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INTRODUCTION TO TAIWANESE TEA

Landscapes contribute to the development of tea production

Falls in the West Pacific Ocean where the tropical zone intertwines with the temperate, Taiwan, an island the size of Belgium, possesses a vast diversity of landscapes from mountain ranges to low-lying coasts and is the most mountainous island in the world by density (there are 285 peaks over 3,000 meters tall). Although most of the island is immersed in warm and humid weather year-round, snow sight can still be found on crests. With these environmental characteristics, Taiwan has been a magnificent playground for tea farmers, tea makers, and tea sommeliers to skill about tea since the 1600s.

 

The elevation is one of the critical terroir factors for tea production. Tea from tea plants/trees cultivated between 1,000 and 2,614 meters above sea level is categorized 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 types of tea developed on this island since the ’70s. At such a high elevation, the tea is exposed to cooler temperatures 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 give umami flavor to the tea) and less Polyphenol content including Catechins (compounds that creates bitterness in tea). The Taiwanese High Mountain Teas taste sweeter and creamier and are typified by their long, rich finish lingering in the throat.

Image by Arfan Abdulazeez

Apply agricultural technology and smart tools in tea fields, Taiwan has advanced itself in tea cultivation
© Arfan Abdulazeez

The birth lab of new tea crafting techniques and tea cultivars 
 

Besides environmental factors, sublime cultivars are another major contributor to taste. One of the recent successes in the contemporary tea-breeding history is the “Taiwanese Tea #18, Ruby 台茶十八號/紅玉”, more commonly known by its end-product, the “Ruby Black 紅玉紅茶”. Taiwanese Tea #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 Institue (TRES) in 2004. Ruby Black has become trendy due to its bold and malty taste, toned with caramel-sweet and a strong mint odor at its finish.

Teamakers’ craftsmanship often surpasses the limitations of the environment and cultivar. Another legendary tea was created on the lower summit is “DongDing Oolong 凍頂烏龍”. DongDing is the name of one of the oldest tea regions in Taiwan. In accordance with 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. DongDing Oolong typifies how classic traditional Taiwanese Oolong tastes and presents from the '80s.

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

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Wisteria Teahouse initiated several movements on social issues and tea art in the '80s; it keeps influencing the next generations
© Wisteria Teahouse Website

Teahouse in Taiwan: a place where freedom of speech never dies 

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

 

*This article is written by Deerland Tea's co-founders: Chen Hsiao-Pu and Angie Yitsu Chen.