BEGINNER'S GUIDE ON TAIWANESE TEA

AUTHOR: HSIAO PU, CHEN / ANGIE, CHEN NOV.28.2019


Taiwan, an island the size of Belgium, possesses a vast diversity of landscapes from mountainous areas to low lying coasts.



LANDSCAPES CONTRIBUTED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF TEA PRODUCTION.


It is a tropical island (approximately 70% of its land) in the Pacific Ocean and has the forth highest peak among all the islands in the world. Taiwan falls in a zone where the tropic intertwined with the temperate. Although most part of the island is immersed in warm and humid weather year round, snow sight can still be found on crests. With these environmental characters, Taiwan has been a magnificent playground for tea farmers, tea makers and tea tasters to skill about tea since the 1700's.


Elevation is one of the most critical terroir factors for tea production. Tea from tea trees cultivated between 1,000 and 2614 metres above sea level are categorised as “High Mountain Teas 高山茶” in Taiwan (For comparison, Darjeeling grows tea at altitudes ranging from 600 to 2,000 meters). High Mountain Teas are one of the most sought after type of tea developed on this island since the 70s. At such high elevation, the tea is exposed to cooler temperature and shielded from the sun by mists in the afternoon. Tea trees cultivated in such terroir grow slow, forcing the plant to accumulate more Theanines (compounds that gives umami flavor to the tea) and less Polyphenol content including Catechins (compounds that creates bitterness in tea). The High Mountain Teas taste sweeter and creamier and are typified by their long, rich finish lingering in the throat.


THE BIRTH LAB OF NEW TEA CULTIVAR & TEA-MAKING TECHNIQUE.


Besides environmental factors, sublime cultivars are another major contributor to taste. One of the major successes in the contemporary tea-breeding history is the “Taiwanese Tea No. 18 台茶十八號", more commonly known by it’s end-product, the “Ruby Black 紅玉紅茶”. Taiwanese Tea No. 18 is a hybrid of the Burmese Assam strain and the Taiwanese indigenous tea species, Camellia Formosensis, which was released by Taiwan’s governmental Tea Research Agency in 2004. Ruby Black has become trendy due to its bold and malty taste, toned with caramel-sweet and a bit of mint odor at its finish.


Tea maker’s craftsmanship often surpasses the limitations from environment and cultivar. Another legendary tea born on the lower summit is “Dong-Ding Oolong 凍頂烏龍”.

Dong-Ding is the name of one of the oldest tea regions in Taiwan. In accordance to the original handcrafted method of sunlit withering, rounds of tossing, light oxidation and heavy roasting, the properly made Oolong in this region features a clean and amber color liquid, toasty to woody flavor and scent blended with ripe fruit and chestnut. Dong-Ding Oolong typifies how classic traditional Oolong tastes and presents.


Tea can be produced in all seasons, so that tea makers and roasters in Taiwan can accumulate massive amount of experiences on fine-tuning their craft during the last 400 years. So, Taiwan is able to develop herself into one of the rare tea regions that produces various kinds of teas ranging from green, oolong, and black at its finest. Diverse soil conditions are another reason that why tea-making culture can be fully bloomed in Taiwan. Cultivation at different sides of a mountain results in different flavors. These factors encourage Taiwanese tea makers to explore more potential of teas through innovative tea-making techniques in every new era.



TEAHOUSE IN TAIWAN: PLACE WHERE FREEDOM OF SPEECH NEVER DIE.


Taiwanese tea is the blend of its nature and history. The attentiveness in cultivating, making and brewing teas over the past four hundreds years has elevated the Taiwanese tea culture at a level of “living philosophy” among the locals. Teahouses in Taiwan have earned its role as Salon-like space for the elites and revolutionists initiating the freedom, democratic and human rights movement since the 20's. Teahouse such as Flying Horse Tearoom 天馬茶房 and Wisteria Teahouse 紫藤廬 witnessed how they helped preserving the freedom of association by covering their guests against secret police during the colonial periods.

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