“Fertile Crescent ” of Camellia Sinensis / Kinnari tea cultivation regions and base camp
Kinnari Tea is a Vientiane-based German-Lao project that has been born from a pure passion for tea. The German operator, Anna-Maria Phayouphorn, and her Lao husband Toun, have dedicated much of their resources to the exploration of ancient tea trees in the regions Xiengkhouang and Bolaven Plateau for a while. At this, they also had the chance to in-depth study the tea processing traditions of the local mountain tribes. Finally, the intense collaboration over years led to a fusion of these processing traditions with Anna’s and Toun’s own competences. And among lovers of true artisan teas, the resulting line of Lao arbor teas has the potential of setting new standards.
Anna and the tea leaves
Anna, actually an art and architecture historian, originally met her husband during an erasmus semester in Geneva, Switzerland. This is also, where she – after a one-year stay in Laos – professionally followed up on her greatest personal passion, tea. She worked in a renowned Suisse tea shop for another year there, before eventually returning to Laos. While the original purpose of the couple’s residence in Laos was focused on architectural projects, things should turn out another way. Anna and Toun increasingly fell for the fascination exuded by Laos’ ancient tea trees. The rest is history… and goes by the name of Kinnari.
Toun at work… 🙂
The most essential cornerstone of Kinnari Tea’s philosophy is having the company’s activities in harmony with their natural and social environment.
Kinnari tea trees in Laos – natural, biodiverse enironment
Therefore, all Kinnari teas come from tea trees growing wild or cultivated in their natural biodiverse environment. Many of these are several hundred years old, while all younger tea plants have been raised from their seeds. And, of course, there is zero use of pesticides or artificial fertilizers on any tea plants serving Kinnari tea production.
Manual tea processing in Xiengkhouang, Laos
At the same time, the company strives for a high grade of fairness towards its indigenous producer partners. On the one hand, Kinnari Tea expects full compliance with their extremely high quality and environmental standards from their tea farmers. In turn, the company pays prices for qualified batches its producers that a are way beyond Lao standards.
Impressions from the Lao world of tea
Xiengkhouang and Bolaven Plateau – Laos‘ ancient tea tree regions
Laos is among the genuine “cradle countries of tea“: Yunnan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam… and Laos. The north of the country is a mountainous area vastly covered with thick ancient forests. It is part of a region often referred to as the „Fertile Crescent of Camellia Sinensis“. Owed to a range of streams – such as the Mekong River – winding down from the Tibetan highlands, there is water in abundance.
Bolaven Plateau – ancient forests with water in abundance
Xiengkhouang is a region in the eastern part of north Laos. There, the tea tree has been native for millenniums, and the tea picking and processing tradition is deeply rooted in the cultures of local hill tribes. In contrast, on Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos, the French have introduced the tea plant at the beginning of the 20th century only. However, despite the lack of far back reaching roots, the local tribes have long discovered the relish and economical benefits of their tea trees also here. Their teas, commonly produced with little know-know and quality awareness, are usually exported to China, where they – deprived of their identity – become part of a mass market with low quality requirements.
Tea garden in Xiengkhouang, Laos
This is why Kinnari Tea aims at creating a new segment of high quality Lao arbor teas with more than just a geographical identity of their own. At this, giving a boost to the country’s mark on the world map of tea is an entirely desireable side effect. And the resulting unique features of Kinnari teas are obvious: organic cultivation of native ancient tea trees in their natural, biodiverse environment, economic fairness towards grassroots-level producers, widely manual (artisan) processing and the orientation at highest quality standards.
Kinnari tea portfolio (top left to bottom right) : Golden Flame, Honey Hill, White Moonlight, Plateau Green, Silver Cloud
The portfolio of teas produced by Kinnari Tea reflects the close biological kinship of Lao tea treeas with their Yunnanese conspecifics:
Kinnari Green Tea : „Bolaven Plateau Green“ – a Lao „Dian Lu Cha“
So, Kinnari‘s “Plateau Green”, coming from Paksong, Bolaven Plateau, reminds us of a typical “Dian Lu Cha”, green tea produced from leaves of Yunnan tea trees. However, due to the teas‘ exceptional picking and processing quality, I felt reminded of our Vietnamese „Ancient Snow Shan“ Arbor Green Tea just as well.
