Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tea In Laos Part Two: The Legend of Laos' 400-Year-Old Tea Trees

We continued to glide through the dense fog like ghosts in search of tea. We reached our halfway point, Phousom Village of the Phounoy Hill tribe people. The old wooden stilted homes of this small village were almost completely clouded and gave the effect of barely visible floating houses. This supernatural dream-like feeling was actualized by the fact that by the time we arrived most of the towns people were working in nearby fields, some of them undoubtedly tea plantations. We didn't spend very long in this peacefully eeriy town before heading on our way.

Tea plantations exclusively lined the dirt path for the next 4 kilometres occasionally sharing the odd space with mystic patches of dew covered bamboo.

The tea shrubs grew in size as we progressed on foot to our final destination. From plant, to shrub, to tree, and to large tree. Finally after 4 hours of trekking up a mild incline we arrived in Korman village of the Phounoy Hill tribe people, the birthplace of Laos tea!

According to the elders of the Korman Village, there was once an old tree. This tree was located on the path to the local stream. The villagers would travel this path daily to cast their fishing nets. The fisherman noticed the wonderful bright green young leaves of this old tree and would always make sure to pluck some off as a treat to nibble during the trek back to the village.

This is the way it always was. Around 400 years ago things changed in Korman, the old tea tree began to spread its seeds and, with the help of the residents of Korman, it spread throughout the small village.

Today, scientifically verifiable 300-400 year-old tea trees envelope the small quiet village. It is unknown when the Phounoy started steeping the tea leaves in water and consuming tea as a beverage as they do today.



geneviève meylan said...

wonderfull photos ! and such old trees...

Matt said...


They're even more wonderful in person.


aneglakya said...

Hi Matt,

I've really enjoyed this series on tea in Laos! I am a student of environmental anthropology who has been studying tea in Xishuangbanna for the last few years, particularly the Bulang Mts. Recently, my research interests take me into the uplands of Southeast Asia, particularly Laos and Burma, though I have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

Pardon the short notice, but I will be giving a presentation next week on the tea garden ecologies of southwest China and Southeast Asia, and am wondering if I might use some of your images from Laos? Naturally, I will provide proper photo credits. I appreciate your consideration!

Yours in tea,
Brian S. Kirbis