The Wrong “Three Leaves Tea”

by Chieu Nguyen

Fifteen years ago, I had a chance to participate in a project funded by Luxemburg Government. It was about to help six poor villages in a remote rural area in Vietnam. When it was done, one expert was sent to us to evaluate the project’s outcomes. He was a very cheerful and open-minded guy, so we were quickly becoming good friend of each other.

I took him to the project area. This was a long trip and we had a good time to talk about everything from heaven to earth, and I knew by chance that he likes Vietnamese tea very much.

“Tea here is wonderful,” he said. “The tea leaves are totally black when they are kept dried, and become green when we pour hot water into them. The tea tastes so strong… so fresh, and so… real, and … so different from what I usually have.”

“So you don’t have tea like that in your country?” I asked.

“No, we don’t,” he said. “In Europe, we only have tea bags. Tea has been processed by some way and added some such artificial flavors as strawberry, lemon, and apple, which make the tea to be something else.”

“We add some flavors into the tea here, too.” I said. “But we do it with natural ones. Lotus, jasmine and pomelo flowers are very common. However, many people said that those added flavors are only for the beginners. Tea lovers don’t like them because they might overwhelm the tea aroma. Especially when enjoying “three leaves tea”, they don’t want to add any flavor at all.”

“Three leaves tea? What is it?” he asked.

“That is a kind of tea from uphill area in the north region of my country. The tea leaves are only collected in very early morning, when they all still wet in dew, only tea buds with three leaves are selected, and they must be picked up before the sunrise because the farmers are afraid that their quality could be affected by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Then the leaves were carefully dried, put in brown glass vases and kept in dark, ventilated places. When that tea is made for drink, it is totally in fresh plain green colour, and the tea cup is always covered by a very thin white mist. It looks beautiful and mysterious. Just drink it bit by bit. You might feel a little bit bitter at the tip of your tongue at first, but this will soon disappear and be replaced by a very long-lasting sweet taste in your throat.”

“It is very interesting!” he said. “I hope I will have chance to try it.”

When we were back, I invited him to dinner before he left. We went to a good seafood restaurant at the downtown. I had already booked a private room so that we could freely talk about anything we like.

The food was so good that we ate too much. When we both were full, the waiter brought to each of us one bowl of tea with three tea leaves inside. The tea was totally in fresh plain green colour, and covered by a very thin white mist.

“Wow! Three leaves tea! You must be my best friend.” He said happily and drank the tea before I could do anything in response.

“It’s really … really good!” He smiled brightly. “Why don’t you try it?”

“I … I’ve had a lot of tea so far, and now I think I would prefer some coffee.” I said while turning to the waiter. “One black coffee for me, please!”

Perhaps he would never know that the “three leaves tea” he had already had was for washing his hands.

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