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Tea club aims to preserve culture, promote local brand
The Vietnamese Tea Club was formed by a group of young people in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003 after several years of research into all aspects of tea, which the Vietnamese consider an art, a social etiquette and a lifestyle.
The club is now trying to develop its own brand of tea to further revive the tea industry, which spent many years in the doldrums.
Even now, while Vietnam exports tea leaves to dozens of countries, it still imports packaged tea.
A great idea
Dinh Minh Phu, a former student of the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, has been the driving force behind the Vietnamese Tea Club.
The son of tea farmers, Phu felt the need to do something to revitalize the tea industry.
As a child he had watched many neighbors leave the place known as “the kingdom of Vietnamese tea.”
At university, Phu met three other students – Nguyen Hoang Linh, Vo Van Thanh and Giap Van Huy – who shared his passion for tea.
Gathering more interested students over time, Phu and 15 of his friends started weekly Vietnamese Tea Club meetings in October 2003.
The number of members kept increasing every week, with sometimes as many of 40 people turning up.
To reduce the expense of drinking tea at cafes, the group soon began meeting at members’ houses, where they could drink free tea in comfort.
Eventually the group had more than 60 regulars and the club organizers asked for space at the Youth Cultural House in HCMC.
Never before had a group asked for room at the Youth Cultural House.
Usually the house set up its own clubs.
The Vietnamese Tea Club became an official member of the Youth Cultural House in August 2005 and now has more than 300 permanent members.
The Vietnamese Tea Club was the first stage in a three-step 10-year plan to stimulate all segments of Vietnam’s tea industry.
Stage two was to set up a tea company and stage three to operate a chain of tea shops.
To further their plan, Phu and his friends visited tea shops in HCMC every week to learn more about tea and how to make it.
They researched tea on the Internet, in books and at forums.
Once they had built up a large body of knowledge about tea, stage two began in 2005.
Dau Quang Tho, a student at the biology department of the HCMC University of Natural Sciences, spent long hours in the lab trying to develop a new tea blend.
Whenever Tho came up with a new formula, Phu and his friends went to Bao Loc in the tea-growing highland province of Lam Dong, to place orders for the elements of the new tea blend.
After several unsuccessful attempts, in late February 2005 the first few bags of tea were produced.
The main ingredients were green tea buds, jasmine, lotus and flavors of herbs.
The concoction produced a tea with an eye-catching color and unique flavor.
“We were extremely happy and got started immediately,” Phu said.
In April that year Hoa Tra Viet (Vietnamese Tea Flower) Joint-stock Company was established at 51/7 Le Van Sy Street in Ward 13 of HCMC’s Tan Binh District.
It was formed with contributions from the Vietnamese Tea Club members.
Vietnamese brand name
Most of the 16 founders of Tra Viet (Vietnamese Tea) now have different jobs but their love of tea has linked the young people together forever.
No matter how busy they are, they save some time for Hoa Tra Viet.
After nearly three years of hard work, Hoa Tra Viet has made some good progress.
The company has received their first orders from Vietnamese expatriates from the US
Phu has given up his “day job” to devote all his time and energy to Hoa Tra Viet.
Even though Phu is now the director of Hoa Tra Viet, he still holds monthly meetings of the Vietnamese Tea Club at the Youth Cultural House in HCMC.
Many foreign students studying in HCMC also attend, with particular interest shown for meetings on specific topics, such as the Japanese tea ceremony.
These youthful meetings are especially interesting, according to Nguyen Anh Hoa, a Vietnamese student who has just come back from the US:
“I didn’t know anything about Vietnamese tea,” Hoa said.
“When I was in the US, I surfed on Google and I got to know that Vietnam has a club like this. When I came back to Vietnam, I came to the club meetings at the Youth Cultural House. Gradually I got very interested in tea.”
Phu said that they were preparing to introduce a new kind of tea for the forthcoming traditional Tet Festival.
With their youthfulness and determination, Phu and his friends have made great progress in realizing their dream to make the brand name “Tra Viet” popular with young Vietnamese people and then to make it popular around the world.
In the 2008 New Year Celebration on January 1 at September 23 Park in the center of HCMC, Tra Viet’s tea pavilion was incredibly popular, especially with European visitors.
“I knew about Japanese tea ceremonies but this is the first time I have seen a style of making tea in the Vietnam tea ceremony,” said Joseph, a French visitor to the Tra Viet pavilion.
“Tra Viet tea has a nice fragrance. At first, it is a bit bitter but in a moment it turns sweet and spreads in the throat. Wonderful!”
Reported by Tu Ngan Ka