Don't leave town without doing a tasting
Published/Last edited or updated: 8th March, 2019
While their parents and grandparents may have dealt in opium, today’s Sino-Thai inhabitants of Mae Salong deal primarily in tea and where Akha villagers in the surrounding hills once grew the infamous pink and white poppies, they now cultivate high-grade oolong.
Although native to this area, tea production didn’t really take off until the 1980s as a crop substitution scheme in the Thai government’s opium eradication programme. Whereas many upland areas in northern Thailand went for coffee, Mae Salong, with its close connections to the KMT and Taiwan (home of the renowned Formosa oolong), went for camellia sinensis instead. Today Mae Salong is the tea centre of Thailand and a tasting session is an essential part of any Mae Salong visit.
You have various choices for your tea tasting experience. You can just pop into one of the many little roadside tea shops—particularly numerous up by the T-junction—while some of the larger hotels such as Flower Hills, Osmanthus and Khumnaiphol have their own in-house ones as well.
Alternatively, you can go directly to one of the nearby plantations all of which provide visitors’ facilities and sampling opportunities. Tea 101 is a relatively large and award-winning producer with well-placed tasting rooms overlooking the hillside plantations and a location just a short distance east of town aside route 1234. They also offer tours of the establishment where you can see the production and preparation processes.
At the end of the day all brews and blends are similar; employ the same locally grown varieties, use similar additives such as ginseng or jasmine and practice identical processing methods though some plantations are more geared towards the organic than others. Shop owners are quite happy to let you sit there and taste teas for free until it comes out of your ears. There are many varieties and qualities and while you’re under no pressure to buy any, it is good stuff! (Stock up on unusual presses for the folks back home?) It's fascinating to watch the etiquette and rituals and a tasty and fun way to while away some time.
Heading east out of town along Highway 1234 will provide opportunities to snap those coveted photos of verdant tea farms framed by mountains.
Address: Tea 101, 88 Moo 6, around 3 kms east of town aside Highway 1234
T: (053) 602 043; (088) 805 5939;
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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