If the land of East Asia is famous for tea ceremony around the world, there is also a tea art no less quintessential and longevity in Hanoi, Vietnam: the art of marinating lotus tea at Tay Ho Lake (aka Ho Tay, literally The West Lake) in the northwest of centre Hanoi. Compared with Hoan Kiem Lake – the symbol of the thousand-year-old culture of Ha Thanh (another name of Hanoi,) Ho Tay is much larger with an area of over 500ha, perimeter of 18km.
Lotus Blossom Season On The West Lake
The lotuses growing on the West Lake are pretty big and beautiful. Some say that Ho Tay Lake already has a hundred types of petal lotus, some of which are rare types. Ho Tay lotuses have many stacked petals and yellow stamens; pink petals are not too dark, but not too pale. The petals open brilliantly big over the lotus blossom season from June to the end of August every year. This is also the only season for artisans to make lotus tea.
Therefore, if you have a chance to visit Hanoi on this occasion, don’t miss that opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea with typical essence of Ha Thanh. Tay Ho’s marinated tea is an art form because this tea requires the artisans to be meticulous and patient in each step. That is why this kind of tea was only for the noble long time ago.
The Meticulousness of Making Lotus Tea
In the early morning, when the sun has not risen, the tea maker silently rows a small boat to the middle of the lotus pond. The lotus aroma is still intense and not scattered in the early-morning mist. Lotus buds and leaves are covered with sparkling droplets like girl’s tears. The tea connoisseurs catch that kind of fog to use as water to make the original Tay Ho tea.
Selecting qualified lotus buds on the lagoon carefully, tea makers use the well-dried buds to slightly separate the pink petals; then drop small portions of tea into the lotus bud; after that, let them stay there all night for the tea buds to be flavored with the essence of the heaven and earth. In the next morning, the lotuses that pouch tea are carefully picked. The way to marinate tea directly on the lake is called live marination (uop song).
In addition, the artisans making lotus tea also use the method of marinating the already-picked lotus flowers. This method is very picky as well. The lotus buds, were picked early in the morning, must have slightly open petals as they are smiling. From 1000 to 1400 lotus buds, after marinated, are reduced to only 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of precious tea. After the lotus flowers are picked, their petals are carefully separated by the artisans. Inside it reveals lotus stigmas and anthers.
There are tiny milky white particles on the anthers of Tay Ho lotus. Tea artisans call this lotus rice (gao sen,) which lies among the yellow lotus anthers. In spite of being tiny, they contain the fragrance of the Ho Tay Lake. Therefore, only lotus rice is used to marinate lotus tea. To filter between lotus rice and lotus anthers, the artisans carefully separate the lotus rice into the baskets, then sieve them to remove the remaining lotus anthers. The lotus rice is spread evenly over the tea and marinated for 5-7 times to produce 1kg of Tay Ho tea.
Rare and precious Tay Ho Tea has spent years of historic events along with the historic Thang Long land (the old name of Hanoi capital). Not everyone living in Hanoi for many years gets a chance to enjoy a real cup of Tay Ho tea. However, if you have ever tried it, that strong and gentle aroma will surely be an unforgettable experience in life.
Writer: Linh Dang
Translator: Nhu Tran