Taiwan may be renowned for its edible souvenirs and great cheap food, but it is also known to serve outstanding tea as the country has developed a prominent tea industry over the years. When it comes to tea and Taiwan, many may jump straight to bubble tea. Bubble tea is undeniably one of the utmost signatures of Taiwan, but I am here talking about actual tea, those freshly brewed from tea leaves. Something that’s simple yet sophisticated.
Taiwan is famous for three types of tea – namely Oolong Tea, Black Tea, and Green Tea. Oolong tea has been a particularly famous production in Taiwan and it is also the most consumed type of tea in the country. There are various types of Oolong tea such as Dongding, Oriental Beauty, High Mountain, Iron Goddess, and Osmanthus. Different regions of Taiwan specialize in the production of different type of tea leaves.
It is said that the earliest record of tea trees in the country is in the Yuchi and Puli region of the Nantou County, and they have been major tea production regions ever since. While people mostly talk about Oolong tea in Taiwan, it should not be ignored that black tea also has a long and influential history in the country.
This knowledge has come to me when I visited the Liao Mayor Black Tea Storyland, which is located at the Yuchi Township. I was just leaving Sun Moon Lake at the time, and I just spotted this European style mansion with a sign that says tea on the road so I asked my friend to pull over to have a look at the place.
The sight of a European style construction delights me. When I saw the mansion and the garden outside, there is no way that I would just leave the place without spending some time enjoying this beautiful place. As we stepped into the mansion, we were served immediately with a little cup of tea. We were told that it is the #8 Assam tea, a specialty in the area, also known as the Red Jade tea to the Taiwanese. The tea has such a smooth texture, so smoothing and aromatic. I am absolutely no expert about tea, and I am no tea enthusiast, but the flavors and taste of the tea blew my mind.
After a little chat with the staff we decided to first take a tour at the museum section of the mansion. Tea making equipment and machines were exhibited. Delicate china and tea sets were displayed. Right there I also learnt the history, manufacture process, and types of black tea.
As mentioned above, the area specializes in Assam black tea, which is a tea that is originated from the region of Assam in India. The tea was introduced into Taiwan by the colonial Japanese back then who hoped to develop the tea industry of Taiwan at the time. Assam tea became a specialty in this particular area of Taiwan is due to the similar climates of the Sun Moon Lake and the Assam tea gardens of India.
After a tour, the stairs lead back to the franchise section. Cans and bottles of tea leaves that are designed in sophistication were displayed and ready to be sold. The store also allows tea-tasting, and I highly encourage people to just sit across the bar and do not hesitate to ask for tasting any kind of tea they offer.
Apart from the #8 Red Jade tea, the store also highly promotes the #18, which is a hybrid cultivar of Assam. #18 is said to be a result of nearly 50 years of research by the Taiwanese Tea Research & Extension Station, and looking at its popularity nowadays, those years of efforts have definitely been paid off. I find #18 having a richer flavor and a more complex texture than the #8 I had tried earlier.
Other flavors of black tea are introduced as well. These black teas are infused with different flavors such as citrus and rose etc. Each flavor has their own characteristic and they are all fairly distinct from the tea but never overpowering. Go take your time and try out all the different flavors they offer until you find one that particularly suits your taste buds.
They also offer some classic Taiwanese edible souvenirs as well. For instance, they have tea-flavored Taiwanese pineapple cakes, though it was not particularly impressive in my opinion; and they also have tea-flavored nougats.
Outside at the gardens, there is a little cafe and a vendor that sells tea-braised eggs and ice cream of tea flavor. After a tea tasting session and purchasing your own choice of tea leaves, it felt nice to get some snacks or delicacies and sit at the outdoor areas to enjoy them.
The tea-braised eggs are definitely up to standard. Though without the mushroom flavors as the famous Ah Ma Tea-braised Eggs at the Sun Moon Lake, the flavor is still very rich and aromatic due to the high quality of tea leaves. The ice cream has a lighter tea flavor but it was still very distinct. While some tea-flavored ice creams may come across bitter or overpowering, these are very well-balanced and smoothing. Inside the cafe, we had some short cakes, which were being cut into halves when served. They also offer classic high tea sets there, though we did not try at the time, I guess it will be pretty decent and would be able to live up to my expectations.
There are so many tea houses all over Taiwan, but I think this particular place is a remarkable one to look out for. I just find this place very charming and its design of an European mansion has definitely seemed to have brought you to another world. Such design has really set the mood and atmosphere for tea, and more importantly a chilled and relaxed environment to enjoy. Particularly when it is located away from the cities, you can truly take a deep breath of fresh air and lay back.
Tea is such an art and also an important part of many different cultures. This place managed to use tea to merge the Chinese culture with the Western culture. Black tea has been involved in the culture of both the Chinese and Westerners – here they have set a Western environment and served classic Western tea delicacies while also using the Chinese blend of the tea. It is a perfect combination of the East and the West. Though its fairly common among Asian tea houses to do so, this place just seems to have its own magic to make you fall in love with it. It has the whole package and the quality to take to stand out.