Having begun a search for the best coffee in Thailand, we decided also to undertake a search for the best tea in Thailand. Our ratings will be based not only on the flavor, but also the physical benefits of the Thai tea, and how it made us feel (calm, energized, euphoric, mentally clear, etc.).
The first tea we tested in our search for the best Thai tea is Highland Black Tea by the Royal Project Foundation (ชาดำมูลนิธิโครงการหลวง), which was an initiative started in 1969 by King Bhumibol the Great. The initiative has aimed to improve the lives of the Hill Tribe people in Thailand by introducing new cash crops such as tea and coffee (to replace opium growing), and has taught water and soil conservation, as well as marketing techniques to sell the new cash crops in both Thailand and abroad.
Highland Black Tea was first produced in 2016 by taking Oolong Tea Number 12 (also known as Golden Lily Oolong or Jin Xuan Oolong) through a fermentation process that reduces the amount of caffeine in the tea leaves while maintaining the health affirming benefits. The fermentation also creates a tea with a darker color and stronger aroma. It is then twice baked, with only the best leaves making it into the second baking stage.
So, while this tea is called Highland Black Tea it is not technically a “black tea,” as it is made from Oolong tea which falls into its own category of tea. The Highland Black Tea name is derived from the black appearance of the tea due to the manner in which it has been processed. This tea is also referred Hong Cha (หงชา) by the Thais, and you’ll sometimes see this name in Thailand tea shops.
Highland Black Tea by the Royal Project Foundation is a delicious, full-bodied, Oolong tea, with a soothing aroma. Its rich taste has hints of ripe fruit and earthy undertones, as well as a lovely cooked flavor due to the fermentation and double baking process. While it’s recommended for making hot tea, it also can be used for a delicious iced tea. When making it hot, you might try adding a bit of fresh lemon/lime juice onto the leaves before steeping, and when making iced tea, we suggest removing the tea and then letting the kettle or pitcher sit overnight with squeezed wedges of lemon/lime in the tea. No added sugar is needed.
A 2-5 minute steeping time is recommended for this Oolong Highland Black Tea, and we would definitely lean toward the longer steeping time, unless you are worried about the caffeine. While this is a reduced caffeine tea, a longer steeping time likely will give you enough caffeine for a little energy boost (especially if you are sensitive to caffeine).
We experienced a distinct sense of well-being after drinking this tea in the morning, putting us in a good attitude to face the day. It is also a good tea for drinking after lunch, as Oolong tea helps your digestion. Oolong tea overall is one of the healthiest teas you can drink, as it contains a higher mount of antioxidants than other teas, important vitamins and minerals, and the amino acid L-theanine (which improves cognition). Other reported benefits include lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol, aiding weight loss, and preventing tooth decay, and protecting against dementia.