Posted in Kafevend Blog

Tea from Taiwan

Earlier this year we devoted a lot of blog space to the Japanese tea ceremony. Today's blog takes us back to the Far East, to the island of Taiwan. Like Japan and China, Taiwan has its own tea ceremony and long standing relationship with the drink. We'll be taking a look, first at Taiwan's tea history and then at its contributions to tea drinking, which stretch right around the world.  

History of tea in Taiwan

You'll often see Taiwanese tea badged as Formosa tea. Formosa was the former name of Taiwan, given to it by Portuguese explorers during the 1500s. In the following century the Dutch East India Company took over the island and began to grow and trade sugar and rice. Then, in the late 1600s, Taiwan came under Chinese control. Amongst those to come to Taiwan from China were tea farmers with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Although wild tea trees were already present in Taiwan's mountains, it was tea plants brought over from mainland China that became the foundation for the tea industry. At first rice and sugar kept their position as the island's chief cash crops, while tea cultivation was mostly a family affair. Nevertheless, tea became an ever more popular commodity over in the Western world and in the 1860s a British tea trader by the name of John Dodd kick started a major upturn in tea production by financing plantations and factories, thereby  ramping up Taiwan's production capabilities. When, in turn, Japan wrested control of the island from China, it brought its own tea traditions and expertise and mechanisation of the tea industry continued apace.

Who longs for oolong?

These days Taiwan produces black, green and oolong tea, though oolong is the favourite. Production has returned full circle over recent decades to the small scale, meaning that quality rather than quantity is now the name of the game. The people of Taiwan are such dedicated tea drinkers that they have to import far more than they export, but that which is exported is well worth a taste. It's available from well known names such as Whittard. It's worth pointing out that oolong tea has long been the tea of choice in Taiwan, meaning that Formosa oolongs receive high praise on the world stage. Taiwan's geography helps too. Those cold mountain nights slow growth, resulting in more complex flavours. The tea is harvested four or five times a year and each harvest has its own distinct flavour profile.

Bubble tea

Another more modern Taiwanese contribution to tea drinking is bubble tea. An invention of the 1980s, bubble tea has a growing fan base in various parts of the world, including here in the UK. In case you've yet to try your first bubble tea, it's an iced tea drink with chewy balls of tapioca at the bottom, slurped through an extra wide straw. Fruit teas and milk teas are popular choices on the bubble tea menu too. Certainly worth a try when the weather warms up. Failing that perhaps it'd be best to settle for an oolong!


Formosa tea
Taiwan's tea history

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