The Tea of Nantou County
Nantou County is the only landlocked county of Taiwan. It is primarily rural with just a few urban areas - the city of Puli, for example, has a population of 87,000. The terrain of Nantou county ranges from gently rolling hills to jagged mountain peaks and has average temperature range from 15 to 24 degrees Celsius. The climate is ideal for growing tea.
There are tea plantations in almost all of Nantou's 12 townships, and because of the varying terrain, elevation, and climate conditions, each area produces tea with a unique character.
Perhaps the most famous of Nantou's tea regions is LuGu (Deer Valley). This area was first planted in 1855 with tea bushes brought back from China's Mount Wuyi. You can read more about LuGu Township in this article.
Located in the south-west corner of Nantou county, Chushan township was the first area of Nantou county to be settled during the late Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).
Fifty years ago there were a few tea plantations, but in the late 1970's farmers were encouraged to begin planting tea on a larger scale. There is currently 1,450 hectares of tea growing in Chushan township, which includes the Shan Ling Xi tea growing area.
Chushan tea is very popular with Taiwanese tea drinkers. There are several varieties of tea grown here but the most common are Taiwan tea #12 (otherwise known as JinShuen or Golden Lily) and Taiwan tea #13 (Jade oolong). These two varietals do very well in Chushan township's micro-climate.
The processing of Chushan tea is similar to Dong Ding oolong which is produced in neighboring LuGu township. The tea is oxidized to about 20% - 25% and ball-rolled. The two areas produce distinctly tasting teas because of the soil, slight differences in climate, and the prominent tea varietals.
Renai Township - Lushan
Lu Shan is a famous (at least in Taiwan) resort town renowned for its hot springs and mountain scenery. There are also about 850 hectares of tea plantations in the area. The elevation is about 1200 meters and the temperatures remain cool all year round. The mountainous terrain retains the moisture from the many streams and waterfalls so the area is often enshrouded in fog. All of these conditions are ideal for growing tea.
HsinYi Township - Yushan Oolong Tea
The southern-most part of Nantou county is Hsin Yi township. Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) is located at the southern border of this township. At 3952 meters (12,966 feet) Yu Shan is the highest mountain in East Asia.
The tea plantations of Yu Shan cover approximately 360 hectares. The year-round low temperatures produces thick, juicy tea leaves which brew to a heavy liquor with a remarkably sweet fragrance. This tea is very smooth and has lots of flavor - the defining characteristic of Yushan Oolong tea.
YuChih Township - Ri Yue Tan Black Tea
Just as Nantou county is in the center of Taiwan, YuChih township is in the center of Nantou. It is the location of Sun Moon Lake (Ri Yue Tan) - a famous honeymoon resort. It is also an area which produces black tea.
One hundred years ago Taiwanese black tea was produced from local tea plants which were better suited for oolong or green tea production. This black tea was not first quality but could be used for blending.
In 1925 tea plants from Assam, India were imported and planted in the Sun Moon Lake area. These plants produced a much better black tea and this was an important export commodity for many years. By 1966 there were 1,815 hectares of tea being grown for black tea production.
As Taiwan became more industrialized, however, the cost of producing black tea became too high for Taiwanese tea to compete on the world market. Most of the tea plantations formerly producing black tea were converted to oolong or pouchong tea production.
Nevertheless, a small amount of black tea is still produced in this area. Currently there are about 400 hectares being used for black tea, and all of this tea is of the Assam variety. It is very good quality tea that compares well with the best of India's or Sri Lanka's black tea. The cost of production is still quite high, so most of the black tea produced in Taiwan is for local consumption.