Vietnam has a strong tea culture dating back thousands of years. As a neighbor of China (sharing borders with Yunnan province) tea is native to Vietnam with wild tea trees growing the mountainous regions of the north.
Tea is also cultivated and has been produced commercially since the beginning of the 20th century. Tea plantations are most plentiful in the north but are also found in central Vietnam.
Vietnam has traditionally been an exporter of black tea - most of which ends up in blends. The Vietnamese people, however, have a long tradition of drinking green tea, and this green tea is gaining a reputation as some of the finest green tea available.
Tea is a part of the Vietnamese culture. Families drink green tea with their breakfasts and workers begin their day with another cup of green tea at the workplace. Green tea is served with meals, when entertaining guests, and again in the evening with the family.
Vietnamese green tea is served stronger than Chinese or Japanese green tea. The first sip is slightly bitter but this mellows to a smooth taste after a few sips.
There are many different types of Vietnam tea. Black tea is the leader in exports, but it has a reputation as being a "cheap tea" that can only be used for blending. Vietnam also produces wu-long tea, white tea, and pu-erh tea.
The best Vietnam tea, however, is green tea. Vietnam has been producing green tea for thousands of years and this long history shows in the quality of the tea. The climate and soil are ideal for growing tea, and there are many regional variations and methods of production.
Many people are surprised to learn that Vietnam is a producer of fine tea. The main reason that Vietnam is not recognized as a producer of tea lies in the lack of distribution and marketing facilities. Until relatively recently, each tea farmer worked independently and was responsible for processing the tea and bringing it to market.
Since 1995 tea production in Vietnam has doubled and exports have increased almost 300%. Taiwan and Japan are the biggest Asian importers of Vietnamese green tea, and western countries like the USA, France, and Australia are also major importers.
The biggest challenge for the Vietnamese tea industry is to develop the infrastructure to enable it to meet the increasing demand. New processing facilities need to be built and a distribution system for bringing the tea to market needs to be established.
Organic certification for Vietnam tea is also needed. Many tea farmers have never used any kind of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, yet the process for organic certification is beyond their reach. Government aid in the form of tax reduction and loan subsidies can help farmers get their product certified organic. This type of aid will also help in bolstering the Vietnam tea industry and bring Vietnam tea the recognition it deserves.