Last month we travelled to Taiwan to meet our suppliers and see some of the tea gardens where the teas are grown. We also got to see where the teas are processed and meet the teamakers.
First stop was Nantou. Our suppliers grow their own teas and also buy leaves from farms in other areas in and also outside Nantou County to make teas like Ruby Black with Sun Moon Lake leaf and the Honey Oolong with Alishan leaf. This combines their skill with the great natural attributes of the raw leaf from various parts of Taiwan.
We then climbed way up into the clouds, staying several days next to the Alishan tea gardens. The area is all steep dramatic slopes and thick vegetation. There seems to be a huge diversity in the types of trees, vines and plants growing there. This is elevated landscape (over 1000 metres above sea level), misty, yet humid. All around the mountain range there are hundreds of tea gardens on impossible, almost vertical terrain.
The gardens we visited carpeted the hill tops and slopes. Some summer harvesting was taking place on our second day – we were able to locate the pickers by following the roar of their chatter. We were impressed by the speed of their work as they took only the bud and top two leaves off the bush at break neck speed. We all headed back down the mountain for tea with the tea maker and his family, snacking on deep fried tea leaves we’d picked from the bushes that morning.
Back in Taipei, we took the high speed rail to visit a friend of a friend who’d recently moved back to work in the family business – growing and making Pu’er in Yunnan across the strait in China. We travelled to the second largest city Tai Chung on the high speed rail. A very dreamy few hours were spent in the shop drinking Pu’er made from some very old trees with our amazing hosts Grace and Arthur. We brought back a small amount to share with customers – if you’re set up to make Pu’er and would like a sample let us know you’re interested and we’ll drop some in with your next order.
On our final days we caught up with some other friends in the tea biz, including Austin and David from Tearroir – a Taipei based tea business supplying cafes and restaurants. Surprisingly, selling premium tea sounds as challenging there as it is here in Australia. Most places serve pretty ordinary tea – even at the renowned Wisteria House I don’t think they were serving up any of their prized high mountain teas. On the upside, the dumplings at the famous Din Tai Fung certainly impressed. Thanks Austin and David.
It was great to see the farms and tea factories in person, and to meet the tea makers and their families. It’s not hard to understand why these premium high mountain teas are a cut above in terms of quality and flavour.
Taiwan has been inhabited by indigenous groups, and occupied by several foreign powers over the centuries. The Taiwanese people of today, who are largely made up of migrants or descendants of migrants from China, are very polite, gentle and honest people. Many of those migrants were tea makers from Fujian (particularly around the time of the Cultural Revolution).Their expertise combined with the perfect growing conditions and landscapes have created the tea superstar that is Taiwan. We’re already looking forward to the next trip back!