Northern Thailand is becoming a hub for specialty tea production, even though the country doesn’t have a long history with tea. The tea drinking traditions in Thailand were largely adopted through trade with China and Taiwan and ethnic Chinese communities settled in border regions. However, Thai iced tea, a sweet and strongly-brewed orange-colored tea, is a unique Thai specialty.
In recent years, the northern region of Thailand has become ideal for growing high-quality Oolong teas, Green teas, and other specialty teas. The Doi Mae Salong mountain, located in the Golden Triangle, near the borders of Laos and Myanmar, has an elevation ranging between 1200 to 1800 meters and is rich in soil, which is perfect for growing tea leaves and other crops. The region’s temperature changes between day and night, allowing tea leaves to grow at a slower pace, producing a sweeter, more aromatic taste. The abundance of clouds and mist that cover the area allows the leaves to absorb more moisture, further enhancing their quality.
Despite the region’s ideal conditions, it took a while for the locals to utilize the rich soil for tea production. Firstly, the crackdown on opium trade in Northern Thailand pushed mountain populations to look for other crops to farm. In response, the Thai Royal family initiated several projects to encourage the cultivation of cash crops. Secondly, the development of high-quality specialty teas in the region was accelerated by the expert knowledge, trade connections, and business ethic of ethnic Chinese communities. After suffering defeat from Mao Zedong and the People’s Republic of China, remnants of Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang army, the dominant political party of Taiwan, settled in the upper-northern regions.
Today, Northern Thailand boasts a number of tea plantations where visitors can experience the unique tastes and aromas of specialty teas while enjoying breathtaking views of the region’s lush landscapes.