July 17, 2015
Until as recently as the early 1990’s the infamous Golden Triangle of Northern Thailand was still in the business of opium cultivation, it was not until world pressure and the local hill people, being given the tools and educated into how to grow other crops, did this long term problem cease in the Kingdom. This is not believed to be the case in neighbouring Laos and Myanmar, with the former still the world’s second biggest producer.
The same mountain ranges are now farmed for a variety of cash crops including fruit, nuts, vegetables , coffee, and, last but not least, tea.
Tea was relatively unknown in Thailand as a source of income and unlike most other Asian countries it had no home grown usable plants of its own. The tea plants now most commonly used in the Kingdom were first imported from Taiwan’s Alishan mountains in 1994 and it was not until later in the new century that the country had its first commercial harvest
After water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world and has been believed to have been used in Thailand for centuries. It should be noted that in Thailand the consumption of tea as a food product, pre-dates its consumption as a beverage. Originally locally found tea leaves were first steamed and then stuffed with salt, oil, garlic, pig fat and dried fish and then fashioned into balls, this form of eating is known here in Thailand as Miang kham.
These same snacks are still eaten here in the Kingdom but Erythrina fusca leaves are now more commonly used and are filled with roasted coconut shavings and the following main ingredients chopped or cut into small pieces:
- Fresh red or green bird’s eye chilli peppers
- Lime , including the peel
- Chopped unsalted peanuts or cashew nuts
- Small dried shrimp
- Sour green mango
Tea in Thailand today
Thai iced tea has become one of the first things foreigners discover when dining at a typical Thai restaurant. It is a native-grown red-leafed tea which is spiced with star anise seed and is usually brewed strong and finished with a rich swirl of evaporated milk.
Facts on the basic types of tea:
There are 4 types of tea (each comes from the same plant and is distinguished by the processing of the leaf)
Is withered, fully oxidized and dried. Black tea yields a hearty, amber-coloured brew. Some of the popular black teas include English Breakfast and Darjeeling. Black tea has the highest concentration of essential oils and least resembles the natural leaf.
Skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried. It has a more delicate taste and is pale green/golden in colour. Green tea currently makes up around10-20% of world production.
Popular in China, is withered, partially oxidized, and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in colour and taste.
Is the least processed. A very rare tea, mainly from China. White tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming.
From Opium to Tea
So there you have it while Thailand is neither a major producer or exporter of tea, this ancient plant has paved the way for local hill tribes , to move from what has been termed by some as a “recreational drug” to a beverage that can certainly be called a ‘recreational drink’.
This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of Thailand or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from asia-backpackers.com, please contact us.