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The Tea Farmers, Notes Of The Second Riel: 10 Riel (Cambodia, 1979)-Article

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

This Cambodian banknote represents the 6th denomination of the Second Riel (Seventh Issue, Series 1979). The Second Riel was introduced 1 April 1980, during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Which was in response to the Cambodian (Democratic Kampuchea) invasion of Vietnam. Beginning the drawn out Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1978-1989).

The Vietnamese successful counter-attack lead to the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge government. And the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989). Notably the Second Riel was technically preceded by the Democratic Kampuchea Riel (Series 1975). Which were withdrawn and destroyed, due to the Khmer Rouge abolishing the concept of currency.


The observe features female Khmer framers harvesting tea leaves. While not particularly renowned for tea exports, Cambodia is known for enjoying Jasmine tea. Efforts were initially made in 1962, under King Norodom Sihanouk (1922-2012), to establish a 300 hectare (731.3 acre) tea plantation. Although the arrival of the Khmer Rouge lead to the plantation's collapse.

The remnants of abandoned plantation are now located in Kirirom National Park. For the most part, the note's image is aspirational, rather than a realistic depiction. Although attempts have been made since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, to establish a domestic tea industry. Additionally the style depicted is an odd tea type known as "monkey-picked" tea.

Returning to the observe, nearly all text is printed Khmer script and numerals. The header reads "សាធារណរដ្ឋប្រជាមានិតកម្ពុជា", translated as the "PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KAMPUCHEA". Above the footer is additional text it reads, "ដប់​រៀល" or "Ten Riels". While the footer itself list the note's "1979" print date.

To the left of the note's illustration is the State Emblem of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Below this State Emblem is one of the note's dual serial numbers. It reads "ផឋ 9854841", roughly translated as "PhTh 9854841". Notably the Khmer alphabet does not directly translate to Latin/standard script. To upper right is a second repeating serial number.

Moving toward the ornate border, we can see a pair of 5-headed nāgas or Anontak. The heads symbolize the 5 manifestations of the Buddha. As Kadabak, Kunsontho, Koneakumno, Gautama Buddha and Seare Metrey. Along the notes corners are Khmer numerals (๑๐), they simply reaffirm the note's "10" Riels value.


The reverse depicts school children pledging allegiance to the flag. Notably the flag is the People's Republic of Kampuchea. It was the Cambodian national flag from 1979-1989. Until the adoption of a slightly modified design, by the transitional State of Cambodia, from 1989-1993.

Unlike the observe the reverse frame features both Khmer (๑๐) and standard numerals (10). The upper-left corner lists the note's "10 Riels" value. While the more complex Khmer script (ដប់រៀល), repeats the same value along the lower-left of the illustration.

The frame itself features florals patterns along its sides. The nāgas seen on the observe have been replaced by small "pyramids". Who's sides are abstractly ended by a pair of nāgas shapes. The upper corners and lower center feature decorative guilloché patterns.

A Brief History of Tea

Ming·Wen Zhengming's painting "Huishan Tea Party" (1518)
Ming·Wen Zhengming's painting "Huishan Tea Party" (1518)

Tea is believed to originated as a medical drink, during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). Using leaves picked from China's southwestern Yunnan Providence. Although due to tea's perishable nature, it been difficult to estimate the particular time it became popular. As many early writings are often associated with legendary figures, such as Shennong (神農) the "Divine Farmer".

The legend states that the mythical Emperor Shennong decreed his subjects, to boil water before drinking it. One day in 2737 BCE, leaves from a neighboring tree blew into Shennong's water bowl. The leaves seeped, changing the water's flavor and color. Shennong sipped the brew and was pleased with its flavor and restorative properties.

While another legend referred in Lu Yu's "The Classic of Tea" (760-762 CE), states Shennong discovered tea, while studying the properties of the world's plants. Shennong was said to chew tea leaves as a restorative antidote, whenever encountering a poisonous plant. This legend has reinforced the theory tea was originally chewed, before seeping became the norm.

A painting by Guo Xu, depicting Shennong chewing a branch, illustrating his role as healer.
A painting depicting Shennong chewing a branch..

The earliest credible written account mentioning tea's medical qualities dates to 220 CE. Written by the famed Han Dynasty doctor Hua Tuo (140–208 CE). In this account Hua Tuo prescribes ""to drink bitter t'u (tea) constantly makes one think better". Notably this medicinal tea was a simulating concentrate stimulate, made by boiling tea for hours, similar to modern Russian Chifir.

