves kept a long time in the fridge.

Of course this is nice tea if you like it with thick, sweetened milk and strong, black tea. There were no surprises here except that there are no spices in this tea although it looks just like Indian chai.

Fishing Village, Kawthaung.

Happy tea drinking!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Hook Tea

Welcome to readers from Kenya and Mexico

Vietnamese Hook Tea

Fortune Cookie

A day without laughing is a day wasted.

Một ngày mà không cười là một ngày lãng phí.

I was given by a friend in Vietnam a small carton of hook tea. It was a left-over present used to distribute to wedding guests. Wrapped in gold paper inside were deep-smelling hooks of green tea or cha goi meaning 'tea hook.' The shape comes from the way the tea is rolled. The tea has a lot of presence and a strong character. The aroma is not strong but the flavour is distinctive. There is some astringency which ends in a long sweet finish.

Hook tea is grown in the Thai Nguyen region of north Vietnam.

And now a gift of Hook tea. Two boxes in fact.

It doesn't need long to steep and can be brewed gong-fu style and used multiple times, although after the fourth time maybe you want to give up on getting your value for money.

For more on Vietnam Tea see:

Tea in Vietnam

Tasting Notes
Moderate to strong astringency
Strong grassy taste

Thai Nguyen Province Vietnam
Altitude: 250 metre

Heat water to 85 C
Use 2 teaspoons
Brew for 1 minute
Drain tea into jug to avoid bitterness from over-brewing
Re-use leaves a second and third time
Experiment with tea quantity and brewing times to suite your taste

These images were taken in Saigon. Read about Saigon here:

Sai Gon Fishing

For more on Vietnamese teas visit

Happy Tea Drinking in 2015!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tokyo Story

Welcome to readers from Nepal

Fortune Cookie

あ な た の 舌 は あ な た の 大使 で あ る

Your tongue is your ambassador

Tokyo tea

Matcha in Shinjuku-Gyoen.

A ceremonial tea house in Shinjuku park. 

Tea Lady

Enjoying a tea sweet with Kazuyo

Shinjuku hoji-cha

for more on Hojicha.

Imperial Summer House

Oranges in Hatagaya district

Just by the park, north of Shinjuku is this tiny Generally east gate to the shop and the street runs parallel to the park. It is an upscale neighborhood maybe three hundred meters away from the congestion of Shinjuku Station. 

They have a nice line of teapots here and it was tough not to buy one. But I refrained deciding to wait for another opportunity.

It was a funny shop. It only took cash. The woman who managed the shop spoke good English and was happy to offer tastings. Politeness overflowed but underlying this deep expectation of the sale. Easily made. I was delighted to be there. I bought a traditional Japanese tea canister in lilac with a design on the side.

The Nihon-cha (tea master) carefully prepared the teas for the tasting.

I tried three teas here. All had distinct merits. Each released a scintilla of happiness. Each for different Reasons. 

Here I found a Karigane from Shizuoka, a sencha from Kyoto and a Kabusecha from Fukuoka and a gyokuro also from Kyoto.

More tea stores in Tokyo

Tai Hua Cha ,  Shibuya, Dogenzaka, 1-18-6, Tokyo

List of MariageFreres stores:

1.      Suzuran-Dori, 5-6-6 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo
2.      1-28-1 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
3.      Meiji-Dori, 3-14-25 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
4.      1-1-3 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
5.      21-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
6.      4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo

Happy Tea Drinking!


Monday, 7 July 2014

Kasuga Ryokan, Hiroshima

Kasuga Ryokan

Fortune Cookie


Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. 
(Samuel Beckett)


The thing about Hiroshima is that it is simply a very easy-going place. It's a city that is soft around the edges compared to say Tokyo or Kyoto.

A wedding photo-shoot in the Edo period Shukkei-en garden

Most of Japan is genteel and very friendly ...

until you keep your shoes on indoors that is. Emaciated old women on crutches will suddenly run a hundred metres shouting No! No! No! - if you-have forgotten to remove your bipedal covers. So one minute you are relaxed and then in full receipt of an impassioned scalding the next.

The Japanese-have extra-sensory perception when house slippers are involved. Both men and women know if you have left your shoes on or not. They are able to see you through brick, concrete with a special kind of vision. Do not attempt to flout the house slipper tradition.

You will be apprehended.

Gosh after that it was time for a cup of tea.

And so to Kasuga Ryokan.

Kasuga Ryokan is in the Ote-machi district of Hiroshima. Ote-machi is a working district that is in the centre of the city a pleasant fifteen minute tram ride away from Japan Railways Hiroshima.

I stayed in ryokan while I travelled around Japan because they provide Sencha or Gen mai cha green tea in the rooms as part of a beautiful polished wood tea set. Other teas often feature as part of any meals you take in the ryokan. To have tea machines, cups, trays and green tea provided was just ideal. 

If you like this blog see its twin  GuerillaZ  the travel blog  at the end of this link:

Gen Mai Cha taken at the low table in my six tatami mat room at Kasuga Ryokan.


After all meals in a ryokan, the name for a traditional Japanese inn, Hoji-cha is served. The smoky, roasted tea is lower in caffeine and a tasty way to finish off a Japanese meal.

See the post below for more on Hoji-cha

See also Ricardo Caicedo's blog My Japanese Green Tea for more on Japanese tea culture.

Happy Tea drinking!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Bibibidang, Busan, Korea

Singing Bird comes to you today from South Korea

A warm welcome to new readers from Japan, South Korea and Hungary.

Haeundae Beach, Busan

Fortune Cookie

KISS; keep it simple stupid


Its location overlooking the Sea of ​​Japan.

An interior that leaves the tea to do the talking.

If you like this blog see its twin  GuerillaZ  the travel blog  at the end of this link:

Polite, diligent and accommodating female staff. I think it was difficult for them with an English speaker there. But they were attentive and kind.

I tried two teas: one green, one yellow.

These teas were grown in Hadong County, south-western South Korea. The area is well known in Korea for its production of high quality green tea.

The yellow tea was called Hwangcha. I asked for the "new tips" from the first ten days of April. More expensive of course. The first taste was wheat-like somehow. The taste trailed off to something more mellow and quite satisfying. The liquid had a deep colour not unlike oolong.

The yellow tea on the left.

The green tea Nokcha was of a different order altogether The leaves were sencha-like needles but finer and shorter The taste was extraordinary It is, to date, the best tea I have tasted; Grassy, ​​perfumed, and made the birdsong sound sweeter. Steeping time, a gongfu brewing of 10 seconds. After 90 seconds it became so astringent it was close to undrinkable. Of course you can use the leaves several times.

The yellow tea made in the chocolate-coloured pot.

Only one sweet remaining.

e green tea

In the Lift down to the Street. I Sighed a Contented Sigh. The two Ladies in the Lift with me said, Bibibidang.

Worth the hour long bus ride and 30 minute walk through Korea's second city.

If you have any problems finding it ask in the Chinatown Tourist Information Office mentioning the tea room name and location on Dalmiji hill.

Singing Bird comes to you soon from Hiroshima, Japan.

Happy Tea Drinking!