A roughly 20-kilometre long bumpy dirt road leads towards surprisingly well maintained trees on the steep slopes of Laos’ most remote mountains bordering China. Wooden houses are lined up along the road, leafs are drying in the sun, people are working on their doorstep, chickens roam around and some lazy dogs nap in the sun. A pleasant aroma, mixed with smoke from a wood fire fills the air and the silence is striking when I bring my motorbike to a halt in the isolated village of Ban Komaen which, according to tea experts, is home to the oldest tea trees in the world.
For almost one hour on that track, we have not come across any traffic. The local Phu Noi people wave us a warm welcome when we get rid of our helmets. Proudly, they point towards a kettle on the fire, pour some warm golden liquid in a glass and encourage us to drink it. A surprisingly distinct and pure taste lingers while we are overlooking the 400-year old tea plantation.
Fertilisers and chemicals have never been used on these matter of factly organic plantations at an altitude of 1400 metres. Some trees reach up to 6 metres and are climbed barefoot by the Phunoy people in order to pick the best leafs, one by one.
The tea is mostly exported to China but also available in the nearby town of Phongsaly. Overlooking the gorgeous mountains and 70 hectares of tea plantations, Ban Komaen is an active village in which the Phu Noi people transform the green tea leafs into tea cigars that are sold on location. The dried green tea leafs are carefully smoked and pressed into hollow bamboo sticks, giving them the cigar shape.
We finish our glass of tea, and buy some healthy tea cigars. According to the Phu Noi, a cup of this tea will keep the doctor away and keep one’s mind clear. They are probably world’s healthiest cigars, to be drunk, not smoked!