According to "The Story of Tea", the people of Sichuan Providence were the first to drink tea recreationally. After being introduced to it from neighboring Yunnan Providence. Although during this period tea was still drunk as a bitter concentrate. Thus requiring it to drunk slowly to avoid undesired nausea, as encountered by drinking Russian Chifir.

An illustration of Hua Tuo.
An illustration of Hua Tuo.

Tea's association with Chinese rulers and aristocrats was established by the Han Dynasty (202 BCE- 220 CE). This is supported by physical evidence found at the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han (188-141 BCE), in 2016. This period also includes the first written reference of tea being steeped. As mentioned in Wang Bao ""The Contract for a Youth", written in 59 BCE.

By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea had become widespread in Chinese culture. The Classic of Tea, details the Tang tea industry of including methods for growing and processing plants. Grading leaves based on quality and creating tea bricks. Which were used as a form currency on the empires fringes.

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) tea making was further refined. Loose-leaf tea was developed to appeal the the royal court, desire to preserve delicates flavors. Song-era reached it's peak with the creation of zhū chá (gunpowder tea). A labor intensive process, requiring leaves to be withered, steamed, individually rolled, and dried.

The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) improved Song-era methods by replacing steaming with pan-frying. Allowing the leaves to remain green and stopping their flavor from changing through oxidation. The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) created Oolong tea, by allowing the leaves to partially ferment before being panfryed.

Due to Portuguese ships arriving at Chinese ports, in 1516. Ming-era tea makers began experimenting to appeal to European tastes. Such as creating black tea by allowing the leaves to fully oxidize and ferment. Creating a bolder, stronger that appealed to Western buyers.

Huángchá (yellow tea) was accidently created by allowing green tea to slowly and lightly oxidize. Creating a less grassy and more mellow flavor. Although it failed to gain the same appeal in the West, as in the domestic Chinese market. Although "monkey-picked tea was an in demand novelty.

Illustration of the legend of monkeys harvesting tea
An illustration of monkeys harvesting tea. (1820)

Chinese merchants created a legend that a village existed in the Wuyi Mountains, where trained monkeys picked tea. According to the legend, villagers stood below tea trees with food. That the monkeys traded for with tea leaves, picked from the tree top. Although an alternative legend existed, where untrained monkeys were simply taunted to angrily throw leaves.

Unknowingly to European merchants, these legends were referring to a particular style of tea plant. While most tea plants are shaped as bushes, tea trees are less common. The merchants simply didn't know better due to the Chinese monopoly on the tea trade. Therefore have never seen the tea farms, located deep within the central China providences.

Robert Fortune (1812-1880)
A portrait of Robert Fortune

This monopoly was partially broken by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (1812-1880). Who was commissioned for a 3-year expedition into southern China. Fortune acquired tea plant samples from tea farms. Despite restrictions on foreigners traveling beyond the established treaty ports. Later taking his samples and some Chinese teamakers, he contracted to British colonial India.

While few of the tea samples survived in India. The expertise gained from the expedition was combined with the discovery of Assam Tea. Which was encountered by Scottish adventurer Robert Bruce. After being introduced to it by the Khamti and Singpho people, in 1823.

This species of tea was well suited to producing the black tea enjoyed in Europe. With the aid of the East India Company, large plantations were established. Which were later replicated on other British colonies. Thus setting the stage for the global tea industry we see in modern times.

Second Riel (Series 1979) Gallery

(Gallery will be updated, as new banknotes are databased)


Additional Notes

  • This notes dimensions are 140 x 70 mm or 5.51 x 2.76 in, smaller than a US Dollar.

  • The Second Riel uses the ISO code is KHR and "" as its symbol.

  • The Second Riel was sub-divided into 10 Kak/100 Sen, before rising inflation made these denominations obsolete.

  • The 10 Riel was reprinted 1987, this variant is colored light green.

  • Currently Cambodia is dependent on importing tea, despite have a suitable climate.

  • Cambodian tea plants are a subspecies, known as camellia sinensis cambodiensis.

  • Wild tea plants can be found in Kirirom National Park and Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.

  • Knowledge of Cambodia's lost tea plantation was made public by King Norodom Sihanouk.

  • King Norodom Sihanouk referred to the lost tea plantation, during the 1995 inauguration ceremony of Kirirom National Park.

  • Modern yellow tea is a somewhat rare specialty, due to a lower demand than other types.

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