Conundrum in the Tea Garden Redux

The night before last, the moon was an incredible yellow-orangy crescent, low-hanging on the horizon. Like you could reach up and pluck it out of the sky.

Surreal harvest moons; crisp air; slanted sunrays that set the riotous trees afire; pungent earth . . . autumn in Michigan.

Which makes me reach for a steaming cup of tea to ward off the chill.

And Vietnam Yen Bai OP (available from TeaHaus), enjoyed in my backyard, is perfect as I greet fall’s colorful approach.

This particular tea—with a lovely hue and a satisfying depth—comes from northern Viet Nam, where the leaves are plucked from wild tea trees and the tea processed in small villages.

Unfortunately, this tea is the exception rather than the norm.

vietnam yen bai montage_sm

Reality Remains a Problem

As highlighted in a previous blog, the tea industry in Viet Nam has some real issues—which the Viêt Nam News once again addresses as tea exports and tea value continue to fall while concerns rise.

To date, export volume has fallen 5.6% and value 4.8% from last year. Although this may not seem like a huge drop, Viet Nam is the world’s fifth largest exporter of tea and tea is one of the country’s main exports—so this translates into a sizable loss.

Again, there are calls for improvements in:  tea quality; food hygiene; pesticide use; cultivation, processing, and distribution; branding; marketing.

Same old problems.

These Are Solutions? Really?

So what about solutions? Sadly, no concrete ones are mentioned in this article. Sure, various sources say:

“there should be an organisation to monitor the use of pesticide,”

attention must be paid to developing tea cultivation,”

“farming methods must be improved . . . including . . . planning of tea plantation areas,”

development of a Vietnamese tea brand . . . and organisation of trade promotion activities was also indispensable” (Viêt Nam News, 9/3/15; emphasis mine).

But things that are being done right now, today?

Well, the ministry “would tighten State management over the use of pesticides and fertilisers, while improve [sic] farming techniques for farmers” and “was planning to grant codes to tea plantation areas to trace the origins of tea as part of efforts to professionalise tea production” (Viêt Nam News, 9/3/15).

And there has been some progress on the pesticide front. In April, Taiwan returned oolong tea to Viet Nam because the tea had too much pesticide residue, but recent tea samples did meet Taiwan’s quality standards. (Most of the oolong tea produced in Lam Dong goes to Taiwan.)

The July 2015 Euromonitor report for Viet Nam said that, for 2014, there was a stable demand for tea in the country, but as living standards rise, people prefer branded to unbranded tea—which means that “manufacturers will have to invest more in brand building and introduce new products with different health benefits to attract consumers.”

According to an (admittedly old) 2012 report in Vietnam Business Forum, organic tea is sold at the same price as other tea within Viet Nam, and demand for organic tea isn’t there. So there is little incentive for tea growers to put in the extra work and money that organic tea requires.

The remedy would be a board to oversee the tea industry, and evidently, in 2012, the “Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, which is responsible for the management of the tea industry model and quality of tea products, is conducting research on the initiative to establish a Vietnam Tea Board based on the experience of Kenya, a famous exporter for high quality black tea in the world” (Vietnam Business Forum, 8/28/12). Such a board would vet, license, and train farmers; ensure tea quality; promote organic practices, and so on.

But the country still waits . . .

Obviously Viet Nam is capable of spectacular tea, as my cup of Yen Bai OP attests. But for the country to maximize its potential, the promises and intentions continually touted need to be implemented.

Complicated, yes. Expensive, undoubtedly. But worth the trouble? Definitely.

bar_smSources:
~”Lam Dong’s Oolong tea meets int’l standards,” Vietnam Breaking News, July 17, 2015, http://www.vietnambreakingnews.com/2015/07/lam-dongs-oolong-tea-meets-intl-standards/
~”Tea in Vietnam,” Euromonitor, July 2015, http://www.euromonitor.com/tea-in-vietnam/report
~”Vietnam Tea Industry: ‘Exit’ from the Tea Board,” Vietnam Business Forum, August 28, 2012, http://vccinews.com/news_detail.asp?news_id=26814
~”Vietnamese tea exports decrease,” Viêt Nam News, September 3, 2015, http://vietnamnews.vn/economy/275293/vietnamese-tea-exports-decrease.html

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