Making Taiwan Oolong Tea Gong Fu Style

How to Make Oolong Tea

In Taiwan, the most common way to make oolong tea is Gong Fu style. Making oolong tea this way requires a small earthenware teapot. The oolong tea is served in small cups, and the same oolong tea leaves can be brewed many times.

Making tea gong fu style is ideal for Taiwan oolong tea. The short brewing time allows the sweet flavor of the oolong tea to come out without excess caffeine or tannin. Even those who are sensitive to caffeine can drink this type of oolong tea all evening and still get a good night’s sleep.


When making tea of any sort high quality water is essential. This is especially true for Taiwan oolong tea because of the subtle flavors that are revealed through proper brewing techniques.

The best water for making oolong tea is spring water. If you don’t have access to spring water, you can improve tap water by letting the chlorine escape before making the oolong. This is done by letting the water sit uncovered for 24 hours. Chlorine can also be removed by boiling the water for 5 minutes in an uncovered pot, but this method is not recommended for oolong tea because it makes the water flat.


Water for making oolong tea should be just below the boiling point – about 85 – 95 degrees Celsius or 185 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Rather than measuring the temperature, try removing it from the heat when the large bubbles are just starting to form.


A typical Taiwanese oolong tea set consists of an unglazed clay teapot, a serving pitcher, a strainer, several small ceramic tea cups, a scoop for putting the oolong leaves in the pot, and a tray to capture water. Tea towels can be useful for drying the bottom of cups before they are served, and prongs are used to remove used oolong tea leaves from the teapot.

Almost every household in Taiwan has this type of oolong tea set. The tray can be a simple round design made from stainless steel or an ornate decorative object made from carved wood or stone. Decorative trays have a drainpipe which leads to a small bucket underneath. Decorative trays for making oolong tea are prominently displayed and may even be integrated into a table top.


When the water has reached the correct temperature, a small amount is used to rinse the teapot and cups. Oolong tea is then measured into the teapot – usually to about 1/4 or 1/3 of the volume of the teapot. The oolong tea leaves are not handled – a scoop is used to put the tea into the teapot.

The teapot is filled about half-way with hot water. This first infusion is not for drinking – it allows the oolong leaves to “awaken” and start to unfurl. It also removes excess dust from the tea leaves.

The teapot is swirled around to distribute the water evenly through the tea leaves and then poured out into the serving pitcher after about 10 seconds. The pot is immediately filled again for the first drinking infusion.

As the tea is steeping the liquid from the serving pitcher is poured into the cups to heat them up. This water is then poured over the tea pot to draw steam through the hole.

The first steep is quite short – 30 to 50 seconds depending on the type and quality of the oolong. Making oolong tea is a delicate art and finding the appropriate balance between volume, temperature, and steeping time requires knowledge of the tea leaves. If the first steep is too strong or too weak, you can adjust the brewing time for subsequent steeps.

The oolong is poured through the strainer from the teapot to the serving pitcher and then to the individual cups. The cups are arranged next to each other and the pouring is done in a continuous circular motion. This allows each cup to receive oolong tea which is identical in taste and color.

The bottom of the cups are wet from the tray and the spillage so they should be briefly placed on the tea towel before serving.

After pouring the oolong the teapot can be immediately filled with hot water for the subsequent brew. Each brewing time can be slightly longer than the previous.

With a good quality tea, you can expect to get 5 to 8 brews before the tea starts to lose its flavor.

Big Bowl Tea

Da Wan Pao Cha

Dà wǎn pào chá (大碗泡茶 – Big Bowl Tea) is a way of brewing tea that comes from the rural traditions of Taiwan. It is a custom of the Hakka people of Taiwan’s Miaoli county, and is meant to show kindness to weary travelers passing by on foot.

Big Bowl Tea is made by simply putting a few tea leaves in a large bowl of hot water. It does not involve any complicated procedures or specialized equipment. This method of brewing tea is associated with San Wan Township in Miaoli County, so the name Da Wan Pao Cha immediately brings to mind this particular area of Taiwan.

