Hanoi's West Lake is famous for its lotus blossoms. Quang Minh visits a family of local tea makers who have been producing traditional lotus tea for generations
"The lotus flowers on West Lake bloom for just three months every year, in the late spring and summer."
One summer morning, when dew still clung to the willow trees that line the lotus ponds near Hanoi's Ho Tay (West Lake), I found my way to a family known for their special lotus tea.
The land of Thang Long - HaNoi has long been known for its lotus tea. Which the locals prepare and enjoy in an elegant manner. Hanoians are very proud of their tea, especially lotus tea from Tay Ho, which was once served at the royal court.
Following the ups and downs of history, some families in the Ho Tay District still earn their living by making traditional lotus tea. The family of Mr.Tien and Mrs.Loan are an example.
When I arrived at their house in Quang Ba village, the couple was so busy that they could only offer me a cup of tea before returning to their work. Observing the entire family as they tended to the lotus flowers, I came to understand the meticulous nature of this craft.
Lotus flower are easy to grow and can thrive almost anywhere. However, the lotus blooms found in Ho Tay have a distinctive fragrance. As such, locals even built a Buddhist pagoda named Kim Lien (Golden Lotus) in honors of this flower.
This kind of lotus is also known as the "lotus of a hundred leaves". It features a beautiful flower, large leaves and a distinctive fragrance that infuses deeply into tea.
On West Lake, the lotus bloom for just three months, between the fourth and the seventh months of the lunar calendar. This is the hard season for tea makers.
Mr.Tien told me that the lotus used to make the tea must be collected in the early morning, when the dew remains heavy, in order to ensure the tea's freshness. After being picked, the anther (the part of the stamen that carries pollen) is quickly separated from the flower before it withers and loses its fragrance.
Workers must rush and perform this job with great care.
Making lotus tea requires many steps, all of which require sensitivity and skill. First of all, the anther is taken from the flower and mixed with high grade dried green tea.
In Mr. Tien's view, tea from the Thai Nguyen Highlands is excellent, as is San Tuyet (Mountains, Sweet and not too acrid, these teas complement the lotus fragrance.
Scenting the tea is the most difficult phase of production. For every layer of tea, a layer of fresh lotus anthers must be laid down.
The mix is then stored in a closed environment for two days to allow the lotus fragrance to infuse into the dried tea leaves. Despite the burning summer heat, Mr.Tien "imprisons" himself indoors in order to ensure the quality of each batch of tea.
After two days, the lotus anthers are removed from the tea and replaced with fresh ones. This process is repeated seven or eight times over a span of three weeks or more. After this, the famous Tay Ho Tea will be ready for marker.
The tea leaves are very small, dry and crisp. According to Mr.Tien, it takes 1.5 to 1.7 kilograms of lotus anthers, or 1,500 lotus flowers, to make just one kilogram of tea. Each batch yields only five to seven kilograms of the finished product. As such, the entire family can produce roughly 100 kilos of lotus tea per season.
With the current market price of Tay Ho lotus tea standing at VND5 million to VND7 million per kilogram, the family's income is decent. However, taking into account the amount of labor and the costs involved, it is easy to understand why this tea is an expensive specialty.
Ho Tay and the lotus growing areas are shrinking quickly, causing concern to both tea makers and fans of this special brew. The family of Mr.Tien has been devoted to this craft for many years. They are committed to preserving it as a tradition passed down from their ancestors and part of the culture of Thang Long Ha Noi.
An old saying states that: "A cup of morning tea keeps the doctor away".
Research suggests that Viet Nam is among the world's first tea growing countries. Its green tea is world famous. Normally grown at high altitude, tea is said to collect the "essence of heaven and earth in its leaves".
The lotus is associated with Bud dhism and purity. Both plants are employed in traditional herbal medicine.
A pot of Tay Ho lotus tea retains its fragrance and taste for several rounds. Anyone lucky enough to have tasted this special brew will recall its special sweetness and fragrance.
Hanoians are proud of their culinary traditions; of which tea drinking is an integral part sophisticated locals use morning dew to brew their tea. For generations, Hanoians have shared cups of lotus tea with their friends and admired the blooming flowers. A pot of lotus tea is associated with love, compassion and humanitarianism.
Ha Noi still retains many of its fine old traditions, stirring feelings of love and attachment in visitors.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen