Just as in China, the cultivation of tea in Vietnam springs from a long tradition. Some local legends recount that the first tea trees were brought to Vietnam from what is now known as the Golden Triangle - Chinese border, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vietnam) - more than 1,000 years ago. Today, tea growing is well established on Vietnamese soil, and the industry employs roughly two million people. Over 197,000 acres (80,000 ha) are reserved for tea plantations, producing an output that has exploded over the last two decades to reach 99,200 tons (90,0001) in 2004. The tea produced here is often produced for the domestic market and priced to be affordable for the local population.
From the central tropical regions to the mountains of the north, tea is grown in more than 30 provinces throughout the country. Vietnamese production consists mainly of black teas (60 percent, of which a small proportion is produced using the orthodox method), green teas (35 percent) and a miscellaneous category that includes jasmine tea, lotus tea and wulong teas. The northern provinces grow about 65 percent of the national output. In the southern regions of the country, especially in the mountains, more and more wulong teas are being produced, thanks to Taiwanese investment.
Thai Nguyen is the principal growing area and one of the only regions reputed for the excellence of its tea production. The tea gardens in this province are located at altitudes between 1000 and 1,650 feet (300 to 500 m) and are more numerous than rice or corn plantations. Sometimes organized into small cooperatives, the tea industry in Thai Nguyen consists of small groups of artisans who nearly all process the tea themselves. Some of them also sell and distribute their own product, but most sell their tea to larger companies who package it for sale in supermarkets.
Vietnam is blessed with many natural advantages (climate, soil quality) that have helped it develop tea growing. Tea gardens in Vietnam are small, usually no more than 5,400 square feet (500 m). Between pickings, the tea trees are pruned to keep them at a height of about 24 inches (60 cm). The trees are planted about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) apart and the space between rows is only 16 to 24 inches (40 to 60 cm), so the small gardens are densely grown. Harvests take place from March through to early November; and the best pickings are gathered in April and September.
The tree recognized as the local tea tree is called Trung Du La Nho ("small middle tea leaf"), and it is used in almost 70 percent of the plantations in the north of the country. Other cultivars are also grown, including LDP I and TLE777, both from China. Created in Vietnam from a hybrid of these two, LT is another cultivar in widespread use.