Tea plantations in Lao PDR can be divided into three main categories, wild forest tea, cultivated forest tea (locally known as ‘ancient tea’) and commercially cultivated tea (introduced strains). Endemic tea regions in the Northern provinces account for 85% of tea production in the country with Phongsaly the epicentre. There is also emerging tea production in the south (Champasak, Salavan and Attapeu on the Bolaven Plateau). The majority of Lao’s tea areas are located in upland areas that are usually populated by minority ethnic groups with women playing the dominant role in cultivation, collection, processing and sale of tea. Most tea production is considered ‘organic by default’ but only a few plantations on the Bolaven Plateau are certified organic.
Most teas in the Lao PDR are produced using largely orthodox production methods at the cottage/ household and the factory level. Teas produced are divided into two main categories: ‘Mao-cha’ (rough tea) used for the production of ‘Pu-erh’ (a fermented tea); and other finished teas such as white tea, black tea, yellow tea, red tea, green tea, oolong tea. The most common final product is mao-cha which is sold to Chinese brokers and used to produce Pu-erh tea in China.The number of processing factories to support tea production has rapidly increased in recent years. Of these companies, one is Lao (Phongsaly Green Tea), one is Malaysian and the remainder Chinese. Another local Lao company, Somneuk Tea, is currently undergoing the registration process.