Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Tea for Thailand.
When part of Chiang Kai Shek’s defeated Chinese army needed a place of refuge back in the late 1940s, they were allowed to settle in the northern hills of Chiang Rai province.
Today they grow the best tea in the country (if not the region); a wide variety of Chinese greens, oolongs, and herbal varieties.
It’s worth a visit up Doi Mae Salong to see their colourful, Chinese-influenced way of life, and of course to stock up on rare aged pu-erh and fragrant jasmine teas. The sweeping views of the fields in bloom are pure magic.
And you can spend a whole day tea-shop hopping, as the tea buffs pour out their knowledge as well as their product.
One connoisseur tells me no you mustn't let the leaves soak for 3 minutes. Another says you never drink the 'first pour' you must rinse the dirty leaves first and then drink. Others insist I plant my large Western beak firmly into the leaves to savour the aroma.of about 50 different types before I choose.
They all smell the same to me, jing jing. Sort of like, well, dried leaves really!
But if you can't make it there, many teahouses across Thailand can fix you a soothing cuppa. Three of my favourites for atmosphere include:
Raming Tea House Siam Celadon, Chiang Mai (www.ramingtea.com): Located in a fine old teak building (nearly 100 years old now), this tea house basks in Siamese nostalgia and earthenware.Despite being in the busy Tha Pae Road area, it allows you to wallow in its quiet garden atmosphere, in something of a time warp as you sip your cuppa or enjoy a healthy light meal.
Namcha Samui Tea House, Koh Samui (www.namchasamui.com): Utterly charming, this new tea house in Fisherman's Village captures the tea-drinking experiences of China, Japan, England and Africa (the latter being the home of rooibos) in four separate corners. So chic you'd think you were in London, Paris or New York but with Samui casualness. Healthy wraps and rolls are a big hit too.
Agalico Tea House, Sukhumvit Soi 51, Bangkok (www.agalico.co.th): Designed by one of Thailand's foremost landscapers, ML Poomchai's idea here seems to be to transport people back to the Great Age of Travel ... think Somersert Maugham and Joseph Conrad ... with its white-on-white rattan sofas, hanging bird cages, and tropical gardens. Oh, and they serve a damn fine cup of European style tea too.