Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thailand Doi Mae Salong No. 17 Oolong

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am very interested in the oolong tea now coming out of Northern Thailand. Specifically the tea that was produced at Doi Mae Salong.

Back in the 1980s, my Thai family and I made the trip to Chiang Rai and then on up to Mae Salong via the newly constructed road. It was a strange place with modern cars and fairly expensive looking housing. The people there were all Chinese and spoke Mandarin fluently. We walked among the buildings in the village (all pretty much on both side of the newly constructed asphalt road). We ate lunch at the main tourist building and visited with the sales ladies who were selling tea and other items, mostly Chinese. It was a strange experience because the ladies were certainly friendly but the men were rather scary. In fact, they all reminded me of the gangster movies from Hong Kong. These guys were bad, really bad.

We ended up buying three bags of their tea. When we got back to Bangkok, we found the tea to be really bad - almost fake tea. The people up at Mae Salong were not tea growers at this time and it was obvious that the whole thing was a scam to get the government off their drug dealing backs.

At that time, I did some research and found that this group of Chinese were the remnants of the Kuomintang's 93 Yunnan Division and were members of the 5th Army. They had moved out of Yunnan Province during the 1950s after NOT surrendering to the Red Army in Yunnan. In Burma they had become involved in the drug trade (opium) and were eventually forced out of Burma and into Thailand where they set up residence at Mae Salong around 1961. Their drug connections were still very much alive and well when we visited there.

I remember reading how the King of Thailand had worked with them to trade crops from opium to tea, cherries and other fruits. When we were there, we were told that these people had successfully used the program and were now honest tea growers. I did not believe it for a second! Their tea really sucked.

Now it seems after more than twenty years, they have become successful tea growers. Do a Google search about these Chinese Yunnanese and you will find that they have developed a pretty impressive tea. Seems they went to Taiwan and brought back some of the hybrid teas that Taiwan had developed and become famous for. Taiwan Oolongs are some of the world's best and compete favorably against the Oolongs coming out of Fujian.

Well, now it seems that these Chinese in Thailand have done exactly the same thing. I have read several articles which praised the Oolongs out of Doi Mae Salong and Doi Tung in Northern Thailand. When we went back to Thailand during the Spring Festival break, the tea from this area could be bought at several different locations. It was not cheap but reported about half the price of Taiwan's best. Sunee was not interested in it as she feels strongly that Thai tea (other than the traditional iced variety) pretty well stinks. She would not let me buy to try any of this tea. I did, however, steal a few grams from her sister who had paid nearly 900 Baht for a very small bag of it.

Now I have heated the water up and have tried this tea. It was labeled Number 17 from Mae Salong. Research found that this Number 17 is the hybrid number from Taiwan and is Thailand's best tea along with Number 12. Let's see just how good this Thai tea really is.

The tea looks like the standard oolong from Fujian or Taiwan. The smell was fresh and the color was a deep green.

Up close, the tea looked to be tightly wrapped and quite heavy. Again the color looked really good and it was obvious that the tea was fresh and well preserved.

I used my little teapot to make the tea, rinsing the leaves once before pouring the boiled water from my water pot. The first infusion was rather light but pleasant. The second and third I left in for about a minute and the result was superb. This tea is good! Really good. I got no hint of astringency and the front and back tastes and sensations remained pretty much consistent throughout my drinking experience - smooth and tasty. The liquor was a honey golden color and did not darken much even with longer infusion times. The taste became stronger with the longer times but the color was pretty consistent.

This is the second infusion and was very refreshing. Something tells me this is a great tea and the price indicates this as well.

I did not think I put much dry tea in my little pot, but when I emptied the pot into a small cup, the teapot was jammed full of the leaves. The spent leaves were huge and mostly unbroken. They were also very shiny and bright. Once more, Thai tea from this area is as good as any I have tasted from Fujian. Kind of nice having a good tea being grown when one plans to eventually retire. Try this tea. You will not be disappointed.


Thomas Kasper said...

Yes, Oolong and Green teas from Thailand are high quality nowadays indeed. Especially the oolong and Green teas coming from the ethnic Chinese community in Doi Mae Salong do not have to fear any comparison to their Taiwanese or Chinese counterparts. In Germany and the US, I am just about to launch a tea trading venture specializing in teas from Thailand, covering the whole range of Doi Mae Salong products besides very cheap and good quality Oolong tea grown by the Shan people in the Thai/Burmese border area. The venture is called SiamTee (SiamTea) and both our retail and wholesale offers, which are highly competitive, will be available online in Germany and the US from June this year. Right now, we are only represented by our German blog,, the English version of the Thai Tea info and forum blog will be up in 2 or 3 weeks from now. If you are interested in our offer, please inquire under and I'll send you more info.

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I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
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