From the Blog

July 17, 2015

From Opium to Tea

From Opium to Tea

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:

  • Shallots
  • Fresh red or green bird’s eye chilli peppers
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Lime , including the peel
  • Water
  • Chopped unsalted peanuts or cashew nuts
  • Small dried shrimp
  • Sour green mango

From Opium to Tea 1

Before wrapping the filled leaves are topped with palm sugar or sugar cane syrup which often has been cooked with lemongrass, galangal, ginger and fish sauce.


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)

Black tea

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.

From Opium to Tea

Green tea

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.

Oolong tea

Popular in China, is withered, partially oxidized, and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in colour and taste.

White tea

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’.


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