Tea has long been a good friend in the everyday life of Vietnamese people. It appears as a catalyst for conversations between friends and family members. For more than three thousand years of the history, drinking tea has grown into a tradition of the people, making its presence in various poems and writings in the national literature, and contributing a unique spiritual beauty to the multiethnic culture.
The art of drinking tea reflects the culture of the country. Every step in the whole process tells an exclusive feature of the long tradition of Vietnam from preparing tea, making tea, pouring the tea to enjoying the flavor of the cup of tea.
Tea is essential to Vietnamese culture. It is said to appear in almost every social occasion. But it is mostly used when people meet up for a talk or a get-together. The biggest and deepest meaning of tea perhaps lies in the in-depth it contributes to any conversations.
When someone pays a visit to your house, or when you invite a friend to come over for a talk, tea is the always the thing that you have a tendency, like most house owners, to use to start the conversation, and to as well accompany the conversation till the end. Before sitting down to a talk, you will boil the water for a while, then take it off the fire, pour it gently into the teapot and cover tightly for about five minutes. Then sincerely bring out the table to invite your guest. If you are a skilful tea drinker, you will comment the fine aroma of the tea, always keeping the tea as to the focus of the conversations. Perhaps, it is the bitterness in the tea that calm people down to intensify their stories.
The way people make their tea to welcome their guest predicts the importance of the guest. It is also a way for them to show their hospitality and the respect towards that person.
Tea talks, besides coffee talks, are very common in the Vietnamese lifestyle. It makes people enjoy other people’s accompany. Its pleasure inspires the drinkers. The pleasure of drinking tea is an elegant spiritual pleasure taken thousands of years ago by ancient scholars and artisans.
Such pleasure, deprived from talks over tea with companions, move people forward to a more self-oriented state: people fall on tea to delight themselves.
“I often infuse tea when I wake up in the early morning, when the air is wet in dew and my mind is free from daily concerns”, said Thien, a farmer in Nam Dinh, “this is the most peaceful time in a day of mine, when I am with only myself and sometime, I think of things that I never share with any one”.
“Me, I just love the taste of tea shaking in my mouth. I can not stand if I am stopped from having some cups of tea in the morning. I am addicted to it”, one living in a village in the north said, “I can go without food all day but not tea”.
Now you can imagine how peaceful it is to start your day early in the fresh morning over a cup of tea, appreciating its bitter taste, while thinking about a day ahead full of hope.
By this way, people also practice their interests over tea like reading, writing, composing music, playing chess, and so on.
The pure beauty of our tea culture is the down-to-earth plain tea culture. This is what makes Vietnam tea culture significantly stands out among other tea cultures from many countries in the region.
It is the plain tea that show the tea’s real beauty. Cao Bá Quát, one of the most famous poet in 19th century has composed a precious poem which praised the unique Vietnam tea drinking culture. Its translation goes like this:
“Do not choose friends for their appearance, otherwise the friend essence can be mistaken. Do not drink flower scented tea, otherwise the real tea fragrant will be lost”.
A tea expert has said, “Vietnamese also do not find the necessity for a solemn tea ceremony, since to Vietnamese, tea is too close to their daily life, like pure water they drink and air they breathe”.
But above of all, regardless of the context, tea is about how you enjoy every sip of your tea. It is about your calmness in appreciating the natural bitterness when it first enters your mouth to the moment when you suddenly realize it is surprisingly sweet when the tea passes through your throat. That’s the reward for your patience to accept the bitter taste.
Duong Thuc Nu
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