When the phrase tea ceremony is mentioned, you likely think of Japan’s meticulous rituals or of Chinese wedding traditions. However, the lesser-known tea culture of Taiwan is no less captivating.
“Tea is not merely a drink but an art form in Taiwan,” states Dave Lim, owner of Sun Ray Cafe in Singapore and winner of the 2017 Singapore Tea Masters Cup.
Lim, who leads in-depth tea workshops, went on to say: “In a sense, tea is all-pervasive, across all ages and social classes. Even with the advent of specialty coffee, tea still holds its place close to Taiwanese hearts.”
Tea ceremonies and services in Taiwan are an elegant blend of ancient Chinese methods and Japan’s minimalistic, clean style. Time is taken to appreciate the aroma and appearance of the tea before consuming it. The teaware is chosen to reflect the harmony of nature and the human spirit, and often included are artful items like pottery figurines, uniquely-shaped stones and Chinese calligraphy.
It’s not surprising that the type of tea Taiwan is famous for, wulong tea (also written as ‘oolong tea’), is equally sophisticated. Just as Taiwan’s tea culture is a balance of Japanese and Chinese traditions, so the taste of wulong tea falls between that of green tea and red tea (referred to as ‘black tea’ in Western countries), and contains heightened floral and fruity notes.
Although Taiwan’s relationship with tea can be traced back 400 years, it was in 1855 that Lin Feng-Chi brought wulong plant seedlings to the island from Fujian province, China. Following in wulong’s footsteps makes for a fascinating journey and the trail leads you all around Taiwan. Thanks to its varied geography, a visit to a tea plantation can mean standing with palm trees and overlooking blue reservoirs, or climbing to the foggy peaks of stunning mountains.
Many of these plantations have tea houses, where you can learn about the region’s rich history while tasting the local brews. Even newbies to tea will gain an appreciation for the differences between the remarkably sweet Yushan Wulong of Hsin Yi township and the milder, flowery Pouchong Wulong of Wenshan township. Wherever your pursuit of wulong takes you, remember to savour the moment and sip slowly.
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An Irish-American residing in Singapore, Laura Jane O’Gorman Schwartz is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Shanghai Literary Review.
This blog post originally appeared in the Travel Tips section of Ready to Travel.