In Taiwan’s rural past, most people traveled on foot. Kind-hearted farmers living along the roadsides would prepare Big Bowl Tea for weary passersby. The tea was left in small shelters where anyone could stop for a rest.

Sometimes Big Bowl Tea is made with rice husks spread on the surface of the brewed tea. This was to discourage travelers from hastily drinking the tea, because the rice husks would have to be pushed aside before the tea could consumed. The husks were a reminder to slow down and breathe easily before rushing off again. They also add a nutritional boost to the tea.

The days of leaving tea by the roadside have long since passed, but the tradition of serving Big Bowl Tea to guests is still alive. It is a symbol of generosity and hospitality, a simple gesture of respect and a willingness to help those in need.

Caring For Gong Fu Teapots

Taiwan oolong tea is best prepared in a small Gong Fu style tea pot. Other brewing methods are possible, but the Gong Fu tea sets are ideal for fully appreciating the flavors and aromas of fine oolong tea.

Gong Fu teapots have traditionally been used for brewing oolong tea, but they can also be used for other types of tea such as black tea or green tea. However, each Gong Fu teapot should be used for just one kind of tea. If you use a teapot for oolong tea, don’t prepare black tea in it.

Part of the esteem that Gong Fu teapots enjoy comes from the fact that these teapots take on the flavor of the tea. After years of use your tea pot will enhance your tea by imparting the accumulated flavors. It has been said it’s like brewing tea in tea.

Seasoning A Gong Fu Teapot

The teapots on the Tea From Taiwan website can be used as bought after a quick rinsing. Over time, they will gradually take on the desirable patina and flavors of a well-used gong fu teapot.

Seasoning a new teapot will impart these desirable qualities right away. Follow these steps to season a new gong-fu teapot:

Boil water in a stainless steel pot.  Once the water boils, turn off the heat and lower the teapot into the hot water. A steamer basket can be used to prevent the teapot from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.

Put the lid on and let the teapot soak overnight.

The next day remove the teapot and rinse it under the tap. Gently rub your fingers over the pot inside and out while rinsing to remove any residue.

Heat fresh water in the same pot with the steamer basket in it. Turn off the heat, lower the teapot into the hot water along with a few tea leaves. The tea will steep and flavor the pot.

Cover the pot and let the teapot soak overnight in the tea. The next day you can rinse the teapot and let it air dry.

Never use soap or put your Gong Fu teapot in the dishwasher. The teapot will absorb the soap flavor. After using your teapot, it just needs a quick rinse in water.

Alishan Tea Districts

Ali Shan Tea

Alishan is famous for its high-mountain oolong tea. It is a broad area with many distinct oolong tea producing areas. Two of the most famous of the Alishan tea areas are Zhong Shu Hu and Shi Zuo.

Mount Ali is one of the most popular tourist areas in Taiwan. It is rich in scenic beauty and features fresh air and clear mountain passes. The narrow gauge railway built by the Japanese is famous throughout the world.

Wood from Mount Ali is highly prized. Some say it carries the spirit of the mountain, and for this reason is sought after for making ancestral tablets that almost every Taiwanese family possesses.

The oolong tea growing areas are situated between 1000 and 2300 meters in attitude. The high mountain conditions offer plenty of fog and low temperatures which are ideal for oolong tea, and the water used for irrigation is from pure mountain springs.

Mount Ali tea is characterized by its sweet fragrance with overtones of flowers and fruit. Our Four Season oolong tea is a fine representative of Alishan oolong tea.

Zhong Shu Hu area

Zhong Shu Hu area

Fruit plantations were the mainstay of the Zhong Shu Hu area for many years. Orchards are still in abundance, but the economic hardships involved in raising fruit caused many land owners to switch to oolong tea plantations. Oolong tea has been produced in the Zhong Shu Hu area for more than 20 years and is one of the most respected oolong teas in Taiwan.

The climate is ideal for oolong tea. The air is cool and moist year round. These conditions assure that Zhong Shu Hu oolong tea is of the highest quality.

