Tea trees of Laos

The beautiful tea trees of Ban Komaen
village in Phongsaly, their story and amazing diversity.
Photos and video of the tea treasures of Laos’ «Lost world»

The story of Laos tea is one of the oldest tea stories in the world. Yunnan, North Laos and Myanmar are the origin of all tea trees.The ancient people who settled down there discovered the unique qualities of these tea trees, and quickly started using them medicinally.

Tea culture in China flourished in the Tang Dynasty, even thought it was aoriginally a par of aboriginal heritage. In Sichuan and other provinces, people began to domesticate tea and create new varieties and cultivars suitable for their needs. In Laos, the tea tress stay stand as they did in prehistoric times: in the forest, seed-propagated, with deep and strong roots.

In the SixteenthCentury, tea cultivation and trade began to play an important role in foreign trade. At that time, Yunnanese farmers were encouraged to start new tea gardens and sell their tea to special trade posts, where the tea was pressed and sent abroad by caravans, mostly to be traded for fine horses.

At that time the north of Laos was a part of the Xishuangbanna Kingdom, a vassal state of the Ming Empire. The tea boom even reached this rural place, and many tea gardens were established, although most of them haven’t survived till now. Ban Komaen tea has, however, so we have a unique opportunity to make tea from 400-years old tea trees.

In 1893, Phongsaly officially become a part of French Indochina, as a result of Sino-French and Franco-Siamese War. Since that time, Phongsaly has not been a part of China and people have learned to live in their own way. French people were more interested in coffee, but during WWII the Japanese forces cultivatedthe old tea trees garden and even began new plantations in the nearest villages to propagate the old tea trees. After obtaining full independence in 1953, Laos started it’s long and winding road towards social development. Tea wasn’t a priority at the time, so tea gardens in Ban Komaen were abandoned for half a century, until the rise of interest in Puerh tea.

In Laos, it’s still possible to find a few giant tea trees in the jungles. They grow in eight provinces. We’ve only described one place, which passed through time relatively untouched and has become unique in the tea world.

One of the differences between old tea trees and modern tea bushes is seed propagation, not a cloning/cutting. Tea is a sexual plant. Therefore, when it is farmed in this way,the new plant will bear the heritage of both parents’ to become a unique tree. This is the same as with people, who inherit their ancestor’s genes to become similar and yet different at the same time. Look at the trees—each one of them has it’s own character, it’s own way of growing.

The botanical name for this tea variety is Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The trees like warm summers and cool winters, so the environment of northern Laos is perfectly suited for them. The real specialty of these old trees tea is in the deep rich taste and complex long-lasting aftertaste, not to mention therefreshing feeling after drinking this tea. It’s completely organic and naturally grown, containing the best of what tea can offer.

Harvesting is hard work, requiring a lot of attention and patience. That’s why not many people in the modern world could do such a job: a full day of plucking may result in only three or four kilograms of tealeaves, which will result in only one kilogram after drying. Often, it’s the village elders who take care of the tea trees and the harvest, as they have been doing since their childhood.

We have great fortune that Ban Komaen tea gardens have remained pristine till now,and we can make our teas from old tea trees. It’s one of the world’s heritages, bringingthe heart of a unique tea, created by aboriginal heritage and natural agriculture, and then brewed and shared amongst people around the world. As such, this is a rare example of true value and quality.

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