Taiwan, an island known for its lush, verdant landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has also earned a formidable reputation as a producer of some of the world's finest teas. Taiwanese teas, often characterized by their unique flavors and aromas, are the product of the island's diverse climate and topography. In this definitive guide, we'll delve into the various types of Taiwanese tea, exploring their unique characteristics, processing methods, and the reasons behind their global acclaim.
Dong Ding (Tung Ting) Oolong
Originating from Nantou County's Lugu region, Dong Ding Oolong is named after the Dong Ding mountain. A traditional favorite, it is known for its medium level of oxidation, which creates a perfect balance between the bright freshness of green teas and the deeper tones of black teas. The flavor profile includes floral notes, a creamy texture, and a long-lasting sweet aftertaste.
Grown in the Alishan mountain range, this high-mountain Oolong is prized for its light oxidation, bright floral notes, and a subtle creamy mouthfeel. The high altitudes and cool, misty climate contribute to its crisp flavor and delicate aroma.
Oriental Beauty (Dong Fang Mei Ren / Bai Hao)
This tea is unique due to its production process involving tea jassids. The insects’ nibbling prompts the plant to release more aromatic compounds, resulting in a highly oxidized Oolong with fruity, honey-like sweetness and a rich, amber hue.
Li Shan (Pear Mountain) Oolong
Li Shan Oolong is one of Taiwan’s highest grown teas. The high altitude and cooler climate slow the growth of the tea leaves, resulting in a more concentrated flavor. This tea is known for its fresh orchid aroma and a sweet, refreshing taste.
Shan Lin Xi Oolong
Grown in the Shan Lin Xi area in central Taiwan, this high-mountain tea is celebrated for its smooth, full-bodied flavor that includes floral notes and a hint of creaminess. It's a perfect choice for those who appreciate a more robust Oolong.
Baozhong (Pouchong) Tea
Baozhong is a lightly oxidized Oolong, often characterized by its delicate and floral aroma. Traditionally produced in the Wenshan region of Taipei, it is closer to green tea, offering a gentle, refreshing taste.
High Mountain (Gao Shan) Oolong
This term refers to Oolong teas grown at elevations above 1,000 meters. These teas, including varieties from Alishan, Li Shan, and Shan Lin Xi, are treasured for their crisp, clean flavors and aromatic floral notes.
Da Yu Ling Oolong
Regarded as one of the highest and rarest of Taiwan's high-mountain teas, Da Yu Ling Oolong is grown at altitudes above 2,500 meters. This tea boasts a vibrant flavor profile with floral and fruity notes, a smooth mouthfeel, and a lingering sweet aftertaste.
Jin Xuan (Milk Oolong)
This variety is famous for its natural creamy, buttery taste and silky texture. Also known as "Milk Oolong," its unique flavor is attributed to the specific cultivation and processing techniques, as well as the Jin Xuan cultivar used.
Hong Shui (Red Water) Oolong
Hong Shui Oolong, or "Red Water" Oolong, is a captivating variety of Taiwanese tea, cherished for its unique flavor profile and rich, reddish-amber infusion. This tea is typically characterized by a higher degree of oxidation than most Taiwanese oolongs, which imparts a deeper, more robust flavor. The name "Red Water" reflects the tea's distinctively rich hue. The meticulous processing of Hong Shui Oolong involves careful withering, rolling, and a longer oxidation process, resulting in a tea that offers a harmonious blend of sweet, fruity, and slightly woody notes, with an underlying smoothness that makes each sip a luxurious experience.
Black Tea (Red Tea in Taiwan)
Sun Moon Lake Black Tea
Grown in the Sun Moon Lake area of Nantou County, this tea is known for its unique flavor profile that includes hints of cinnamon and mint. It's a relatively new addition to Taiwanese tea but has quickly gained popularity.
Ruby Red (Taiwan Tea No. 18)
Developed by the Taiwan Tea Research and Extension Station, Ruby Red is a crossbreed between Burmese and Taiwanese wild teas. It's celebrated for its unique minty aroma and smooth, sweet flavor.
Grown in the Sanxia District, this green tea is known for its delicate, spiraled leaves and a fresh, grassy flavor with a hint of floral undertones.
Although originally a Chinese variety, Taiwanese Longjing has developed its own character. It features a lighter taste and a subtle aroma, perfect for those who prefer a less astringent green tea.
Taiwan Silver Needle
A rarer find in Taiwan, Silver Needle is a white tea characterized by its delicate and mild flavor. It is made exclusively from the unopened buds of the tea plant, resulting in a light, fresh taste with sweet, floral notes.
