Thai Tea – from Opium Fields to Tea Fields

Thai Tea – from Opium Fields to Tea Fields

Richly steeped in history, our beloved beverage, tea, has known a bit of a darker side that tied into the opium trade; but as in all darkness there is light.  In Northern Thailand, tea fields now prosper where opium poppies used to grow.

image poppiesI’d like to make two introductions to you from Northern Thailand; one to the tea estate, Daokrajai; and the other to the gentleman from England doing his utmost best to get tea from Daokrajai out to the world: Mr. John Wombwell.  This is a labor of love for John Wombwell; for the tea itself but also for the people of the tea-growing area of Mae Salong, the heart of the tea region in Northern Thailand.

According to the website, “Daokrajai Lanna Fine Teas produces the finest and healthiest organic, loose-leaf teas from Northern Thailand. These teas are grown and processed with great care and the unique skills on a farm owned and run entirely by women.”  Dao kra jai is the name of the lovely pink starburst flower that you will see on the website from which the tea estate derived its name. You will notice that it is very similar to the Cosmos flower.

Just recently, Daokrajai has opened their first North American distribution center in New Jersey and is offering an affiliate program and some discounts on first-time orders: contact info at the bottom.

I was privileged to meet Mr. Wombwell through LinkedIn.   It was he who sent some truly remarkable samples which I shared with my San Diego TEA Meetup group. I also learned of his passion for this area of the world and the lives of the people there, who are affected by this plant that we have all come to know and love. As most of us in the world of tea have learned, the story that comes with a tea is just as powerful as the tea we sip from the cup – sometimes even more so. I am sure you will find this to be the case with Daokrajai Lanna Fine Teas.

Boo_dharlene-SeptI’ve included the photo of a woman who captured my heart right from my first introduction to Daokrajai. I had simply had to know more about her. John Wombwell told me, “Her name is Boo Hja. She is part of the Akha hill tribe who live in the hills and mountains around Chiang Rai.

“There are two ‘Chiang Rai’s’. One is the Province of Chiang Rai, which is Thailand’s most northerly, and is situated on the border between Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Laos. The boundary lines are created by the Mae Ruak and Mae Khong rivers, The Mae Khong then travels along the Thailand/Laos border, eventually entering the China Sea from Vietnam. This is the (in)famous Mekong River. The other ‘Chiang Rai’ is ‘Muang Chiang Rai’, the city of Chiang Rai. it is not large, with fewer than 70,000 people, but a wonderful city with many temples.

“Boo’s tribe, the Akha, were originally from Yunnan province in China, moving to Burma and Laos in 1800′s.  In the early 20th Century, they fled Burma due to civil strife and made their homes in the mountains of Northern Thailand. They are accepted by the Thai Government, but are not entitled to education, health services, etc .

“Boo is a charming lady. She speaks her native language (Akha, what else?) and Thai, but little English. That does not stop us from communicating, however.  Her children include a son and two daughters who are in their early 20′s.  Her son is a labourer, and one of her daughters is married with a son. Unfortunately, her daughter’s husband is not around, and she works at whatever she can find, and so Boo is the primary breadwinner (or should that be rice-winner)?

“Boo’s husband died several years ago, leaving her to raise three children alone. Although she is the sole breadwinner for an extended family, she is a happy lady, always with a smile.  Boo wears traditional clothing for visitors and special occasions.  Her pride in these clothes is apparent, as is her enthusiasm to explain their history and significance.  Unfortunately, here is where our communication difficulties were noticeable, and the speed of Boo’s explanations were lost on me.

“She has worked on the farm for 16 years, tending the tea plants; plucking and processing them. She also tends and harvests the other crops that are used in the teas; Lemongrass, Pandanus, Ginger, Rosella, and others.

“She and her daughter and grandson live in a small three room house near Chiang Rai. She is an absolutely wonderful lady, hardworking and without a complaint. Their religion is a mixture of Buddhism, ancestor worship and belief in nature.”

As I said, it is the story, the true pulse of the tea estate, which is of course, the workers; the ones whose labors of love I find to be of most interest and it gives me great joy to share this with you. Boo captured my heart and I simply had to make a third introduction. She, and others like her, are the ones who bring the light  by sharing their light with us.

Please see Encounter Thailand (1), about Mr. Wombwell’s tea journey.   And feel free to contact Julia Sanchez in New Jersey for more information on sampling and selling Daokraijai Lanna Fine Teas in your establishment. She can be reached at 201.686.5008. And do visit their website.

Share the light – sip the tea.

This Post was originally written for T’Ching.com at http://www.tching.com/2013/09/thai-tea-from-opium-fields-to-tea-fields/

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Dharlene Marie Fahl is an entrepreneur and approaches everything she does with a universal, collaborative and cooperative spirit and is a CEO Space graduate and lifetime member. She has been a retail gift shop owner, a healing centre owner and operator, as well as a restaurant general manager and a director of training for a restaurant company responsible for seven restaurants. Her education and training is in Hospitality Management.

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