How the special lotus tea Vietnamese artisan served Bill Gates is prepared

By Tu Nguyen   April 7, 2024 | 05:00 am PT
How the special lotus tea Vietnamese artisan served Bill Gates is prepared
Artisan Hoang Anh Suong brews tea at his house in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/ Tu Nguyen
Hanoi lotus tea, which was recently served to American tech-and-pharma billionaire Bill Gates, is considered the quintessence of Vietnamese tea, with ancient traditions dictating how it is made and enjoyed.

Vietnamese tea artiste Hoang Anh Suong, who recently hosted a tea meditation session for Gates and his girlfriend Paula Hurd on Ban Co mountain peak, said most of his guests were impressed with lotus tea during the event 700 m high in the sky.

Born into a family steeped in Hanoi's pure and long-standing tea culture, Suong is now a major go-to organizer of tea meditation sessions for world celebrities.

Suong said the lotus scent carries the essence of heaven and earth, so lotus-infused tea is considered a precious item and was historically reserved only for noble families.

The lotus flower used in the tea has a pure fragrance, different from quy flower, which looks like a lotus but produces seeds that are used to make sweet soup and herbal medicine.

Suong said Vietnam is full of lotus flowers, but the best lotus flowers are from West Lake in Hanoi. During his more than 20 years of research on tea, his tests have revealed that West Lake lotus has different "qualities" from other varietals.

"West Lake's lotus receives the essence of heaven and earth, so it is more fragrant than lotus in other places," Suong said.

A lotus flower in the West Lake can produce 10-12 grams of lotus anther, while other places usually only produce 8-9 grams.

Harvesting lotus must begin at 4 a.m., according to Suong.

Marinating lotus must be done quickly. The first step of plucking lotus anther "is an art" because the lotus is moist with dew at night, making the anther difficult to shake. If done slowly, the lotus scent will disappear.

Hoang Anh Suong marinates lotus anther with tea leaves. Photo courtesy of Suong

Hoang Anh Suong marinates lotus anther with tea leaves. Photo courtesy of Hoang Anh Suong

Good tea must be taken from young buds and all old stems and leaves must be removed. After washing, the tea is put into a pot and then dried. To brew, the tea is poured into jars, covered with dried banana leaves and incubated for 3-4 years, helping tea buds reduce their acrid taste while retaining their fragrance and loose petals.

After brewing the delicious tea, artisans marinate it with lotus anther. Marinating time depends on the moisture content of the lotus anther, usually 18-24 hours. After incubation, the artisan will sift and remove the lotus anther, put the tea in a paper bag to retain the lotus scent and tea scent, and then let it sit until all the tea petals are dried.

On average, each kilogram of lotus tea costs about 1,000-1,200 lotus flowers with prices at least about VND10 million (US$400) per kilogram.

"That sophistication makes me always proud when telling stories about lotus tea to tea masters at home and abroad," Suong said.

After absorbing the beauty of tea, tasters are encouraged to slowly raise the tea cup and inhale deeply to feel the fragrance. When drinking, hold the cup gently close to your lips, turn your wrist inward, discreetly take a sip, hold the tea in your mouth for a bit to feel the aroma before drinking. This is the traditional and historic way to enjoy tea in Vietnam.

However, the global popularity Vietnamese tea has not yet been "elevated" to the likes of popular tea ceremonies in Japan. Suong said this is not something easy to do, and cannot be achieved by only one or two tea artisans.

In order to turn tea into an ambassador for promoting culture and tourism, Vietnam will need a long time nurturing the joint efforts of tea makers and government agencies, he added.

"Tea is not just a drink, it also represents the beauty of Vietnamese culture and people. A global billionaire who came to Vietnam also chose to enjoy tea. If you don't know how to promote it, it will be a waste," he said.

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