Tea is deeply embedded in Taiwan’s culture. Kids drink tea from a young age and can tell the difference between the different Taiwanese tea varieties. Although nowadays, bubble tea shops are taking way to the more slow habit of drinking tea - gong fu cha.
Nevertheless, most bubble tea shops still serve high-quality tea stocked from one of the island’s numerous tea farms. If you are at a bubble tea shop and want to taste the quality of tea, just order the tea without milk or any topping or sugar, and you will see just how good it is, even on its own!
Taiwan is a mountainous island with high altitudes and ample rainfall. Perfect for growing high-quality tea! Tea grows everywhere on the island. You are bound to stumble upon a tea farm growing regional varieties from the north to the south. Indeed each part of the country is known for its own distinct tea variety and takes pride in its farms and growing technique. Let’s go over some of Taiwan’s most famous teas!
High Mountain Oolong
High Mountain Oolong is one of Taiwan’s most popular teas. In Chinese, it is referred to as “gaoshan,” literally meaning high mountain. The gardens growing high mountain oolong are situated on one of Taiwan’s numerous misty mountains. These tea gardens must be located at least 1000 meters above sea level, to be counted as true high mountain tea. These teas are processed to have a low oxidation level, producing a light oolong.
Some of the more common Taiwanese high mountain tea varieties come from Alishan, Yushan, and Lishan mountains. There, the tea bushes get little sunlight but plenty of mist, clouds, and dampness. The prime ingredients for high-quality tea! The tea bushes must work hard to produce nutrients to thrive. They grow slowly but surely, producing large, thick, yet tender leaves typical of a quality Taiwanese oolong. Read more.
The taste of High Mountain Taiwanese oolongs is delightfully sweet, buttery, and milky. Some of them also exhibit exuberant floral qualities.
To make sure you’re getting the real deal, make sure that the rolled oolong tea leaves are large and whole. Low quality or fake teas will have small broken-up tea leaves. They will not look like big rolled balls as they should be in their dry state.
Every year, Alishan attracts thousand of tourists wanting to walk across many of the "tea ways", sample exceptional oolong, view the beautiful sunrise, savor the fresh air, and escape Taiwan's heat.
Four Season Oolong
Four Season Oolong, also known as Four Seasons of Spring, is quite an interesting Taiwanese oolong tea variety. It was cultivated for a year-round harvest (most Taiwanese teas are only harvested in Spring). Thus the name. While it is widespread in Taiwan and found in every tea shop, it didn’t quite catch on in the West.
This tea is also classified as a high-mountain tea and is commonly grown in Alishan or Nantou County. The taste is light, sweet, and creamy, with a floral aroma reminiscent of gardenia. If you ever come across this tea, we recommend giving it a try.
Dong Ding Oolong
Dong Ding Oolong is another Taiwanese favorite. It’s also known as Tung Ting, Frozen Summit, or Frozen Peak.
Dong Ding oolong is produced in Nantou County, at a lower elevation than high mountain tea, about 600-800m. However, the Dong Ding area is constantly surrounded by mist, raising a wonderfully luscious tea.
Usually, Frozen Summit tea is lightly roasted. This adds a pleasant nutty taste to the final sip, kind of reminiscent of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. This oolong tea is also sweet and slightly fruity.
Tie Guan Yin
Tie Guan Yin Oolong is also known as Tie Kuan Yin or Iron Goddess of Mercy.
We have written quite extensively on Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin Oolong. It is a tea category that is equally popular and delicious in Taiwan and Anxi, China, where this tea is produced. In Taiwan, TGY is commonly grown on Lishan Mountain.
In general, Taiwanese TGY is more roasted than its Chinese relative. It’s altogether floral, fruity, and toasty, with a remarkably sweet finish.
Red Oolong is a new category of tea that exists in Taiwan. You most likely won’t find it in many tea shops around Taiwan since it’s a specialty tea only produced in the Luye region, in the south of the island.
On our trip to Luye, we absolutely fell in love with this tea and made sure to source it in our shop, as we believe more people should have the chance to be acquainted with it. Read more.
This is a bug-bitten oolong, an interesting category of tea not uncommon in Taiwan. The tea gardens where the bushes grow are kept natural and are not sprayed by pesticides. When bugs come to bite the tea leaves, the leaves produce certain enzymes and send sugars to the bitten areas. This alters the final taste of the tea wonderfully. Making it particularly sweet and interesting. Furthermore, red oolong is heavily oxidized and roasted, putting it in the dark oolong category and giving it an excellent baked taste.
Also known as Pouchong, this tea is actually a category of its own, falling somewhere between an oolong and a green tea. It is perhaps the lightest form of oolong and very similar to green tea in taste.
Baozhong is grown exclusively in the Wenshan area of Taiwan, on the north of the island. The tea is very floral and refreshing. In fact, it’s very common to find cold-brewed Wenshan Baozhong in tea shops and stores across the island.
Another common Baozhong production area is Pinglin, which is also known for its tea tourism. Shops will line the small-town streets, and there will be bikes to rent for a ride around the tea farm-filled hills. There is also a specialty food served in the area - noodles dressed in oil made from the tea bush seeds.
Oriental Beauty Oolong is also commonly known as Dong Fang Mei Ren. Traditionally this tea comes from the Hsinchu region, in the north of Taiwan. This oolong is on the spectrum of heavier oxidation, creating a very complex flavor profiles.
This is also a bug-bitten oolong, so rest assured the gardens are left natural. The bug bites naturally contribute to this tea's exceptionally sweet taste. The final flavor is very fruity and altogether quite bold. The iconic honey-like sweetness of this tea coats the palate and lasts even past the final sip.
Ruby 18 is the best example of Taiwanese black tea. It goes by a few other names, like Ruby Red and Sun Moon Lake Black Tea. In Chinese it's often referred to as Hong Yu.
Sun Moon Lake is the most famous region in Taiwan for growing black teas. It doesn’t exclusively grow Ruby 18, so you might want to double-check which exact tea you are getting. Honey Black Tea, for example, is another popular and delicious tea variety from the area.
Ruby 18 is quite extraordinary in every way. It is a cross of the Assam tea cultivar with a tea plant native to Taiwan - camellia formosensis. The latter is not actually used for tea production, although it gives off an interesting herbal flavor.
Ruby 18 is very rich, bold, malty, fruity, and slightly minty.
Blended Taiwanese Teas
Blended teas are also quite popular in Taiwan. Some common varieties include the sweet and energizing Ginseng Oolong, Gardenia Oolong, Osmanthus Oolong, and Jasmine Baozhong.