by Rick Green
With Taiwan's growing prosperity and social liberalization, there has been an increasing interest in things Western as an expression of being modern. In terms of beverages, the rising popularity of wine and coffee are but two examples. Nevertheless, Taiwan remains firmly rooted in its traditions. The drink of choice for Taiwanese is still tea.
While China and India are the world's largest tea producers, Taiwan has focused on yielding the highest quality from its teas. The most famous export from the island of Formosa is oolong, but it also produces baozheng, black, and green varieties. An ideal way to experience Taiwan's tea culture is to enjoy an afternoon at a teahouse after paying a visit to one of its tourist tea plantations.
The original Geng Du Yuan Teahouse is an oasis of tranquility in the sprawling city of Taichung. Its tea rooms are arranged around a central fish pond in the Suzhou style where you can relax with a pot of tea and some light tea snacks or tackle a formidable hot pot meal. For an enjoyable souvenir of your visit that won't collect dust, you can purchase various teas and tea products in their store.
The Chi-Yeh Cypress Museum in Hualien is a restaurant, teahouse, and gallery that is dedicated to the appreciation of Taiwan's indigenous cypress tree. Cypress was extensively logged by the Japanese during their occupation and then continued by the Kuomintang until the harvesting of old growth forest was banned in 1991. The island's fourth largest forestry was just south of here at Lintian Shan.
Chi-Yeh is located in a Japanese building that was constructed from cypress over 100 years ago. While it doesn't operate as a Japanese teahouse, per se, there is an unmistakable colonial atmosphere. Their set meals are reminiscent of Japanese bento boxes, although the food is distinctly local.
In the big city, the pace of life is much quicker. People don't have as much time to while away an afternoon in a traditional teahouse. This type of lǎo rén chá (pensioner's tea) also doesn't appeal to the younger generation. In response, Ten Ren Group's cha FOR TEA chain is designed to instill a tea culture in young people by incorporating traditional art accents within a modern interior design.
In addition to a variety of hot and cold tea drinks, cha FOR TEA also offers tea cuisine – snacks, soups, desserts, and entrees that are made with tea. Therefore, even if you don't drink a pot of tea when you come here for a visit, you will have tea one way or another.
The ultimate tea drink for youth, however, is bubble tea (bōbà nǎichá). Also known as pearl milk tea, bubble tea is a Taiwanese innovation that gained popularity during the 1980s and then spread to other parts of Asia during the 1990s. Its entree into North America came via Canada, upon which it spread to Chinatowns throughout the continent.
Bubble tea consists of a base of cold black or green tea, to which may be added fruit (or fruit syrup), flavourings, or milk and then blended with ice. Tapioca balls (bubbles/pearls) and jelly cubes or strips of various flavours can then be added. These are sucked up through a wide straw and chewed. Bubble tea is so popular now that there are even variants with coffee, chocolate, and caramel.
Have an Adventure
Geng Du Yuan Teahouse
66 Huiwen 5th Street, Taichung
Tel: +886 (04) 2251-8388
Chi-Yeh Cypress Museum
106 Jhongmei Road, Hualien
Tel: +886 (03) 8362-577
cha FOR TEA
No. 570, Sec. 5, Zhongshan North Road, Taipei
Tel: +886 (02) 2888-2929
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