Morning, Noon or Night: Vietnamese Tea

Cuisine | Asia-Pacific | By Nathan Lane

Tuu sang, tra trua” is a Vietnamese saying that translates as “Drink wine in the morning and tea at noon.” While some people may skip the wine, nobody in Vietnam will pass up the tea—morning, noon, or night.

All gatherings begin and end with tea. It’s placed on ancestral altars, used in toasts, and served to all guests. At festivals, weddings, funerals, and business meetings, small cups of bitter Vietnamese green tea are passed around.

Vietnamese Tea Etiquette

When a visitor arrives, the host—no matter how busy—will stop, wash his or her hands, rinse the tea set, and prepare the tea. This is a traditional act of deference and hospitality, and no important subjects should be broached without sharing a cup of tea first. While Vietnam lacks a formal tea ceremony like those in China and Japan, there are a number of rules for serving the perfect cup of tea.

Vietnamese tea
A Vietnamese tea set on a family altar.

According to tradition, Vietnamese tea should be made with rainwater or, better yet, dewdrops collected from lotus leaves at dawn. A standard tea set includes a teapot, four small cups, and a large cup to be used for straining or pouring. The best tea sets are the blue and white ones from Bat Trang village on the outskirts of Hanoi, or the antique, dark yellow porcelain ones from Giang Xi province in China.

When making tea, always use boiling water and fill the teapot to overflowing. A shallow saucer should be placed under the teapot to catch the overflow, thereby warming the bottom of the teapot. When presented with a cup of hot tea, sip it slowly to enjoy the flavour.

Vietnamese Green Tea

Typical Vietnamese green tea is known as “hook-shaped curly tea,” because the leaves curl up after roasting. Some people claim that the correct term is moc cau or “areca mould” tea, because the curly dried leaves have a thin white coat, like the mould on an areca palm leaf. Top-quality tea is called “Thai Nguyen tea,” since the plantations of Thái Nguyen province were said to produce the best tea in Vietnam. Today, tea from other areas—Hà Giang, Yèn Bái, Suoi Giang—rivals that from Thái Nguyen. A skilled tea plucker can gather 30 to 50 kg (66 to 110 lbs.) of green leaf tea in one day, enough to produce between 7.5 and 9 kg (16.5 to 20 lbs.) of dried tea.

Photography credit: Tea set image Wikimedia