14th
Jun
2013

Posted in Reference

Unsurprisingly, given its proximity to mainland China, Taiwan has a deeply rooted tea drinking culture and due to its climactic suitability, black, green and oolong tea are grown with great success in many of its regions. Back in the mid 1600s the Dutch East India Company used Taiwan as a trading post, having found that it was a profitable source of crops such as sugar and rice. A Dutch survey of the land noted that wild tea grew in the central mountain regions, but it wasn't until the early 1800s that immigrants from mainland China, bringing tea plant specimens and practical knowledge with them, established tea cultivation for both local consumption and trade purposes.

The Chinese settlers brought their tea ceremony with them as well, which is practised to this day when time permits. Its proper name is gong fu cha, which translates as making tea with effort. The highly involved process uses oolong tea and requires full attention to detail, necessitating emptying the mind of all its worries and burdens. Thus, those who regularly perform the ceremony would argue that the effort put in is well worth the therapeutic advantages gained; in other words it can have a meditative effect in addition to being an enjoyable social occasion.

By the 1980s Taiwan's economic advancement meant that tea consumption had not only risen very sharply, but that the tea drinking public had become more discerning about quality. Another interesting development from this more recent era was the drink often referred to as bubble tea; alternative appellations include boba, pearl milk tea, pearl ice tea and tapioca ball drink. Together these names provide a clue as to the nature of this Taiwanese invention, which has grown a fan base in other parts of the world where it's been introduced. Bubble tea began life as an iced tea incorporating chewy bubbles of tapioca, but has evolved to include fruit flavoured teas and milk teas, which can be served either hot or cold and with a range of different size, colour and flavour tapioca pearls lurking at the bottom. It is served in a lidded cup with a straw large enough to accommodate the chewy pearls.

While the nation's commitment to growing and drinking tea is in no doubt, coffee has been also been cultivated for the past couple of centuries. However, it's only comparatively recently that the lure of drinking coffee has grown stronger, with consumption having increased fourfold in the past ten years. The nation's stock market boom of 1985 resulted in economic growth that fuelled the spending power of ordinary people and the coffee industry has benefited as a result; coffee is no longer a beverage reserved for visiting foreigners or the elite as it once was. Indeed, by the late 1990s coffee chains had begun to exploit the gap in the market and the full range of cappuccinos, lattes, espressos and the like are readily available.

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