Tea Time in JiuFen Taiwan
Tea shops on the street outnumber Starbucks!  Hua Xian Mu Lan  Tea Shop in Kaohsiung

Tea shops on the street outnumber Starbucks! Hua Xian Mu Lan Tea Shop in Kaohsiung

I love coffee. But I love tea more, particularly Taiwanese tea. On the streets of Taipei, there are more variations you can possibly imagine. My favorite afternoon tea of choice? Iced Oolong Tea with passion fruit, slices of oranges and guava. You can’t beat looseleaf tea with fresh fruit can’t be beat on a hot summers day. Which is what I want to talk about today: Tea.

I love the tea house culture in Taiwan. The experience is completely different. In the US, the coffee shops are loud. When the grinders, blenders and steamers are running, which is constantly, I’ve measured 75 decibels and above. (Here are OSHA’s standards for your reference). You simply can’t hold a proper conversation without straining your ears and having to shout. No wonder Americans cafe-goers wear headphones and surf online! What is supposed to be a social experience is a solitary one. My Viennese friends wince at the thought of going to an American coffeeshop - Nein danke!.

 

Tea houses in Taiwan are blissfully more relaxed. Here actual reality transcends virtual interaction.

My favorite place to grab tea with friends is outside Taipei is JiuFen. It is a mountain town a half hour to forty minutes away from downtown Taipei. A former gold and quartz mining, JiuFen today is transformed itself into teahouses and inns. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli, you will quickly recognize the references to JiuFen in the Japanese anime Spirited Away. There are plenty of places to eat and snack on the way to the tea house, but I usually save my stomach for what’s to come.

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The tea houses are old time gorgeous. Perched atop steep cliffs, they capture views the water and the mountains (山水) like you would find in a Chinese watercolor paintings.

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Loose leaf tea is brewed fresh. None of that teabag business!

Alishan Tea where each leaf is rolled into a tiny ball.

Alishan Tea where each leaf is rolled into a tiny ball.

Look how thick the leaves are and no stems!

Look how thick the leaves are and no stems!

Special “tall” cups are used to help capture the essence

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The tall cups in the photo above are to capture the fragrance from the first steep. Not something to be missed.

Plums served with tea: salty, sour, sweet.

Plums served with tea: salty, sour, sweet.

Japanese influence: Warabi Mochi dusted with kinako

Japanese influence: Warabi Mochi dusted with kinako

Taiwanese mung bean tea cakes

Taiwanese mung bean tea cakes

There are four main types of Taiwanese Teas: oolong, black tea, green tea and white tea. If you are drinking high end oolong tea, it probably comes from Taiwan. Personally I am a fan of Alishan tea. Picked during the winter, it is slightly oxidized before being packed and distributed. It is fruity, floral and is slightly tannic giving it structure.

If you go to a tea house, there are always treats that compliment the flavor of the tea. Salted plums, mochi, mungbean cakes are always on the menu. Many tea houses also serve more substantial meals during lunch and dinners. You will not be disappointed.

JiuFen isn’t the only place where there is a plethora of tea houses. There are a number of tea houses in the hills around Taipei, all within a half hour car ride from downtown. Yangming Shan or Bei Tou have bath houses that also serve a civilized cup of tea. Rain or shine you will find a tea house for you to relax, grab light bites and enjoy the scenery.

So if you are coming to Taiwan during the winter, this is a must on your to-do list!

As a strategic consultant, I manage chaos for a living. So travel is easy for me. Heh. I travel to understand people and culture more deeply than a newspaper or tv show could ever tell me. I break bread to build bridges across political and social boundaries. Travel inspires me, teaches me and humbles me such that I appreciate my part of the world more deeply.