Situated at an altitude of nearly 1,400 meters above sea level, Suoi Giang in Van Chan district, Yen Bai province is the home to the oldest tea trees in Vietnam.
“I have travelled across 120 countries which have tea trees in the world, but I’ve not seen any perennial tea trees like those in Suoi Giang,” wrote an academic of the USSR Academy of Sciences, MK Djemukhatze, in the visitor’s book of Suoi Giang in 1960.
The Russian scientist also conducted a research work on Suoi Giang tea plants and published the results in a book in 1976. Djemukhatze confirmed that the Vietnamese tea trees in Suoi Giang are ancestor trees.
In Yen Bai, the Mong people account for large percentage of the population, and they have a specific culture for the Northwestern region. Particularly with Suoi Giang, their presence from the early days is associated with the appearance of Shan Tuyet tea.
Called Shan Tuyet tea, as explained by local people, has a special processing technique. The fresh tea buds are as big as banian buds, coated with lanugo. After being processed they are still big, covered with a milky layer of “snow,” shiny, aromatic scents, along with a smoke inhalation. So it is called Shan Tuyet (snow). When drinking, the tongue will feel the bittersweet taste and then persistent sweetness in the throat.
If visitors go to Suoi Giang in the tea harvesting and processing season, they will smell a characteristic flavor of this tea region. Due to the special climate here, locals do not have to use any kind of pesticides because insects cannot develop. In the winter, there is little sunlight and fog covers the entire region. The tea buds are also covered by fog and you will feel a biting cold on the fingers when picking tea buds.
The tea trees here are over 300 years old. Their trunks and buds are very big, which makes them different from other types of tea. Shan Tuyet tea varieties have all three factors: aroma, strong taste and blue water. The tea, from harvest until processing, is produced by manual methods of the Mong ethnic people here.
Ancient Shan Tuyet tea trees are covered with pale moss and sometimes white mold, plus spikes, but the leaves are deep green, creating a natural beauty that everyone loves. For that reason, Suoi Giang has become a tourist attraction. It is known that the area for Shan Tuyet tea is roughly 400 hectares, of which the area of ancient tea trees of over 300 years old is nearly 300 hectares.
Every year, the people here organize a ceremony to worship the ancient tea trees. However, the charm of these ancient trees has become dangerous as some people are determined to take an ancient tea tree home as a bonsai tree. The number of ancient tea trees, therefore, is declining.
Moreover, the conservation of this precious tea variety is a serious matter because tea is not a great resource of income of local people. The local authorities do not have a long-term conservation plan for this precious genetic resource. Thus the oldest tea trees are leaving Suoi Giang.