Kinnari Plateau Green – Green Tea from Bolaven Plateau, Laos
Kinnari Black Tea: „Golden Flame“ (pure buds)
Kinnari’s Golden Flame is the Lao equivalent of a Yunnan Golden Tips. However, in nowadays’ Yunnan, you need to watch out for a Golden Tips of this quality! Pure buds of ancient tea trees in most meticulous pcking standard, carefully processed to a black tea with outright tantalizing cocoa and coffee roast notes, thick mouthfeel and deep malty sweetness.
Kinnari Golden Flame black tea : Golden Tips the Lao way
Kinnari „Dark Tea” – „Honey Hill“ Sheng Pu Erh Tea
Kinnari’s Honey Hill, unripened (sheng) Pu Erh tea from Xiengkhouang, goes way beyond the standards we are used to from the plentitude of sheng pu erh’s coming from Yunnan. Rather, it quite reminds us of our “ShanTea”, which is produced in a similar environment. However, it stands of from this through clearly finer picking standard and a more professional processing. Then, the mildness and balanced character of this tea evoke comparisons with another Yunnan relative of the same, our Wild Purple Buds Pu Erh.
Kinnari Honey Hill – Unripened (sheng) “Pu Erh” tea from Xiengkhouang, Laos
White tea: “Xiengkhoung White Moonlight” and „Bolaven Silver Cloud“
Especially in the white tea category, Kinnari fully exploits the options offered by arbor teas. Just like in Yunnan, Xiengkhouang produces the famous White Moonlight Tea from its native tea trees in two versions. For once, this is the White Moonlight Buds, displaying a pure buds picking standard. Then, it’s a White Moonlight Tea based on a 1+1 picking standard, a kind of Lao arbor “White Peony”.
Kinnari White Moonlight – White arbor tea from Xiengkhouang, Laos
A white silver needle tea from Bolaven Plateau, called “Silver Cloud”, rounds up Kinnari’s pure tea portfolio. Another pure buds white tea, this also entices with the presence and mouthfeel that are typical for white arbor teas. However, regarding more subtle taste patterns, Kinnari Silver Cloud entirely occupies its own niche.
A regional white tea specialty we hadn’t seen anywhere else so far is Kinnari’s “Silver Cloud Sticky Rice”. To produce this tea, the above-mentioned Bolaven Plateau silver needle tea is scented with the “sticky rice” herb native to the region. We already know this herb (chin: „Nuo Mi Xiang Nen Ye“ = „sweet fragrance rice tender leaves“) from Yunnan. And from north Thailand! In Yunnan, using the herb as a natural aroma donor for scenting Pu Erh teas looks back on a long tradition. In north Thailand, Nuo Mi Xiang Nen Ye serves to scent a Thai tea specialty going by the name of, “Thai Rice Oolong Tea”.
Fertile valley in Xiengkhouang, Laos
Kinnari Tea at Siam Tea Shop – an obvious choice
I still remember, when I first heard of a company that would specialize in handmade artisan arbor teas in Laos. It was only minutes from then to getting into contact with Kinnari. A logical reaction, given my personal fancy for wild and biodiverse cultivated arbor teas from the cradle countries of tea… It is not only the love for tea that relates me to Anna and Toun, in short: Kinnari. For SiamTeas, it’s much rather a whole range of factors that make Kinnari Tea a logical choice.
Traditional tea processing by hand, Bolaven Plateau, Laos
Acting in harmony with our natural environment and with respect to the interests of all stakeholders involved is an essential SiamTeas principle, too. Then, there is the unshakeable belief in the significance of humaneness in business. Or the shared philosophy that what is fun is not work… Or the conviction that the best tea will just be good enough. Altogether, quite a bunch of reasons for me to look forard to a long and fruitful partnership and friendship with Kinnari Tea!
Drying tea leaves – Bolaven Plateau, Laos