Our Terroir

tea in laos

Tea grows in wild and ancient forms in many of Laos’ forested mountainous areas, and for centuries, it was traded and spread via horse caravans in a vast network extending across the region of southern China, northern Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. During this time, tea varieties, as well as knowledge about cultivation, processing, benefits, and consumption habits were formed and spread.

Tea trees can be encountered in many of Laos’ forests. Besides a few rare imported exceptions, tea in Laos belongs to the large-leaved, tree type varieties which are mostly attributed to Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica. When uncut, the plants grow into single-stemmed trees which can reach heights of over 20 meters and live for several centuries or even millennia. In many cases we can’t be sure if they are wild or have been planted a long time ago: Lao uplands people frequently moved around, shifting their plantations and their villages. They are then sometimes rediscovered decades or centuries later, swallowed by the jungle. Previously, ancient tea trees can fall victim to rotational upland rice production, but the hardy Camellia roots survive the fires and grow back with the new fallows. Farmers harvest tea from these regrowth bushes or arbors in many provinces of Laos, either in dedicated tea gardens or within plantations of other crops.

tea in nyot ou

The tea, wildcrafted (picked in the forest) or cultivated in forested areas, was used for ceremonies, as medicine, for drinking, or for pickling in our villages. Tea is part of traditional Yao culture, and also appears in the skillfully hand fabricated Yao calligraphy books, which are mainly used to transmit astrological and ritualistic information.

Tea production for commercial purposes is quite recent in Nyot Ou. It started with the rise of demand for ancient tree and forest puerh from Yiwu/Yunnan – one of the most famous tea mountains in China, and directly adjacent to Nyot Ou district – in the early-mid 2000s. During the puerh boom, tea prices rose to unprecedented heights, and on the Chinese side, more and more forest was sacrificed for tea plantations, while on the Lao side, forests were still abundant.

The vast diversity of plant types in the forests and gardens of Nyot Ou is an invaluable natural and cultural heritage. Many of the tea trees are wild or ancient, some have been selected and seed-grown by farmers over generations. The geological and meteorological conditions in Nyot Ou are a very similar to that of Yiwu – one of the most famous tea mountains in China, and directly adjacent to Nyot Ou district – a typical monsoon climate with its extremes of hot, dry, wet, and cool playing out in contrasting seasons. The biodiversity of the forests and tea gardens has an influence on the teas’ characters.

The sensory profiles of these teas can also vary widely depending on tree type, age, altitude, soil composition, etc. There is, however, an overall local character which can be described as wild, elegant, and refined. Whereas in other regions, puerh teas can be overpowering when young, Nyot Ou teas are generally more subtle in their tannic structure, balanced and pleasing in texture, mouth- and body feel. During maturation, these teas develop depth and complexity, gradually transforming from their green state with citrus, stone fruit, and fresh resinous notes towards deeper wood, spice, and incense atmospheres.