We are deep believers that tea brings you places. While slowly sipping tea, meditating, we cannot help but have different visions float into our minds. Tea leaves are a living product. The fresher it is, the more alive it is. And the more alive it is, the more history it carries. For this reason, we always recommend drinking your tea within a year of purchasing it. An exception is the fermented tea pu-erh, which stays alive for many years thanks to the fermentation process.
When teas are alive, they share a story with us. Maybe this is why we get the images of foggy mountain peaks or rainy tea gardens? Either way, the stories that teas behold interest us just as much as drinking the tea itself and we are always eager to share and learn more.
Today, let’s explore Taiwan with its rich tea culture and history.
The History of Taiwanese Tea Culture
Teas weren’t produced in Taiwan until the late 18th century. Chinese tea farmers brought camellia sinensis bushes to Taiwan in hopes to expand tea production in a place with such a suitable climate for the growth of tea, and oolong in particular. Local Taiwanese farmers were taught the techniques for optimum tea production, and eventually, tea farms spread across the island as tea became the country’s biggest export. Read more about the difference between Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs here.
Taiwan's Tea Culture Today
Today Taiwanese teas are highly regarded in the world. Although oolong is the most popular type of tea produced in Taiwan, the island’s green and black teas are also highly regarded.
The original tea farms of Taiwan were not in Alishan or Nantou but were all in the north surrounding the capital — Taipei. Nowadays there is a significant shift to coffee drinking culture in Taiwan. Many century-old tea farms which existed around Taipei are switching to coffee production to accommodate the growing demand for the beans.
Regarding tea, instead of seeing the more traditional tea houses that once existed, you will see multiple bubble tea shops occupying every block. Bubble tea is the new tea culture of the younger generation. It keeps tea farms alive. However, the demand is for big quantities of low-grade loose leaf which is later to be mixed with large amounts of sugar and milk.
Artisanal tea crafters are unfortunately becoming more scarce. Bubble tea is fast and cheap, which makes it suitable for today’s fast-paced generation. Although lately there have also been a variety of bubble tea shops popping up emphasizing the importance of sourcing high-quality tea while supporting local farms. Accommodating the traditional types of quality tea to a faced-pace environment is a good way to keep the culture alive.
Drinking Taiwanese Teas
In Taiwan, both Chinese and Japanese influence are deeply rooted. This has played an interesting role in the tea culture. Even though the Taiwanese tea ceremony is essentially the Chinese gong fu cha ceremony, Japanese influence is not to be missed in the presence of traditional Japanese teaware and architecture influencing Taiwanese tea houses. It becomes an interesting mix of both cultures becoming something which is now solely Taiwanese.
Similarly to the wagashi (sweets) offered in Japanese tea ceremonies, it is not uncommon to have Taiwanese snacks with your oolong. Some of the more popular options include traditional pineapple cakes and steamed rice flour cakes with osmanthus flowers.
It is true that Taiwanese tea culture is rapidly changing to suit the economy and the environments of the new generation. However, we remain grateful that we are still able to sit down and enjoy a long, peaceful gong fu cha tea ceremony with some of Taiwan’s finest Alishan Oolong. The serene environment of Taiwan’s tallest, foggy mountain remains unchanged. While sipping our tea, we acknowledge the hundreds of years long journey that tea went through, as well as the hard work of the tea farmers and their dedication to quality and tradition.