One weekend, Trang, a young woman working in HCMC, took her mother, who had come from the countryside to visit, to a tea house in the city centre.
Her mother was surprised to taste a type of tea made from butterfly flowers, belonging to a climbing plant that has long been grown on fences in the front of houses around the country for decoration but never previously used for tea. She was even more surprised when the waitress told her it was very good for the health.
Trang’s mother was also interested in the lovely atmosphere at the tea house and the different types of flower tea being served in pots of different shapes and sizes. In her way of thinking, tea only comes from the leaves of a tea plant. But there are different types available nowadays, including jasmine tea, oolong tea, and green tea, which many people also enjoy at home.
According to Trang’s mother, her generation and her mother’s generation used to drink tea in a different way from the way the young generation drink it today. Most older people in the countryside used to only drink fresh tea, buying fresh green tea leaves at the market, taking them home, washing them, and putting them in a big clay pot or kettle to boil in water.
‘Old people in those days also chewed betel nuts and liked tea made from fresh tea leaves because of the strong taste,’ her mother explained. ‘My mother used to drink tea this way every day. She never drank filtered water. That was why they drank tea from big cups.’
Trang’s parents, though, prefer dried tea. They drink jasmine tea or oolong tea after a meal or when someone visits. They make tea in small ceramic teapots, served in tiny tea cups. Tea in sachets have become popular in recent years and she sometimes drinks healthy tea in sachets like artichoke tea, ginger tea or chrysanthemum tea, but still prefers tea made from dried tea leaves.
Trang’s lifestyle is different. She is more interested in sipping tea with friends in a tea house than drinking coffee at a coffee shop. ‘I like the atmosphere of a tea house because its décor is pleasant and provides a sense of relaxation,’ she said ‘The music is also more pleasing and not loud like in a café. And tea is better for the health.’
More and more tea houses in different styles have opened around HCMC in recent years. Those interested in a quiet space can choose the Padme tea house at 285/188 Cach Mang Thang Tam in District 10 and find their own corner to sip on tea while reading or listening to different soft melodies from famous artists like Oliver Shanti or Kitaro.
There are also nice and convenient small tea houses found in old apartments built during French colonial times, including Teaspoon, on the 1st floor of 37 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1, and Partea, on the 4th floor at 42 Nguyen Hue Street in District 1. Both serve a wide variety of tea from different countries. Teaspoon boasts different types of tea made from flowers. Its owner is a young woman who is very fond of tea and imports fresh flowers, like French roses and peony flowers, from abroad and dries them to make tea.
The most professional tea houses in the city are perhaps those called Khanh Casa Tea House in Dong Khoi Street and Le Loi Street in District 1. They are elegant and swanky and their staff have a good understanding of tea and tea culture. Khanh Casa Tea House provides a large collection of more than 300 kinds of tea from around the world, with famous types from the UK, France and Japan. Each type is served in a specific kind of teapot and cups, in the art of enjoying tea.
Recently, TWG Tea, a world-famous Singaporean tea brand, opened its first shop in Vietnam. The TWG Tea Salon and Boutique is on the 2nd floor of the Takashiyama Department Store on Le Loi Street and where those fond of tea can enjoy TWG Tea’s offerings in a well-designed space. There are also cakes and dishes created from different types of tea.
Thanh, a young girl who owns two tea houses called PlanTrip Cha, at 3A Ton Duc Thang Street in District 1 and at 88 Pham Ngoc Thach Street in District 3, said she travelled to different European countries during her studies in France and became interested in drinking tea and getting to know about tea culture. After working for some foreign companies in Vietnam, she decided to open a tea house to satisfy her interest in tea after finding renewed interest in healthy teas. Her PlanTrip Cha tea houses serve more than 100 types of tea from Japan, China, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, the UK, France and Australia.
Her tea houses provide a quiet space with a simple décor of green plants and flowers. Customers can enjoy tea in the traditional way or have a mixture of tea in different fruit flavours or with milk. The latter is now more popular among young people. She also has a website to introduce her tea and provides instructions on how to make it. ‘Every place you visit gives you a different experience,’ Thanh said. ‘Each type of tea offers a different flavour. Choosing a specific tea flavour means selecting a different taste.’