When the Portuguese conquerors first arrived on the island of Taiwan, they were astounded by the beauty of this country, especially by those high rugged mountains and the lush vegetation that dreams are made of. They called it Formosa, meaning beautiful, a name that even though long gone from the maps of the world, still remains a special memory of the past on some of the labels of Taiwanese teas.
The tea plant is not native from this island, but when Chinese tea farmers from Fujian province crossed the Taiwan Strait and arrived to Formosa at beginning of the 18th century, they carried with them plants and seeds, along with their knowledge and technique to produce one of the most hard-to-make of all types of teas: Oolongs. These were the beginnings of a tea industry that would eventually focus on quality over quantity, oolong being just the perfect fit for it and becoming the emblem of Taiwanese teas.
The different types of teas are classified according to the manufacturing process, oxidation being one of the key steps in this classification. Playing with the different ranges of oxidation will offer us different aromas and flavors. While green teas remain green because they are not oxidised and the leaves of black teas have a darker color and a deep red liquor due to the full oxidation, oolongs stay in the middle and are referred to as semi-oxidised.
Tea Masters will decide which degree of oxidation they want to reach in their tea, a lower oxidation will produce oolongs closer to a green tea, while a higher oxidation will bring us closer to a black tea, though with a more delicate body
Oolongs offer the biggest range of aromas and flavors of all teas, such as vegetal, flowery, buttery, roasted, fruity and so much more.
While sipping a cup of Taiwanese tea, I can’t help but think of that first trip. It was 2015, but it surely feels like longer ago. I had gotten into the practice of the Tea Ceremony a couple of years before, after meeting Athena Minami, a Taiwanese Tea Art Instructor. She encouraged me to visit Taiwan. I had already been to China, India and Sri Lanka, amongst others and Taiwan was definitely on my bucket list - to visit the island of oolongs was like a dream come true, but one of those that are even better than you could have ever dreamed of.
It seems incredible that in a country that is not more than 400 km long and only 150 km wide, we can find so many different varieties of teas. Taiwan is crossed by a mountain range from north to south, with peaks above 2.000 meters high. This offers great conditions for the production of high quality tea.
The green baozhongs from the north of the island, the roasted Tieguanyin produced just a subway-ride away from the capital Taipei, those leaves nibbled by a grasshopper that become the unique Oriental Beauty in the west, the black teas from Sun Moon Lake or the most famous of all, those rolled leaves from the High Mountains. They all have something special and unique.
I lived in Taipei for a year, sipping cups of tea on a daily basis, visiting some of the tea shops that are in every corner of Taipei, going up to the surrounding mountains to walk around tea plantations, scribbling Chinese characters in my books, or avoiding the heat inside an air-conditioned 7/11.
Taiwan has something unique. They understand that tea production is not just an industry, but an art. Is not only about soil, weather and plants, but the harmony between those and the people. Tea is culture and a heritage, not only for the Taiwanese people, but for the whole world to enjoy. Their kindness is outstanding and they always welcome you to share a cup of tea.
When I miss Taiwan and its people, the sound of unintelligible Chinese on the streets and the smell of night markets I only need one cup of tea to take me back there.