Monday morning we load up humans and luggage into two vans and start our trek to the Northern Mountainous Region. After an hour or so we arrive at the Vietnam Tea Research Institute and learn some historic tea cultivation in Vietnam.
For the past few generations, researchers have been focused primarily on sustainability and yield by developing different cultivars. Our hosts at the institute report 25 cultivars, most of which are developed for green tea. They have been able to work with the northern people to stop slash and burn deforestation and taught them to plant companion plants to provide ground cover, which prevents erosion, as well as provide food sources.
Our delegation of tea professionals is eager to discuss more about the cultivars and further development for enhancing the teas complexity and character in the cup, but we have to hurrying along to stay on schedule for the rest of our day.
The journey up the mountain road to Hai Giang is not for the faint of heart. The road is not paved for the most part, and as the best teas are grown at elevation, the winding, narrow nature of getting up there is arduous and a little nerve wracking. But it helps as in all cases, to have good companions who help make it fun. ( Sea Bands for motion sickness certainly help as well.)
As we watch the mountains divide and fade into and out of the mist we are thrilled with what's to come.
Happily, we stop for a bit at a tea factory. There they provide refreshments, and a chance to get out of the vans. (6 hours on the road at least.) This factory uses the steam method to stop oxidation and is processing when we visit. Outside Tea pluckers are busy at their tasks and the daylight starts to fade. The mao cha, or unfinished tea has a unique aroma that remind one of dill. Inside there is a nice looking lot of a fruity noted green with spiky silver buds. We are intrigued.
Once again back in the vans, we drive another bumpy, twisty hour and finally arrive at our hotel. It's rustic yet beautiful. We have to walk a wooden suspension bridge over a river to get to reception, and our rooms are sets of cabins in the jungle.
Lastly, we have an important dinner where we meet with the local government officials. Like elsewhere in Asia they insist on many toasts with their guests. Some local spirits flow freely and smiles come easily.
Tomorrow we head up higher still to see ancient tea trees!