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Bree makes Tea in Thailand

Tea by Bree
Tea by Bree

In October, I visited the small Chinese-Thai community of Mae Salong, in Northern Thailand. I went with a good friend from Chiang Rai.  With his friends, we visited  a family that owns and runs a small-scale tea farm and store.

The morning after we arrived, we rode in the back of their pick-up truck to the farm-land, where we helped harvest tea, picking leaves for hours.

After weighing and bagging the leaves, we returned to the store, where we air-dried the tea, then processed and rolled the leaves. Two days later, our tea was packaged and ready to enjoy.

The tea we made,  Cha Kow Hom (“Fragrant Rice Tea”) is an oolong with that has notes that remind me of buttered popcorn or freshly ground peanut butter. It’s so good, and I love that I know it was home-grown and hand-picked by me and my new friends in Northern Thailand.

Making Oolong Tea
Making Oolong Tea

– Bree O’Keane is the International Program Coordinator of the Khon Kaen Education Initiative, a grassroots alternative and sustainable education project in northeastern Thailand.  Living in Thailand on-and-off since 2003, Bree has developed a strong community of friends and family in the region.  Resulting from her interest in tea and inspired by working with Samovar Tea Lounge, Bree returned to Thailand last May with the hopes of sharing her interests, experiences, and belief that tea unites cultures and individuals.  An idea for a tea house/community space was born and rapidly grew to fruition. Bree has just returned to Khon Kaen and Wong Nam Cha (the tea house).

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Community Tea in Thailand: Bree Tells her Tale

This time last year, I returned to northeastern Thailand for the third time.

Bree Far Off in the Field of Tea
Bree Far Off in the Field of Tea

Always a drinker of tea, and further inspired by my experiences as a tea-tender at Samovar Tea Lounge, I arrived loaded with an assortment of tea and tea ware that I hoped would last me through the Fall.  After introducing friends and co-workers to the delicious tea that I had brought from San Francisco, an idea was born to create a community space and to use tea as the vehicle for encouraging conversation, art, music, and the exchange of ideas.

Motivated by the insight and conversation that sipping tea leads to, we saw the potential to create a space for “tea and the art of aesthetic dialogue.”

In October, I traveled with my good friend, Adisak, to his home in Northern Thailand. In the mountains of Mae Salongwe, we found thriving fields of tea and a family of tea masters creating really delicious teas. Together, Adisak and I harvested, processed, and returned to our developing tea house with organic tea from a small family farm.

Within one week of our return, the doors opened to Wong Nam Cha, our non-profit, donation-based, volunteer-run teahouse in the city of Khon Kaen.  Wong Nam Cha, (which translates as “Circle of Tea” from Thai) is set beside a lake and underneath the 7 looming tiers of Khon Kaen’s most beautiful temple.

Wong Nam Cha is a monetary and non-monetary donation-based tea house. Our community has adorned the space with a random arrangement of donated desks, chairs, and decorations.  The in-house bi-lingual library is also made-up entirely of donations.  Friends sell their local handicrafts (including natural tie-dyed and hand-bound notebooks made by primary school students), handmade baked goods and other Thai snacks.

To think that, with the help of a community of friends, a teahouse can be born from a few shared sips of tea and inspiration.

In my next blog entry, I will go more into detail about harvesting the organic tea in Mae Salongwe.

-Bree for Samovar Life