New Leaf: A Frenchman's Vietnam Teahouse

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Courtesy of Ochao Tea House

Opening a teahouse in Vietnam may seem like taking coal to Newcastle. Yet the lovely views of Hanoi's West Lake from the two-story Ochao are more than matched by French founder Guillaume Le's perspective on reviving an ancient brewing art.

"The Vietnam War disrupted tea production and destroyed people's knowledge about what was once a national pride," says Le, whose passion for seeking out the highest-quality specialty teas led him to quit a career as an orthopedist. Sourcing leaves through diligent research with the aid of Le's Vietnamese wife and an 85-year-old tea master, Ochao showcases some of Asia's most scrupulously prepared teas in a trendily minimalist setting.

While his compatriots built up black-tea plantations in the south, Le concentrates solely on the north's green varieties, from sun-dried white tea to anise-like lotus tea and wild teas picked from prized old trees found at 1,800-m altitudes by the Hmong tribal people.

The all-organic teas are brewed in custom-made ceramic pots and served to patrons sitting at low bamboo tables, along with candied and soured fruits (the gingered apricots and dried Da Lat strawberries are outstanding) and cakes chock-full of tea dust. Le performs a brewing ritual on request and explains that his venture is partly inspired by Truong Xuan — one of the only traditional teahouses in a town dominated by cafés and the bitter scent of robusta beans. But being magnanimous, he admits, "We serve Vietnamese coffee — if that's what you want."

Ochao is at 25 Xuan Dieu, Tay H, Hanoi, tel: (84-1) 88 77 85977.