Taiwan tempts tourists with tea

Verdant tea plantations in Taiwan

Taiwan is known as a tea lover’s paradise. Here, tea is not merely a beverage but part of the culture, influencing calligraphy, flower arts and incense arts. According to some reports, annual tea production in Taiwan was estimated at 15,200 tons in 2015, with export volume estimated at 5,800 tons.

While there are many countries in the world that produce tea, Taiwan is undoubtedly Asia’s best kept secret, especially in the category of Oolong tea. There are various areas in the island country where tea has been grown historically and here is a lowdown on the must try varieties when travelling to Taiwan.

High Mountain Oolong Tea: This name refers to any tea that is grown over 1000m elevation, and processed as a lightly oxidised, unroasted Oolong Tea. There are famous place names within this category that represent geographic growing regions. These include: Alishan, Shanlinxi, Lishan, and Dayuling. Virtually all High Mountain Oolong Tea is made with the Qing Xin Oolong cultivar.

Jin Xuan "Milk" Oolong Tea: Jin Xuan, also called Tai Cha #12, is a hybrid cultivar that has become increasingly popular since its inception in 1980's by Taiwan's Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES). It is a hardy, high yielding strain that is very versatile both in its cultivation and processing. Jin Xuan is mostly grown in Nantou and Chiayi Counties, but it can now be found all over Taiwan and beyond.

Dong Ding Oolong Tea: Dong Ding or "Frozen Peak" is the name of a mountain in Lugu Township, and now represents a traditional processing method, using the original Qing Xin Oolong cultivar that migrated from Mainland China. Dong Ding Oolong is the most popular traditionally made tea in Taiwan. It's distinctive qualities result from medium levels of both oxidation and roasting.

Oriental Beauty Tea: Oriental Beauty is the name that was given to Bai Hao Oolong Tea by the Queen of England. Bai Hao (white fur) Oolong is the name that is locally used to refer to this tea, based on the harvesting and processing methods.

The leaves are harvested very young, when they still have their protective fur. The fully processed leaves are slightly curled and multi-coloured. The leaves are heavily oxidised to the point of resembling a Black Tea in character. A true batch of Oriental Beauty is only produced when the new leaf growth has been affected by the Green Leafhopper.

Sun Moon Lake Black Tea: Tea cultivation in the Sun Moon Lake area dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1700-1800's) when Chinese settlers began cultivating the naturally occurring wild tea tree. In the early 1900's, the Japanese colonists developed large scale Black Tea production using the Assam strain here, following the British model in India. The pre-existing wild tea strain was naturally crossbred with an Assam strain. Taiwan's TRES spent 50 years refining this hybridisation before it was publicly registered in 1999 as Tai Cha #18. In 2003, was given the name Red Jade at the 100-year anniversary of the TRES, and honoured as a Taiwanese specialty tea.

Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea: Around 1981, a Muzha tea farmer in Taipei County discovered a naturally occurring hybrid oolong in his tea garden that proved to be particularly suitable to the climate in Taiwan. Since then, it has gained popularity for its prolific produce and unique flavour and character. Now it is cultivated extensively as a signature oolong tea that is unique to the island of Taiwan. The name Four Seasons Spring was chosen for the plant’s prolific year-round leaf growth, allowing for at least four harvests annually that produce a fresh, fragrant character of tea that is unique among oolongs.