Taiwan is known for its world-famous teas and Taiwanese people considered tea as one of their great national treasures. Although its tea-making tradition began centuries ago from mainland China, Taiwan has developed its own unique tea varieties—most notably its High-Mountain Oolong Tea, Red Jade Black tea and Oriental Buteay Tea. If you are a tea lover and you ever browsed around tea shops to look for high-quality tea, you may found that tea from Taiwan is usually more expensive. Specialist world-leading tea company, MARIAGE FRÈRES – French tea company in Paris since 1854, has identified Taiwan (Formosa was the name the Portuguese gave to Taiwan) as one of the four best tea origins globally.
It can be hard to believe that so many factors affect the result of the tea. These factors include the climate, the soil in which it grows, the production techniques used related to tea makers’ experience, and its historical background. In this article, we will give you some in-depth insights into why you should try Taiwanese teas.
It was in the high, steep mountains of Taiwan where the finest teas were being produced. The high-mountain region runs right down the geographical centre of Taiwan, spanning several counties, most notably including Nantou. The tea plantations in these central areas are at least 1000 meters in altitude.
Lower amounts of oxygen in the air at these high altitudes means that the tea plants grow more slowly. And the slower the growing process, the more minerals are absorbed, so the tea leaves become thicker and a lusher green colour as a result.
The tea plants need to be thicker and sturdier as, being so high up on the mountains, they are exposed to higher UV levels and drastic changes in temperature between day and night. As you can imagine, weaker specimens simply don’t survive these conditions, but the plants that do survive are extra special. The plants take longer to grow and are at higher risk but ultimately produce a tea that is less bitter and has a richer, smoother character. Each plantation and each mountain produce its own bouquet of flavours and potent health properties.
Skilled and Experienced Tea Makers
There is a lot of knowledge, skill and pride that goes into the production of tea in Taiwan. A knowledge, skill and pride which gets passed down the generations. Tea farmers need to understand the exact moment to harvest the tea plant because they want to harvest it at its peak.
With the rarer, high-quality harvests, tea farmers will go to the trouble of gathering their crops by hand, even if that means being on the side of steep mountains in extreme conditions.
The next stage of the process is to wither the plants to reduce the water content gently. This process requires a great degree of skill and instinct; humidity and temperature must be monitored and controlled exceptionally closely. Racks of leaves are carefully rotated to ensure each layer receives proper airflow.
Special teas undergo a bruising process next. The bruising process includes rolling, twisting or crushing the leaves in a special way to break down cell walls. This is a demanding process as some leaves need to go through multiple rounds of bruising and oxidation, especially for handcrafted tea. This is one of the reasons these types of teas have mixed flavours.
The oxidisation process varies depending on the tea, and oxidising to precise levels purposefully impacts the aroma and flavour of the tea. The Oolong teas that Taiwan is known for can be oxidised anywhere between 10% to 90%, while the darker the tea and black tea are fully oxidised.
The roasting process only used when producing Oolong tea and Taiwan is well-known for this skill. By adjusting the temperature of the heat and baking time, the tea quality can be fixed. The roasting process also allows the tea have different flavours and aroma. To end the roasting process at a precise time the great skill and experience are once again required.
Historical Impacts and Tea Competitions
In the late 18th century, tea plants brought over from the Fujian region of China were recognised to flourish in Taiwan. The Fijian’s were masters of tea making, and they soon realised that there was something special about Taiwan’s unique location.
As new Taiwanese settlers continued to arrive, they began to import more tea plants, including small oolong trees. These trees also thrived in their new Taiwanese environment. There was such excitement about the quality of the Oolong tea produced in Taiwan that a British entrepreneur (named John Dodd) invested heavily in Taiwan’s Oolong tea making. An enthusiastic Dodd then started to sell Taiwanese Oolong tea to the world under the name “Formosa Oolong.”
When Taiwan became a colony of Japan, investment in tea farming continued, but now with a new focus… Even more tea plant varieties brought to the country, and once again, these tea plants found to thrive and produce a superior beverage.
The Taiwanese learnt from the Japanese how to fully oxidise the tea plant to create a rich brown to black colour. Fully oxidising altered the flavour of the tea. These ‘black teas’ were cultivated in the ideal climate of the Sun Moon Lake area of Taiwan.
Historical influences meant that Taiwan was mainly known for certain types of quality tea. Once the export competition began to increase, the Taiwanese decided to focus on their quality tea production more.
As part of their focus on quality tea production, the Japanese government helped Taiwan set up the ‘Tea Research and Extension Station. Scientists and tea farmers began researching and experimenting in pursuit of the highest standards of tea making.
Taiwanese tea competitions have especially motivated the tea farmers to invest in developing the highest quality tea. Each year, there are at least ten tea competitions in different tea type organised by regional tea authorities. The winner tea products became invaluable, sometimes can be sold for more than £10,000 per kilogram. The tea competitions drove the tea farmers, makers, and brands to develop the rare, specialised best quality tea.
Getting each of these stages precisely right is an art, a science and a passion for the Taiwanese.
Do You Want to Try Great Quality Tea?
Many countries have vast export amounts of tea, and these mass-produced teas were made for mass consumption. Taiwan has concentrated on teas which are for an exceptional experience.
Even at the lower end of the scale, the Taiwanese made an experience out of tea with their now infamous ‘Bubble Teas’. At the top end, they produce rare teas which carefully cultivated, meticulously looked after and precisely processed by experts.
They are teas for the connoisseur and for tea lovers who enjoy better quality tea. Why not experience the quality for yourself by trying our special selection?
Order today and experience great quality teas that represent all this Taiwanese tea excellence.