The lush greenery of the rolling landscape filled the air with a fresh clean scent that cascades over me as I ride my motorcycle along paved road in Laos. A few days earlier I had no idea that I would be experiencing some of the best waterfalls in the world and drinking some of the best tea and coffee I have ever tasted. I am on an amazing scavenger hunt through this beautiful almost untouched country. I had put off learning to ride a motorcycle, having seen all the road burn tattoos on the tourists in Thailand and Cambodia from falling off. But the opportunity to follow this adventure of exploring the best Laos has to offer, laid before me by the guy renting us the motorcycles, was just too tempting. So with the help of my two new French friends, I was mastering the motorcycle as we flowed over the gentle rolling hills of Laos.
Our motorcycle friend had marked out the local treasures on a map and wrote down the names of people we were supposed to find along the way as our guides. We traversed the paved and dirt roads of the rural countryside and explored each hidden treasure laid out on the map. So far we had seen some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the world. Some were a series of shallow pools, others were high and mighty with large cascades. As we stood by the pools we could hear the sounds of the trickles and rushes of water. We could feel the gentle mist on our faces. Birds and animals sing and rustle around in the forest. There is a sweet fresh dewy scent that pervades the air. It is a truly magical place with magnificent beauty almost impossible to capture with the camera.
Our next stop on our scavenger hunt is a beautiful tea and coffee plantation. We drive up to the traditional Lao buildings, built on stilts to protect them during the rainy season, and are greeted by a friendly looking man. We follow him under the stilted building and he starts to lay out these small quaint crystal glass tea cups in front of us. It reminds me of the crystal shop in the famous book ‘The Alchemist,’ where they served tea in crystal glasses. How fitting a reference for my own travel adventure. He carefully prepares the tea and explains the process of harvesting and producing the finally tea that goes to the market.
I learn that this seemingly simple drink is far more intricate to create than I had previously thought. Not only that but the variety of teas and the different processes that they all go through are very unique. Of all the teas, white tea requires the most patience and attention to detail while it is being harvested and processed. This is primarily why is it so rare and expensive. Yet here at the plantation we are getting the opportunity to taste some very high quality white tea.
I learned a lot about white tea that day. Our host explained that there is a very narrow time frame when white tea can be picked. The best white teas can only be harvested a one point in the year when the weather conditions are perfect. The buds must still be closed and still have these little white hairs on them. During the picking the buds cannot be smooshed and the amount of stem, leaf and bud must be carefully chosen or the quality of the tea will decline. The highest quality white teas are carefully processed so that they do not oxidize like other forms of tea. To make sure the leaves remain un-oxidized they have to be very carefully dried and steamed or fired without damaging the buds. Our host tells us that finding a quality white tea is really like finding perfection.
As I sipped away on the deliciousness it strikes me how much effort and time went into the light and floral white tea I am drinking. It has one of the most sumptuous fruity tastes and delicate floral aromas but there is almost a little spicy finish to it, like ginger. I can tell from his explanation and warm hospitality that our host is proud of the work they do on the plantation and the time they take to create this little masterpiece of tea for our taste buds.
As we finish our tea tasting and walk back through the gardens on the plantation to our motorcycles. We pull out our map to see what Lao perfection we get to discover next and continue on this beautiful journey through the lush countryside of Laos.