Sunday, 27 September 2015

Tea Scooter arrives in Binh Thuan, south Vietnam

Fortune Cookie

Khong ai co the lam sach tam hon chi voi nuoc

One does not cleanse the mind with water

Thich Nhat Hanh

By a paddy field in Long Hai near Vung Tau. 

Taking a drinks break at Ho Coc, Xuyen district.

A north Vietnamese style house built in south Vietnam.

This house is in a very small town 20 km from the mountains and the first tea terraces. You can buy freshly picked tea leaves and roasted green tea here easily. You can also find floral, white aka milk oolongs here. 

In nearly all of Vietnam black tea and dark oolongs are just not drunk and nguoi here will sip it politely but always refuse a second cup. That is not to say that both those teas are unavailable. Black tea is fashionable for the young. Anyone between 4 and 30 years old will drink it but nearly always with ice, small candies and thick, sweetened milk. 

In Ho Chi Minh City it is easy to buy every tea right through to artichoke tea.

See post on Japan's best tea - Gyokuro from Kyoto here

Simple set-up

Neighbours visit to drink the light green oolong

Approving noises are made throughout.

This is a tea grown in the mountains of south Vietnam. Taiwanese growers work with Vietnamese owners in the commercial development of this tea - the fragrance of this oolong is my reason for drinking this tea. The bouquet from this tea is one of my favourites. The tea has that smoothness which remains through all steepings. Even if you forget the tea and leave it brewing there is no bitter taste. 

It is a fine tea that you can steep six or seven times easily. I used three grams in a 150 ml red clay teapot from Bat Trang. The brewing here was around one minute at 95 degrees C.

Son, coy, by the lotus ponds. An excellent place to pick lotus to make lotus green tea known here as tra sen.

In the other direction lie the southern mountains where this oolong is grown.

Phuong, Son's elder sister with lotus flower behind her and in the background the highlands.

Happy tea drinking!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Gyokuro, Kyoto

Fortune Cookie

案ずるより産むが易し。 (Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi)  

Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it. Meaning: Fear is greater than the danger. 

In the traditional Japanese hotel (the ryokan) every room has a caddy of green tea and a tea set. This is a Karigane with the leaf stems still in evidence. Karigane is made from the stems of Gyokuro tea. If it isn't stems from Gyokuro the Japanese won't call it Karigane.

The tea was pretty tasty taken as it was in the traditional Japanese surroundings, a ryokan (a very formal one) in the centre of Kyoto.

The next day I would visit some temples on the edge of the city but tonight I decided to relax. Ice cream is not really my thing but green tea ice cream ...

Central Gion, Kyoto

Tea shop matcha ice cream! This was a dream to eat and the green tea shone through. I don't yet make ice cream but the time approaches. 

I forced myself away to another street where geishas still plied their trade. One sin to another?

Bamboo groves, Arashiyama. 

If you like travel on Singing Bird visit her sister site GuerillaZ at 

Gyokuro Cha

Gyokuro tea was invented in the year 1835. In the old days, Gyokuro tea gardens were covered by bundles of rice straw. Now the shade is provided by black plastic webbing. 

Asahina (Shizuoka), Uji (Kyoto) and Yame (Fukuoka) are the three major Gyokuro manufacturing areas in Japan.

Gyokuro is mainly produced from the Yabukita cultivar. Gyokuro leaves are a deep green in colour. The shading processes that precede plucking lead to a deeper than usual green colour.

The tea liquid is correspondingly green rather than the yellowy coour of many green teas.

An extraordinary bright green, and the deep tasting warm sip is sweet seaweed in nature.

Gyokuro Modern Brewing Method

Water volume and quantity of tea leaf

You need to measure 4g of tea leaf for 200ml of water. On the contrary to the traditional brewing method, use more volume of water. A teapot that size is in about 150-220 ml is right nice for one person.

The leaf is very shrunken from the steaming process and presents only as fragments. The whole leaf or half-leaf is not present here. Japanese tea pots have a wire mesh to filter of the fine pieces of tea.


Cool boiling water down to 70-80 degrees C. Some people say 60 degrees but try to stick to the same temperature over the series of brewings until you feel all taste has gone. At the last increase brewing temperature so as to bring out the remaining taste and flavor.

Brewing time

Gyokuro leaf is much more tender than the sencha leaf. Brewing time should be slightly shorter than how we brew sencha. For sencha, the first brewing is for 1 minute. For Gyokuro, 30 seconds to 40 seconds is long enough. The second brewing increase by 10-20 seconds. 2nd and third brewings also the same. From the forth brewing, increase to 10 seconds and for the each subsequent brewing add additional 10 seconds.

For 100 grams/3 oz this gyokuro from Aikoku Seicha cost 3240 Yen, around $26.

After extensive walking around the extremely pretty Arashiyama district north of Kyoto ...

.... I returned on the suburban train to my ryokan to brew the Uji gyokuro I bought for myself earlier in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

This gyokuro brewed at lower temperatures around 70 C (I find the recommended temperature  of 60C too low for my liking) yielded a thick, almost soup-like bright green tea as if from fresh leaves. 
The flavour is indeed very deep and rich with endless leaf particles swirling around in the tea. The whole mouth is coated with a rich flavour. After the second steeping, which is less impactful than the first, I found the flavour fades away quite quickly. A little disappointing compared with some other teas I enjoy where the leaves provide a good cup 6 or 7 brews later. Still it's a very good tea with that distinct richness of good quality Japanese tea.

I would buy this tea again.

Living in Vietnam with its high temperatures I think I am going to ice a litre and see how it fares. 

Gyokuro from Uji a delicious, rich tea at a good price $20 for 100g from Akiko Seiku, Tokyo.

Kyushu teapot 300 ml from Matsumoto City $30.

Caddy from Shinjuku $16

I must get some hon gyokuro sometime soon and compare with ordinary gyokuro which I think this is. Hon means authentic and such tea is shaded traditionally using straw and is therefore more expensive. But that's for another day.  

Happy tea drinking!

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 tea here is 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, a lovely lady and super vui ve, shows us her fingers after a morning of picking the spring tea. She has worked for Taiwanese growers in Vietnam. They 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!