Today, Tea is the most popular drinking stuff in Vietnam. And of course, it is my favorite, too.
Cheap, simple, and highly mobilized, teashops are available at any street corner in Hanoi. You just need a teapot, glasses, plastic seats, a space, and then ready to run your own business, one of the most sociable jobs in the world.
As far as the memory of my grandmother’s generation, who was born in the late 1910s, tea already had significant role to play in the turn of the 20th century, culturally speaking. For wedding gifts or funeral events, tea is indispensible, of course, with Areca nuts and Betel.
I tried to come through some early materials, such as this documentary of a wedding ceremony, recorded by French sometime in the early 20th century.
However, I have not noted the use of tea of that much, at least in the rural area. So maybe I better check other earlier written sources, such as Pham Dinh Ho’s Vu Trung Tuy But (雨中隨筆: Following the Brush Amid the Rains), which for me unfortunately is beyond reach at the moment.
What I have, however, is an imperial record dated on the 18th day, 1st month of the Gia Long’s 5th year (1806) in which the court ordered General commander of the Northern citadel (Tổng trấn Bắc thành) to buy 1 or 2 can (600 grams to 1200 grams) of high quality Northern Tea (Chinese tea) and sent back to the capital city of Hue.
From that Hue’s day in 1806 to the 1960s, tea drinking became increasingly popular, and mountains in northern Vietnam soon became the hub of tea production.
So what just happened during the colonial period? Does the French colonialism have a role to play like what it did with Phở and Bánh mì? Unlike the British, France is not a tea-drinking nation. Another possibility one can think of, is the introduction of tea plantations under the French projection just the same manner did the Dutch in East Indies. Records show that in 1684 the first tea was planted on Java by the Dutch using seeds obtained from Japan for the China tea bush cultivar. Scholarship on the field has done quite a lot on emerging of rubber and café plantations under the colonial economic projects, but none devoted to tea.
It must have gone through an extraordinary adventure, from an upper-class drink to the infusion of every class in the middle of the 20th century, and participated in making an essential cultural and social aspect of the modern Vietnamese daily life?
Now, it is the time for me to have a nice cup of tea.