The drink of kings

(No.6, Vol.7,Dec 2017-Jan 2018 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Those who are fond of the drinks and food once served to kings have some good news, as some of the recipes are now enjoying a revival and renewal in Hue.
Herbal physician Phan Tan To, a resident of the former imperial capital city of Hue, said he had succeeded in reviving tea recipes prepared for kings under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). The recipes were created by the dynasty’s Thuong Tra Vien, which was the monarchic agency specialising in teas.
“I have worked with the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre in years to revive the recipes. Of course, those need to be updated, as some of the ingredients can’t be found anymore,” To said.
Hue Monuments Conservation Centre is a local government body authorised to manage all heritage monuments built by the dynasty in the city. According to physician To, teas served to kings was a daily treat. They included not just tea, but with various herbal components added.
Thuong vien ngu tra, for instance, had tea as its main ingredient as well as dry senna seed, goji berry, jasmine flower, pagoda tree leaves, dry tangerine peel, daisy flower, lotus plumule, longan, licorice root. Physician To said :“licorice root was added for boosting the immune system, and goji berry and jujube were for alleviating stress and pain. The adding of jasmine and lotus plumule were to lower body temperature”
The thuong vien ngu tra tea recipe was used to treat ulcers and cool the body’s internal heat, among other things. Those included curing stomach ache, insomnia and lowering cholesterol levels thanks to longan and pagoda tree leaves. The leaves were said to be unable to counter bacteria. Meanwhile, tangerine peels are also beneficial for lowering cholesterol as well as fighting cancer. The added ingredients were all used as medicine by the herbal physicians, who were the country’s leading physicians brought together as a medical team in the royal palace to form the medical agency Thai Y Vien. Physician To praised the expertise of those royal physicians for creating the tea recipes, saying the mixture of those herbs do not counter each others’ effects but creates a harmonious whole as well as an awesome taste.
The conservation centre’s director Phan Thanh Hai said the royal tea has been the top choice for a typical gift of Hue for those special guests to Hue and his centre.
Tinh Tam lien hoa ngu tra is another royal tea recipe and it has own story telling about the dedication that today can’t be found in industrial lifestyle: “The tea took a week to prepare, with the help of royal maids. Dry tea leaves were first placed in the middle of each lotus flower in the early morning. The maids sailed a boat around Tinh Tam pond inside the citadel’s territory to find those flowers which are ready to bloom when the sun rises. The lotus that grew in the pond was considered to have the nicest fragrance of all lotus species that the kings ordered from other regions of the country. The maids had to open the petals of a pre-blooming lotus flower to lay the tea leaves in. Of course, those maids were selected for their youth and beauty for the quintessence of the king’s service. The petals held the tea through its aromatizing process and this helped the tea absorb the fragrance of lotus flowers.
The girls then sailed again later in the morning to pick those tea-embedded lotus flowers. The tea taken from those flowers was dried in a mixture of lotus stamens to make the royal lotus tea. The tea that was steeped in natural fragrance of lotus flowers and lotus stamens then brought and served to kings. The royal lotus tea was not served as a herbal remedy for kings, but it gave a morning refreshment as well as good night sleeps than to the effect of lotus stamens.
“The quality of those tea recipes were control by the royal medical agency Thai Y Vien and the physicians in the royal palace’s medical team would have careful checks of the benefits and side effects of every substances in the mixed tea," physician To said. Physician To added that the recipes were later documented, signed and sealed by at least two royal herbal physicians for the use in the royal tea agency.
According to physician To, those components for today’s revived teas are available but they are not as pure as those in the past due to the environmental differences. But the same benefits as kings’ teas can still be found in the revival version.

The teas served in hot bottles and sold in packages at Luc Bo Cultural Centre at 79 Nguyen Chi Dieu, Hue City. You can find Luc Bo at the area on the right side of the Imperial Palace in Hue.­­

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