What you need to know about tea, the second most enjoyed drink in the world, after water!
Until just a few days ago, I always thought tea was a drink you imbibed when your stomach was upset after a food poisoning or stomach flu, now I know better. Of course I have also enjoyed an “Afternoon tea” or a “Five o’clock” tea several times, but tea has never been able to surpass my fondness and affinity for coffee.
Since I got to know a Swedish man Kenneth Rimdahl, founder and CEO of “The Monsoon Thai Tea”, I have broadened my knowledge about tea and I now realize that tea is a whole and separate science, comparable to wine.
First of all, I had no idea that Thailand has its own tea and that, from the earliest of times. Thai people were eating tea leaves rather than drinking it. We are all familiar with the classic tea types such as English Breakfast Tea, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong etc. but how many of us know about the Thai produced tea “Monsoon Tea”?
I will get back to the topic tea soon, but first I want to introduce you to Kenneth Rimdahl and describe his journey to become a tea specialist.
Kenneth was born and grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. He went to Frans Shartaus Gymnasium and studied later economy at the University of Stockholm. 1986 he got a job at the well-known company Electrolux at their office in Peru.
During the 80s he spent much of his time in Barcelona, Spain, and also lived there for a while together with a friend. After 2 years he moved back to Stockholm and worked for a magazine called RES, while his friend decided to open a tea shop in Barcelona, in 1990. In 1994 Kenneth was persuaded to open a tea shop in Madrid. Today, the company has more than 100 tea shops in Spain and Latin America.
Kenneth was curious about Asia and decided to go on a combined discovery and shopping tour for the Spanish Tea company and arrived in Thailand 2001, looking for ceramic tea pots to import. He, like many of us, had never heard about Thai tea until a friend of his, khun Vorakarn Wongfu, also known as khun Aek, introduced him to “HMIANG” and said “this is tea, that grows wild in the forests, and this forest growing tea is totally different from the common plantation tea.”
HMIANG is normally known to foreigners as a snack made of fresh betel with different components. Many Thai restaurants serve these leaves with dried shrimps, peanuts, lime, ginger, shallots, and roasted coconut flakes together with a sweet sauce made of palm sugar, as an appetizer.
The Tea plant has its origin in the Himalayan tale, the mountain that goes from Assam in India, through Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Yunnan in today’s China. The tea was first used for eating long before China started to use the leaves for drinking. In Thailand it is called Miang, in Burma it’s called Lapetto.
“Hmiang is often used as an ingredient in the northern Thai kitchen. The Latin name is Camellia Sirensis Assamica. It’s also a Thai tradition to use the tea for producing herbal medicines” Kenneth tells.
“In 2013 I decided to start a tea label from tea that only grows in Thailand forests, a tea that grows in harmony with the forest” Kenneth lets me know.
Today, 21 years later, there are 4 boutiques distributing the Thai Monsoon Tea all over the world. “I’m proud to say we have customers like the fashion house Prada, Four Season’s Hotels, Michelin Restaurants etc. Today we are 3 partners, me and Khun Aek, as well as American Ryan Price.
The tea comes from 7 different places around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong in the northern part of Thailand. We produce all kind of tea, City, Green tea, Yellow and Oolong tea as well as Black tea. All in all we have around a 100 different sorts of tea, both pure and flavored with fruits, spices and flowers.”
What makes the different tea colors? “All tea sorts are produced from the same plant, but the producing process is different. Take “White tea”, which is made of only dried tea leaves, while “Green tea” is made of fresh, green leaves that are heated up and the heat finishes the oxidization process, and the same applies to “Yellow tea “before they start to oxidize, and with a slight fermentation. With “Oolong tea”, we let the green leaves oxidize half way and then we heat up the leaves to finish the oxidation process. “Black tea” consists of fully oxidized leaves with a slight fermentation.”
It’s widely known that the original tea plant is far stronger than the domesticated one, as it possesses natural defenses. Their roots are much deeper and therefore need little watering, also no need of pesticides as the plants have more tannins, a protection against insects and parasites. These plants don’t even need to be fertilized.
“I prefer to enjoy a very special Jungle Tea that we also have,” Kenneth says. This tea is growing totally wild about 3 hours walk from the nearest road in the mountains between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. These trees can only produce a limited amount of leaves yearly and that makes this tea so exclusive”.
Kenneth has also developed the “Rimdahl Scale” that makes it possible to measure how forest- friendly a tea plantation really is.
During his years in Thailand, Kenneth has achieved much. Asking him about his goal he says;
“My goal is to sell as much tea as possible and buy from the people up in the mountains, so they can get some income and keep the forests intact instead of shoveling it”.
Kenneth loves Thailand and Thai people. ”Thailand is a beautiful piece of earth to live on and all people around me have been so helpful and supported me all the way through the years”.
Kenneth spends his time between Chiang Mai in the northern part, and the bustling Bangkok. Ryan has moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and is taking care of the 2 Bangkok shops, while Khun Aek is up in the north and spending much of time in the forests. “Now with the corona restrictions, it’s not so easy to travel back and forth as it uses to be” Kenneth says. That’s something we all have to live with, less freedom than ever.
One of my favorite questions always is; who would you like to invite for a cup of tea (normally I ask this referring to dinner) if you could pick someone, dead or alive?
Kenneth’s choice would be the actor Leonardo di Caprio. “This man I would like to show what a forest friendly tea is like and maybe I could get him to support this project?” Kenneth says with a big smile.
We all know that actor di Caprio is a man who cares about our planet and wants it to be sustainable, so Kenneth’s choice is a wise choice. Until that day comes, when di Caprio lays his eyes on the Monsoon Thai tea, we meanwhile can support Kenneth purchasing the Monsoon Tea.
The 4 Tea shops existing in Thailand, you will find at Sukhumvit soi 23 “The Monsoon Tea Asok”, which is not only a tea shop or tea house. This cozy place is “THE PLACE” for enjoying a cup of tea in Bangkok; let’s call it a Forest Friendly Tea Hub. Here you can also participate in workshops and other events surrounding tea. “Here we connect tea farmers with tea lovers” Kenneth tells. The other 3 shops are located in the EM Quartier Bangkok, at Wat Ket Chiang Mai and One Nimman, Chiang Mai.
Forest Friendly Tea stands for “Making community, not customers”. This involves a balanced diet and virtuous circle with:
2) LOCAL FARMERS
Income for community
Training & education
Protectors of forests
Grow in harmony with forest
Free from Pesticides
Free from irrigating systems
4) FOREST FRIENDLY
Higher value on forests
Natural Wildlife habitat
There is so much to learn and understand about tea. If I have increased your interest for tea, I suggest you go to Youtube and have a look at the several videos about Monsoon Tea. There is also a site on Facebook as well as Instagram.
Let’s start tea parties, not only Tea for Two, and become healthy and at the same time helping the farmers in the north, and to keep the forests healthy. During this time of the year, when the farmers burn the fields, we might even get a smoked tea!