The cold winter is already past. The dazzling spring with lovely apricot and peach blossoms has touched the porch of every household. Xuan Dieu once wrote: Xuân người ta vì ấm mà cần tình. Thu người ta vì lạnh mà cần đôi: We need love in spring when it is warm. We need a partner in autumn when it is chilly. With the warmth of love, there is nothing better than gathering around some cups of tea, telling stories about everyday life, and feeling hope and anticipation for a good year blooming in your heart. Appreciating tea in the springtime is a divine pleasure and an opportunity to search for peace in one’s soul.
Appreciating tea has always been part of Vietnam’s popular culture and may also be elevated into an art. When we exchange cups of tea at Tet we are exchanging genuine love. Tea appreciation may take the form of a tasty cup of green tea you offer your neighbors when they visit to extend their seasonal greetings, with tea leaves freshly picked from your dewy garden, or a tea ceremony in a sedate tea house with your fellow tea lovers on the first day of the year. Whether simple or elaborate, tea appreciation is always true to its essence: elegant yet humble, silently paying respect for the moment when old meets new. For this reason, as the years go by, enjoying a cup of tea with your fellows is always part of the beautiful culture and lifestyle of Vietnamese people.
While Vietnam’s tea appreciation has not been upgraded into a “religion” like Japan’s traditional tea ceremony, the preparation and enjoyment of tea in the Vietnamese way is still an elegant hobby. Vietnamese people drink various types of tea, from common to high-end. Some are as familiar as a serving of fresh, thick deep-green tea leaves brewed in a pot and kept warm in a bamboo or rattan basket, creating tea that tastes sweet but a little bitter, even after it is steeped twice. There is also tea infused with fresh flowers that gives off the rustic scent of grapefruit or jasmine. Lotus tea is a type of scented tea that requires the maker to devote a lot of time to each stage of production. Tea leaves are taken from ancient tea trees that grow naturally on high mountains. Meanwhile, each petal of the lotus is gently removed to keep the layer of fragrant pollen and the aromatic rice-shaped anthers intact. Lotus petals are then stuffed into clean tea leaves, put in jars, baked and dried. After repeated baking, the floral scent is fully absorbed into the tea leaves, giving birth to premium tea. A faster way to produce lotus tea is to place tea leaves in the middle of the lotus and leave them there for a few days until they can be enjoyed. Tea produced this way keeps its original flavor but has a subtle floral fragrance as a bonus. There are also many other types of tea, such as white tea and black tea. With different materials and means of production, we obtain different types of tea.
One could write a long story about the utensils and steps for enjoying tea. The story would explain the various types of cups and teapots made of Yixing clay, other types of clay, and copper. Tea appreciation may be considered a form of meditation, as the steps are performed in sequence in a calm and contented manner. Genuine tea lovers even care about the flow of the water from the teapot to the cup, ensuring it pours out smoothly and beautifully, allowing them to feel the water’s temperature through the cup held gently in their palm. It is no coincidence that teacups are associated with heart-to-heart talks, since both the host and the guest, when taking pleasure in their tea, dedicate all their affection to the encounter.
Today, even though tea appreciation has more or less changed due to the great diversity of teas on offer, this practice’s essential beauty has continued over time. Many young people visit tea houses to learn, feel, and enjoy this elegant pleasure. Therefore, when spring is in the air, there is nothing warmer than a friendly gathering around a tea table, when everyone opens their heart to share stories about the past year, and exchange cups of tea that convey wishes for abundance and happiness.