A Special Blend

A cup of traditional lotus-scented tea captures the essence of old Hanoi. Phong Chuong reports on how this luxurious blend of tea is prepared.

“A sweet scent spreads cover the lid fine smoke trails from the tiny earthen pot. The soul of the fragrant the tea is strong — “

This verse by Vu Hoang Chuong evokes lotus-scented tea. White many of us appreciate a good cup of lotus-scented tea; few of us realize just how much work is involved in preparing it.

In Ha Noi, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Ngoc and her family are well-known to tea connoisseurs. For four generations this family has made lotus-scented tea. I visited Mrs. Ngoc is order to learn more about her family’s passion for this special Vietnamese tea.

On a cold afternoon T met Mrs. Ngoc in Cu Van villa, the house that once belonged to her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Cu Van. Eight descendants of Cu Van’s family all share this old villa. Thuong Tin was once known for its many lotus ponds. Mrs. Ngoc recalls how, whenever he received guests, old Cu Van would ask her prepare lotus-scented tea.

“Many people call me an artisan but I don’t like that word” said Mrs. Ngoc. “Many generations of my family have made this kind of tea drink, that’s all. The way to preserve this tea was simple and rustic, and not as sophisticated as it is now”.

More than the century ago, on most afternoon Mrs. Cu Van and her daughter would row out onto their lotus ponds and place tea leaves in the center of the lotus flowers. They prepared just enough tea to make a few pots, because the prepared tea would not stay fresh for long. Each year during lotus season, the family made lotus-scented tea. When aglia season began, they made aglia-scented tea. When jasmines were in flower, they scented their tea with jasmine. And so on.

Tea was placed inside a lotus blossom and left there overnight to absorb the lotus scent and the “essence of heaven and earth”. Next morning, the tea was removed, along with any dew that had settled on the lotus leaves.

For centuries, Hanoians have prized lotus-scented tea for its fragrance and poetic associations. According to Mrs. Ngoc, the best lotus-scented tea was made with 100-prepare the lotus pistils with Thai Nguyen tea because Ha Giang black tea is very rate, “said Mrs. Ngoc. To make one kilogram of lotus-scented tea one must use 1.4kg of lotus pistils. To obtain 1.4kg of lotus pistils one must wrap balls of tea inside 1500 to 1600 lotus flowers. This shows what a meticulous job scenting lotus tea is.

Mrs. Ngoc said that many people have asked her to cooperate with them to produce lotus-scented tea for export. She has refused, because she thinks that making this type of tea is not a business, but a traditional family hobby.

“This lotus-scented tea is unique. The more you drink, the more you enjoy its fragrance. Its scent seems to hover about us”, says Mrs. Ngoc. She adds that the leaves can be re-used many times without losing their wonderful scent and flavor.”

“In the summer when you put some ice cubes into a glass of lotus-scented tea, nothing is fresher, more enjoyable or mind-opening,” insists Mrs. Ngoc.

Today, Mrs. Ngoc tea is bought by the people of all ages. “There is once old man who came to buy my tea for Tet to treat his friends. Even though the price is not cheap. One hundred grams cost about VND400, 000(around US$20), but customers also come to sample the tea. When he left, I gave him 100 grams of lotus seeds for his mother who suffered from insomnia. He was so moved he asked to take a photo with me for a keepsake.”

Lotus-scented tea is imbued with Vietnam’s soul. This beverage reflects Vietnamese people cultural identify. A good cup of tea can promote lively conversation or quiet contemplation. In this bustling modern world, a cup of lotus-scented tea helps us to relax and connect with our past.

This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel

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