Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vietnamese Tea On The Mekong Delta

Like Korea, Vietnam prefers coffee. Unlike Korea, the coffee here is quite good.

Although coffee is preferred, tea is always on hand. The tea consumed is also different depending on where you are in Vietnam. On the small tropical islands on the Mekong where palm trees and banana trees flourish they drink tea in an especially unique way.

One sat down with some locals on a fair sunny day on a thatched roof patio and tried tea their way. This house like every on the island seemed to have a tea set. These sets were just a quite typical French white porcelain tea pots with small handless white porcelain cups.

Elsewhere in Southern Vietnam these unexcitable, cheap, commonly chipped and cracked cups were usually filled with green tea leaves mixed with small flowers. These small flowers gave the tea a natural perfume that seemed to cloak the slight bitterness given off by large, usually torn leaves. This is the tea of the common people of Vietnam and is found virtually everywhere on ice and occasionally hot in the south. But on these small islands they seemed to drink tea a bit differently.

The tea they use is sometimes the green variety but more often a low grade black tea is prepared in old colonial style pots or cheapy new Chinese pots. Alone this tea is nothing more than cheap, common black tea. It is what these smiley people add to it that makes it an interesting brew.

While the loose leaves are steeping in hot water, the island folk put a little wooden bamboo spoonful of homemade island honey, and a teaspoon of dried bee pollen to each cup. They then pour the tea into the cups, top it off by squeezing a freshly picked lime into the mixture, and stir.

One has never heard of tea prepared in this manner. Although it somewhat resembles what the English sometimes do with their tea, it tasted quite different.

As far as the actual tea goes, it wasn't so good. But, after everything is added it was intensely flavourful, fresh, and vibrant. The final mixture seemed to bring the flat flavour of this dull black tea to life.

What one most enjoyed about tea prepared 'Mekong Style' was that the feel and taste of this concoction mirrored the spirit of the people of these small islands.

And this is how one will remember the tea and people of the Mekong- intense, flavourful, fresh, and vibrant.



Patrick said...

What a unique way to drink tea. I've noticed that in Saigon -- tea is more of an afterthought or something to accompany coffee. I'm surprised that in the delta it actually serves as a drink that holds its own. If only China's tea tradition could have gripped a hold of Vietnam along with French coffee techniques. A yixing next to a ca phe phin filter would be perfect.

Very informative post!

mmm said...

Black tea with honey and lemon/lime is quite common in central europe :)

Tuo Cha Tea said...

I agree with mmm, my parents prepare black tea with honey/sugar and lemon regularly for last 30 years.

Matt said...


Yes, you're absolutely right in Saigon tea is 'an afterthought'. It's often just a way to make the water taste better or, like you said, a chaser for coffee.


One suspected that black tea with lime and honey was quite common in Europe but was a bit unsure where it took hold. One has tried tea in this 'Europenized' manner before, but in Europe unlike on the Mekong, you actually taste the tea, usually of Indian origin. This tea was more like something altogether different with weak, not strong black tea and the honey, lime and pollen, really seemed to push this tea around. Check out the last picture of the final product, it looks more like lime juice than tea!

Tuo Cha Tea,

Thanks for the confirmation. Thomas, you are the source from Central Europe. If anyone knows it's you.

Oh yeah, the dried ginger and homemade peanut candy pictured only added to ones sugar rush. One wonders what people in Central Europe would eat with tea prepared similar to this... a biscuit?

Thanks for your opinions,commentary, and ongoing support.


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt, nice seeing you in tea world again. Well, we eat anything with this kind of tea. It is served at any ocassion. Tomas will confirm that breakfast with this tea, bread with butter and cheese or any other topping was our everyday meal. But you can drink with homemade cake, biscuits or just with anything. It is just regular drink. You can find this way of preparation in Darjeeling too...If you want to join me on garden trip in March you are most welcome...Martin, Prague

Matt said...


Sounds like this tea is quite the common number afterall! Still, one doubts it is served as sweet and fresh as the Mekong tea. Perhaps one will have to drop by Central Europe and find out!

If heading towards India, one will drop you an email.


Tuo Cha Tea said...

It's just my speculation, but I believe, that the habit of drinking black tea with sugar/honey and lemon was imported to Slovakia with Vietnamese workers.
From late 70's to 80's many big companies "imported" Vietnamese workers as part of socialistic cooperation. Many of them stayed here and there are quite large vietnamese communities in larger cities.

Matt said...


Thanks for tying it all together. It's very interesting that drinking tea this way may be 'Mekong Style' after all. Your insights are always welcome and much appreciated.


eileen said...

This is a very interesting post. While black tea with honey and lemon or lime is very common in Europe, here in the US it's often considered a cold remedy (often with the addition of a tablespoon of whiskey to quell the aches). The Vietnamese delta tea's new twist is the addition of bee pollen, which I think accounts for the golden color when the pollen is stirred. The ginger as an accompaniment would add to the health benefit of the pollen as well. Very interesting, tea in the holistic style.

Matt said...


Thanks for adding that comment. The islanders are quite aware of the health benefits of drinking tea in this manner. They claimed that it is good for the immune system, particularly for fighting colds and coughs, and they also said it helps those with allergies. Holistic tea indeed!


Jen said...


This is a different perspective about tea drinking culture in VN. I think we would have such a lot of experience to share as i am also passionate about vietnamese tea. I am living in Vietnam, by the way.

Amanda said...

When i visited vietnam I went to this exact place and had this tea. It was only when i thought about how great it was and googled it to find your article. It was so delicious!