Zhong Shu Hu Oolong Tea

Zhong Shu Hu has an elevation between 1300 and 1800 meters with a cool foggy climate. The oolong tea produced here has a lustrous colour and the leaves are soft to the touch.

Zhong Shu Hu produces plums as well as high quality oolong tea. Indeed, the oolong tea plantations are interspersed with orchards and some say the fruity aspect of Zhong Shu Hu oolong tea comes from the close proximity of these two plants.

Zhong Shu Hu oolong tea has a fresh, enchanting taste which leaves a mellow taste in the mouth. This oolong tea is a frequent winner in tea competitions making it expensive and hard to find on the consumer market. We are pleased to be able to offer it here.

Shi Zuo area

Shi Zuo area

Shi Zuo means “Stone Table” in Chinese. The name comes from a natural megalith discovered by early immigrants to the area. The stone has taken on legendary significance and is sometimes called the Stone of Understanding. Unfortunately, it was damaged during development of the area and is now only a quarter of its former size.

This area is situated about 1300 to 1500 meters in altitude. The soil is a deep red color and rich in nutrients. This combined with the mountainous climate produces ideal conditions for oolong tea. Since roads to the area only began to be developed in 1983, it is a relatively new area for oolong tea production.

Shi Zuo Oolong Tea

In the 1980s a new variety of tea called Wu Long Wei was planted extensively in the Shi Zuo area. It turned out to be ideal for the conditions in the area and there is now about 350 hectares of this oolong tea in production.

Shi Zuo oolong tea is grown and marketed with the help of a farmer’s coop that sets standards for the quality of the tea as well as the processing methods. Shi Zuo tea is hand picked and hand processed and uses a unique fire curing method that produces an instantly identifiable taste.

The Wu Long Wei variety has an elliptical shape and jagged edges. When it is ready to pick it the leaves form an overlap of 3 leaves. It is these top three leaves which are picked for the highest quality oolong tea.

Tea plantations at Shi Zuo are situated on hillsides that provide optimal distribution of moisture provided by night time fog. Plants are kept between 80 and 90 centimeters in height in order to facilitate picking and giving access to the crown of the plant where the choicest leaves are growing.

The small leaf of this plant lends itself to oolong tea production. The outer edges of the plant have slightly elongated leaves with a purplish heart.

The Shi Zuo area is near the town of Tseng Wenhsi. Also in the area are the Eight Palm brooks – a major watershed which drains the southern part of the Central Mountain Range including the famous Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) – the highest peak in Taiwan.

Aged Oolong Tea

You may have heard of (or tasted) Pu-erh tea from China. This is one of the few teas that is deliberately aged. The tea leaves are specially processed and pressed into various shapes before the tea is stored away for several years. It is supposed to improve with time, but many people think that Pu-erh tea tastes like dirt.

There are also aged teas from Taiwan, but they are quite different from Pu-erh.

Aged Taiwan tea begins life as oolong tea. The processing is basically the same as oolong that is meant to be sold fresh.

If a tea is meant to be aged, however, it should have certain characteristics. The first is that it must be a high-mountain tea. Tea grown at high elevations has thicker leaves than low-altitude tea, and this give the tea a “density” that is necessary for aging. The tea should also be organically grown, free from pesticides or chemical fertilizers that will spoil the taste of the tea as it ages.

The tea leaves have to be picked at just the right time when they are neither too old nor too tender. A comparison is made with fresh fruit that is shipped to market – if it is too ripe it will spoil before delivery, if it is not ripe enough it will have less market value. The same with tea – the leaves must have the proper level of acidity to mature well.

A tea that is meant to be aged is ball-rolled just the same as “fresh” Taiwan oolongs. The main difference in processing is that the aged teas will be roasted slightly longer than non-aged teas to remove excess moisture. This is a delicate procedure – tea that is roasted too long will have a burnt flavor.

After it has been roasted the tea is stored away in a cool, dry location. It is important that the tea remains in the same place during the aging process. If the tea is moved the flavor will be affected.

The tea is aged in large earthenware pots. These pots have tightly fitting lids, but they are not sealed. The tea needs to “breathe” in order to age properly. It is still considered to be “alive” during the aging process, and placing it in a sealed container will not allow it to mature.

