Ancient Shan Tuyet tea plant

Shan Tuyết tea – Vietnamese premium tea from ancient tea plants

Shan Tuyết tea, or Shan Snow tea is a special Vietnamese tea made from the leaves of the tea plan species Camellia sinensis var. Shan. The word “Shan” is a variation of “sơn” meaning “mountain”, due to the fact that it occurs in mountainous area. The word “tuyết” means snow.

Camellisa sinensis var. Shan
Camellisa sinensis var. Shan

The Shan tea plant is a tall tree, about 6 to 10 m high. Its leaves are broad about 15-18 cm long. The Shant tea leaves have a pure white fur-like mantle, which looks like snow, so hence its name. The Shan tea is closely related to the Assam tea.

Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Tay Con Linh, Ha Giang Camellia sinensis var. Shan
Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Tay Con Linh, Ha Giang

Cultivation

The Shan tea subspecies was discovered in Vietnam about 1918-1930 at Lào Cai and Hà Giang provinces at the altitude of 900-1.700m.

harvest Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Tua Chua
Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Tua Chua, Dien Bien province

Previously, the Shan Tuyết tea leaves were only harvested in the wild or in family gardens by the Tày, Dao, and Mông ethnic groups. Those Shan Tuyết tea plants are now becoming ancient trees and the leaves form those trees are highly-prized in Vietnam. The commercial tea business in Vietnam previously only focused on the large-leafed tea species (Camellia sinensis var. macrophylla).

Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves from tall tea plants Camellia sinensis var. Shan
Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves from tall tea plants

The cultivation of Shan tea plants only started around 2003. Now the plant is cultivated in several mountainous northern Vietnam, and in Lâm Đồng, a province in southern Vietnam with high altitude.

Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Na Hang, Tuyen Quang province
Harvesting Shan Tuyet tea leaves in Na Hang, Tuyen Quang province

In each regions, there are different Shan cultivars: Shan Tà Xùa, ancient Shan Suối Giàng, ancient Shan Tây Côn Lĩnh, Shan Mộc Châu, Shan Tham Vè, Shan Trấn Ninh …

Ancient Vs Non-ancient

Currently, in the Northwestern Vietnam, there are only about 80,000 ancient Shan Tuyết tea trees left, which are harvested 4 crops a year, and the price for tea from these tea is often very high. Tea from newly-planted tea plants is less prized.

Vietnamese then prime minister gifted Shan Tuyet tea to Malaysian counterpart
Vietnamese then prime minister gifted Shan Tuyết tea to Malaysian counterpart

Tea Products

The most popular tea products made from Shan Tuyết tea trees are Green Tea, Red Tea, and White Tea. Others include: matcha powder for making cakes, and fermented phổ nhĩ tea. Phổ nhĩ tea is named after a Chinese city, but it’s actually the tea made from ethnic minorities living in southern China and northern Vietnam, such as the Thái, Tày, Dao, and Nùng people. In Vietnam, it’s called Trà ống lam (bamboo tea). Tea is stuffed in bamboo tubes and then get dried for a long time in the kitchen.

Vietnamese Shan Tuyet tea
Vietnamese Shan Tuyet tea
Fermented Shan Tuyet tea
Fermented Shan Tuyet tea

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