Pouchong, or Baozhong, is a lightly oxidized tea, bordering the line between green and oolong teas. It's known for its light, floral aroma and a milder flavor compared to more heavily oxidized oolongs. Traditionally produced in the Wenshan region, Pouchong offers a gentle introduction to the world of Taiwanese teas.
GABA Oolong stands out in the world of Taiwanese teas, not just for its distinctive taste but also for its notable health benefits. GABA, short for Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a naturally occurring amino acid that plays a key role in reducing stress and promoting relaxation in the human body.
Production Process and Health Benefits
This specialty tea undergoes a unique anaerobic fermentation process, where the tea leaves are exposed to nitrogen instead of oxygen. This method significantly increases the GABA content in the tea. GABA Oolong is known for its calming effects on the nervous system, making it a popular choice for tea drinkers seeking both tranquility and health benefits.
GABA Oolong is characterized by its distinctively rich and smooth taste. It typically presents a complex flavor profile that includes fruity undertones, a hint of sweetness, and a deep, mellow body. The unique processing method also imparts a slightly tangy or sour note, which adds to the tea's uniqueness.
Initially developed in Japan in the 1980s, GABA tea has gained popularity in Taiwan and among tea enthusiasts worldwide. Its combination of health benefits and enjoyable taste profile makes it a sought-after choice for those looking to explore beyond traditional oolongs.
History of tea in Taiwan
Introduction of Tea from China
Tea was first brought to Taiwan in the 17th century by Chinese immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces. These early settlers recognized the potential of Taiwan's fertile land for growing tea. The initial focus was on green and oolong teas, which reflected the traditions they brought from the mainland.
Development in the 19th Century
The 19th century marked a significant turning point for the Taiwanese tea industry. The Qing Dynasty government began to encourage tea cultivation for export, recognizing the growing global demand for tea. British traders played a crucial role in introducing Taiwanese tea to the Western world, particularly the oolong varieties.
During this period, Taiwanese tea, especially oolong, gained international fame under the name "Formosa Oolong." "Formosa," the Portuguese name for Taiwan, became synonymous with high-quality tea. This led to a boom in tea exports, and Taiwanese tea established itself as a premium product in the global market.
Japanese Influence (1895-1945)
Technological Advancements and Research
Under Japanese rule, the tea industry saw significant modernization and research. The Japanese introduced new cultivation techniques, built research stations, and established quality control measures. They focused on expanding the production of oolong and black teas, catering to both domestic and international markets.
Post-War Era and Modern Developments
Diversification and Innovation
After World War II, the Republic of China government continued to promote tea cultivation. In the latter half of the 20th century, Taiwanese tea farmers and producers began to innovate, experimenting with different cultivars, production methods, and focusing on quality over quantity.
Rise of High Mountain Oolong
The late 20th century saw the rise of High Mountain Oolong teas, which have become synonymous with Taiwanese tea excellence. These teas, grown in the central mountain ranges, are prized for their distinct floral aromas and complex flavors.
Today, Taiwanese teas, particularly oolong and black teas, enjoy a prestigious reputation worldwide. The dedication to quality, combined with the unique terroir of the island, has placed Taiwan firmly on the map as a producer of some of the finest teas in the world.
Tea Ceremony in Taiwan
The tea ceremony in Taiwan, while echoing the deep reverence for tea found across the Chinese cultural sphere, has its unique characteristics and ethos. It stands out for its simplicity, focus on the sensory experience, and the social interaction it fosters. This short section delves into the essence of the Taiwanese tea ceremony.
Philosophy and Approach
In Taiwan, the tea ceremony is less about rigid ritual and more about the appreciation of the tea itself. It is an intimate, relaxing experience, where the aroma, color, and flavor of the tea are savored with mindfulness. The ceremony is as much about creating a connection between the participants as it is about connecting with the tea.
Setting and Atmosphere
Typically conducted in a calm and serene environment, the Taiwanese tea ceremony is an escape from the hustle of everyday life. Whether in a tea house or a private setting, the atmosphere is one of tranquility, fostering a space where individuals can unwind and engage in unhurried conversation.
Teaware and Technique
The teaware used is often elegantly simple, with a focus on functionality. Yixing clay teapots and small porcelain cups are common. The brewing technique, inspired by the Gongfu style, involves multiple infusions from the same leaves, with each infusion revealing different notes and depths of the tea.
The Social Aspect
While there is a personal and meditative aspect to the Taiwanese tea ceremony, it is also a social event. It is an occasion for friends, family, or even business associates to gather, share stories, and enjoy each other's company, all centered around the communal experience of tea.