In past years we have embarked on an annual grand tea tour where we visit our existing tea friends and suppliers around the north of Vietnam while at the same time trying to find any new and interesting teas which meet our strict selection criteria of sustainability, character and cleanliness. As our business and range of teas has grown we have had to adapt this to more frequent, shorter trips particularly as we now work with farmers to improve and develop what is on offer.
The first trip this year was at the end of March and included an extended stay in the district of Hoang Su Phi located in Ha Giang province. The journey began in Hanoi and started with a 7 hour overnight bus ride to Ha Giang City which dropped us at a deserted, chilly bus station at 4am in the morning. A wait of just over an hour and we were on a smaller local bus for 4 more hours en-route to Vinh Quang the main town of Hoang Su Phi.
A quick shower, change of clothes and a bowl of Pho and we were on a hired motorbike on the way to today’s destination; the commune of Tung San some 25 km away where we are told there is an area of wild tea trees growing. The first half of the journey is on a reasonable tarmacked road until we need to turn off to onto an unmade track. It is fortunate that we are at the end of the long dry season as this could be very heavy going during the rains.
After a brief stop for lunch of bun cha (which is very different in style from that served up in Hanoi) we finally arrive at Tung San village in the early afternoon on now what is a pleasantly warm day. A
sking around it turns out that the tea trees are a further two kilometres up a steep mountain path – a challenge that defeats both our riding skills and the power of our hired motorbike. The alternative is to find some willing Co Lao (minority hill people) residents to act as xe om (motorbike taxi) on to the tea trees. Despite what appear to be 45 degree inclines we finally make it to the top – relieved that we are not trying this ourselves.
There is a fairly large area of wild tea trees going even further up the mountain and although a number of families make tea it has not been well developed. They have very good raw materials but the skill and expertise in turning that into great tea does not yet exist. Possibly the poor accessibility and infrastructure contributes significantly to this situation.
We spend a little time exploring, talking and trying tea and leave with some samples and contacts for the future. There is definitely potential but nothing of immediate interest. We need to consider how we can work with the families in the future to develop their tea interest.
For us, we set off to retrace our tracks to Vinh Quang as the sun starts to set over the surrounding countryside.