The tea is examined every 2 or 3 years, and if the tea master decides, it will be re-roasted to remove excess moisture and to retain the flavor of the tea.

After the tea has aged for 3 years it will have lost it’s “fresh” flavor and begins the process of acquiring a mellowness that is characteristic of aged tea. From 5 to 10 years the color of the leaves turns from green to brown and the tea liquor takes on a reddish hue. After 15 years the tea is mature, although it will continue to improve with further aging.

The quality of “maturity” is often used to describe aged tea. Fresh tea, like youth, has vigor. Youth is also characterized by a lack of vision and an inability to persevere. So it is with fresh tea – wonderful fresh flavors but inconsistent from batch to batch.

Old age has a mellow character with an underlying vitality that has been acquired by years of experience. So it is with aged tea – a smooth, mellow beverage that provides a comforting stability, and invites a meditative frame of mind as we think of years past.

You can find aged Taiwan tea at this link:

JinXuan Milk Tea

Jin Xuan is a tea varietal developed in Taiwan in the 1980s. Also known as Taiwan #12, Jin Xuan tea has light-green, oval-shaped leaves, and is resistant to a wide variety of diseases and pests while producing a greater yield than other varietals.

Jin Xuen Tea Leaf
The Jin Xuan tea varietal has pronounced serrated edges.

Jin Xuan has a fragrant, smooth taste profile which is suitable for both Bao Zhong and Oolong teas. When processed as oolong tea, a light roasting gives Jin Xuan a creamy quality that is known as Nai Xiang – milk fragrance.

This natural milk flavor is quite subtle, so some processors add flavoring to the tea leaves to increase the milk flavor.

Flavored Tea?

Edible flavoring is sometimes added to Jin Xuan tea to accentuate the milk flavor. This is most often done with lesser-quality, low altitude tea. Flavored tea can be quite pleasant, and some people prefer it over the un-flavored Jin Xuan, which can be quite subtle in terms of the natural milk flavor.

You can usually tell whether a tea has been flavored by the odor of the dry, unbrewed leaves. Flavored Jin Xuan will have a distinct, milky aroma that overpowers the natural aroma of the tea leaves.

Taste Test

If you’d like to do a taste comparison, we carry both flavored and unflavored Jin Xuan tea. We have three unflavored Jin Xuan teas from Ali Shan tea district, and one flavored Jin Xuan from Nantou tea district.

Hong Pei Jin Xuan Roasted Oolong Tea – This is more heavily roasted than our other Jin Xuans, which makes the milk qualities most apparent in the first infusions.

Rui Feng Jin Xuan Oolong Tea – from Alishan. Very nice un-flavored milk oolong.

Tai Xing Jin Xuan Oolong Tea – also from Alishan, also unflavored.

Zhu Shan Jin Xuan Oolong Tea – from Nantou county. This is a flavored milk oolong made from a good grade, hand-picked oolong tea. The milk flavor is more pronounced than the other three teas.

Growing Oolong Tea in Taiwan

This satellite photo of Taiwan shows some of the most important tea growing regions of Taiwan. Click on any name for more information. (Map links may not work on small screens. Links are also listed at the end of this article.)

Tea Map of Taiwan

Hsin Zhu county Wu Ling area Li Shan area Dong Ding Mountain Shan Ling Xi area Alishan area

Taiwan produces the best oolong tea (also spelled wu-long tea or wulong tea) in the world. Its unique growing environment is due to both its geographical position and its mountainous terrain.

Taiwan oolong is grown in many areas of the island, but the best oolong tea is grown in the mountainous areas of central Taiwan. The combination of high elevations in a subtropical climate produces ideal conditions for growing oolong tea.

Oolong tea has been produced in Taiwan for more than 150 years. It was an important export commodity up until the 1980s, when oolong tea production switched to supply a growing demand from the domestic market. Taiwan oolong tea is now grown almost exclusively for tea lovers in Taiwan.

