| Phouthong Sivongsa |
CHAMPASSAK, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) – If you would like to sample authentic organic Lao tea, there may be no better place to go than Pakxong district in Champassak province.
I visited the area last month on a trip organised by the Marketing Tourism Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, as part of an agri-tourism promotional tour.
Agri-tourism is essentially about people visiting agricultural areas to learn about the local practices of farming, cultivation and environmental conservation.
It promotes the preservation of cultures and the growth in prosperity of farming communities by giving tourists a taste of life and work on a farm or plantation.
So many of us these days are getting tired and bored of city life.
The office has become dull and traffic jams test our patience. The many buildings and big crowds are claustrophobic. At some point, escape is the only cure to the malady that the city inflicts on us.
Given the chance, no city dweller should miss a visit to Pakxong district. Actually, one could do much worse than visit the 36 Tea factory, an agri-tourism enterprise about 36 kilometres from Pakxe, from which the factory takes its name.
Visitors to 36 Tea get to see and take part in all aspects of tea cultivation and processing. They can hire bikes and spend a lazy day riding around the plantation.
A morning walk taking in the sights, breathing in the fresh mountain air followed by a freshly brewed cup of black tea is a fine start to the day.
Visitors will also get to learn about the history of tea and its origins in Yunnan, China, dating back more than 3,000 years.
36 Tea has some cultivated tea trees said to be over 1,000 years old.
This shows the long tradition the Lao people have with brewing the popular drink.
Once upon a time, tea was as popular as coffee amongst the Lao people.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the French planted a lot of tea bushes on the Bolaven Plateau.
The temperate climate and relatively high rainfall they recognised as being ideal for cultivation of the crop. Work on tea plantations subsequently became a regular source of employment for many Lao people.
The wars and American bombing, plus a slump in demand both locally and abroad, meant only a few plantations were exporting to neighbouring countries by 1995. The planting of Arabica coffee trees and booming profits in coffee meant tea production almost came to halt over the following years.
Today, the cultivation of tea has resumed in Pakxong because farmers and local residents can sell the tea they grow to the 36 Tea factory. Profits are as high as two million kip per month for growers with a good yield. 600,000-700,000 kip per month would be closer to average returns for small scale farmers.
One of the benefits of tea is that it can be harvested 24 times a year. Coffee trees produce berries just once or twice a year.
For my part, I was really impressed with the tea I drank at the plantation. I’ve never really been a big fan of tea before but I’ve since changed my mind. Hearing that tea would give me good health and assist with weight loss made me like it even more.
The owner of 36 Tea, Xie Rong, told me all about tea and the potential health benefits of the drink.
She told me, for instance, that picking tea leaves takes a lot of skill and very soft fingers because the tea will spoil if it gets bruised while being handled. People need training before they handle the leaves, she said.
Xie also told me about the different varieties and colours of tea. Red tea, she said, is good to drink after lunch because it can help with digestion. It also helps the body’s metabolism to burn fat and so assist with weight loss.
Green teas should be consumed in the early morning before breakfast. They help with sight and will help make a woman’s skin soft and firm.
Xie said black tea is best in the evening. It will help with sleep and may also help reduce high blood pressure.
More clinical trials about the health benefits of tea are probably needed, but I was impressed to hear from Xie that all of her tea is chemical free and that she is intent on serving only the highest quality product. She is a genuine tea devotee.
“Did you know tea leaves can be used like herbs in cooking and taste great in many Lao dishes?” Xie asked me. Visitors can eat tea-flavoured items at the factory but there’s also an outlet in Nonghai village, Hadxaifong district, Vientiane.
Xie told me that in the near future she plans to establish a resort on her estate which will include a guesthouse, swimming pool and a viewing platform over the tea plantation. She also wants to expand on the 50,000 plants she already farms on her property, and hopes to one day build a tea room.
“I love farming in the south of Laos,” she said. “Although it is landlocked, Laos is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Pakxong has very fertile soil and an excellent growing climate and I’m so happy if tea production here can benefit the local community.”
I am so happy too to have met Xie, to have tasted her tea and seen what she does for the community.
No one wanting an escape the hustle and bustle of the city should miss a visit to the Bolaven Plateau and trying out some agri-tourism. In my opinion time spent on a plantation like 36 Tea is worth every minute.
36 Tea is on the main road about 35 kilometres from Pakxe.