The first criteria for any tea that we sell is that it has to be special – great taste, aroma, bright liquor and capable of multiple infusions. If the tea doesn't achieve this then we look no further. If it passes this first test then we will satisfy ourselves that the tea is clean without chemical residue, that it is sustainably and ethically produced and that we are confident that the farmer/ producer is someone who we can build a relationship of trust and co-operation with. All of the teas are direct sourced from people who we meet and talk to on a regular basis.
We are always trying teas from around the world against which we can benchmark those that we offer. Aside from that personal interest our business in focused solely on teas from Vietnam. We are based in Ho Chi Minh City from where we travel regularly to each corner of the country in search of new teas; to work with farmers and processors to improve quality and consistency; and to develop new and interesting blends. An important and relatively unique feature of our Vietnam focus is a strong interest in the wild teas from ancient tea trees that grow naturally in the northernmost mountains along the border with China. We may not yet know everything there is to know about tea in Vietnam but we are working on it.
So many teas on sale (particularly in developed countries) are sourced from large importers or wholesalers that buy in bulk from larger tea estates. The choice isn't always as wide as you might believe. It is often the same teas offered by many different retailers with maybe only the name and description changed to make it sound unique. You will not find our teas available through these channels as they are not produced in the quantities required to suit this model. This small scale production also allows greater care and control to be followed during processing and where the tea masters art comes into its own. Wild grown teas have a character of their own and the curious tea drinker will not be disappointed with giving them a try.
Our Direct Source model allows us to be 100% certain about the provenance of our teas. All of the tea we receive is inspected, sampled and subject to a further sorting before it is packed for distribution. Naturally we trust our partners but this is a further safeguard that you get what you order. We know exactly how the leaf should look, smell and taste and so there is no danger of substitution for lower grade materials or leaves from different sources. From experience there is always a risk when ordering teas remotely that the order received is not the same quality as the sample.
Our Direct Sourced model creates a very short supply chain – it is the farmer and ourselves only. OK so it may be possible to buy direct from the farmer but these are manly relatively small producers who do not have the resources to sell all over the world (and in a number of cases may never even have come across the internet!). A short supply chain limits cost both in terms of the number of traders involved and also in transport costs. The teas find their way to use by a combination of motorbike, van, bus and train and we post to you. No circumnavigation of the globe and unnecessary emissions involved.
We recognise sustainability is key to developing a long term business and it is fair to say that our policy on sustainability is a work in progress. The wild tea trees have been growing in the mountains for many centuries and are not subject to intensive (or any) cultivation – they are simply harvested and left to seed themselves. Any threat is from external development. The wild trees are effectively organically grown but the small scale does not justify the costs of certification. Our estate teas are responsibly grown and where organic or chemical spraying takes place no harvesting is allowed for at least four weeks. Most of our producers are small family only businesses and we are convinced that all teas are traded fairly with pickers receiving a fair price for their efforts.
When we select teas we are looking for attractive leaf shape, bright and sparling liquor, enticing aroma, good body and a complex flavour that will delight the taste buds. A great tea should prompt many pleasant sensations in the mouth and a satisfying after-taste to round off the experience. We definitely reject more teas than we select for a variety of reasons which include quality, taste, agricultural practices or simply that we do not feel that we can work well with the farmer. Our aim is to seek improvement wherever we can and develop new teas both for ourselves and in response to feedback from customers. A short supply chain also provides a short feedback loop. Like other businesses tea needs to embrace change where overall quality is the result. In the relatively short period we have been operating we have worked with our partners to develop a number of excellent new teas.
We are fully aware that Vietnam does not have a strong reputation or heritage for quality tea and understand the reasons for that. But that does not mean that there is not some fantastic tea as the conditions, particularly in the north, are ideal for growing the tea plant (not a surprise given that it is native!). Similarly we do not have a strong brand that can demand a premium. These factors combined mean that, as of now, specialist teas from Vietnam are great value for money compared to equivalent products from more famous origins.