Oolong is the most popular type of tea in Taiwan. The name “oolong” refers to the method of processing the leaves after they have been picked, but in fact, there are a great many varieties of tea plants, each producing an oolong tea with a unique flavor and texture.

Tea Areas of Taiwan

Hsin Zhu
Wu Ling
Li Shan
Dong Ding
Shan Ling Xi

Tea Is Life

Taiwan is thoroughly immersed in tea. It is grown in every region and sold on every street corner. It is served during business negotiations, wedding banquets, and funeral services.

Tea is part of the social fabric of Taiwan. “Come in and drink tea,” is a standard greeting to guests.

Tea tables are a standard feature of Taiwanese homes and businesses. Serving tea is a way to make guests and clients feel welcome.

Most Taiwanese drink tea every day. It is said that tea gives energy and vigor, and provides a feeling of comfort. A tea farmer from the Alishan district tells of a pet monkey that ran away, but returned three days later because it missed the tea its owner used to brew.

Tea is Culture

Although there is evidence of native wild tea, the beginnings of cultivated tea in Taiwan can be traced back more than 200 years, when tea bushes from mainland China’s Fujian Province were brought to Taiwan.

Tea culture was also imported from China. The traditional gong-fu method of brewing tea is still used by most Taiwanese. It is ideally suited to oolong tea, the most famous type of Taiwan tea.

Tea is Community

In the past, tea was an important export commodity. Black tea was the first type of tea to be produced commercially, followed by green tea, and later Paochung tea and oolong tea. All types of tea were popular exports.

As Taiwan’s economy grew, however, rising labor costs reduced the competitiveness of its tea exports. But even as exports fell, the domestic market for tea grew. The last 30 years or so has seen an increasing demand for local tea, so that currently tea exports account for just 20% of the total output.

Taiwan’s high labor costs contributes to the rarity and expense of its high mountain tea. Despite this high cost, tea connoisseurs throughout the world appreciate Taiwan oolong as some of the finest tea in the world.

Global tea productions amounts to more than 2.5 million tons. Most of this (90%) is fully oxidized black tea, 8% is un-oxidized green tea, and 2% is semi-oxidized oolong tea. Oxidation refers to the natural chemical process that occurs when vegetable matter is exposed to air, causing it to darken.

The total global production of oolong tea is about 50,000 tons per year. The main growing areas are Taiwan and the mainland Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, although in recent years oolong tea has also been produced in Vietnam and Thailand. Taiwan has an annual output of over 20,000 tons, most of which is consumed locally.

The high quality of Taiwan tea is due to several factors. Perhaps the most important of these is Taiwan’s unique climate. Taiwan is a sub-tropical country straddling the Tropic of Cancer, and its mountainous terrain provides ideal growing conditions for tea. The high mountain have cool, moist air which causes the tea to grow slowly, and this, combined with the fertile soil, produces tea leaves which are among the best in the world.

Taiwan also has a strong tradition of tea processing which originated in China’s Fujian province but which has been adapted to local conditions. Tea production involves precise planting, careful selection, gentle rolling, and slow baking. Producing oolong tea is a lengthy process which must be closely monitored at each step.

Tea from Taiwan is pleased to offer a selection of fine oolong teas from the various tea-producing regions of Taiwan.

Taiwan Tea Varietals

All types of tea – green tea, oolong tea, black tea – come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences between these three classes of tea comes from the way the tea is processed after the leaves are picked. Green tea is an unoxidized tea, oolong tea is partially oxidized and black tea is fully oxidized.

Oxidation is a natural process which causes vegetation to turn dark after it is picked. Green tea is produced by steaming the tea leaves shortly after they are picked. Steaming halts the oxidation process, resulting in dried tea leaves which retain their bright green color.

Oolong tea is a partially oxidized. After picking, the tea leaves are tossed in large bamboo baskets to bruise them slightly. Afterwards, they are exposed to the air for several hours which begins the oxidation process. Oxidation is halted by pan roasting the leaves.


Camellia sinensis is the species which produces all types of tea, but within that species there are plenty of varieties (or cultivars or varietals).

The marvellous plant which produces all the world’s tea has more than 3000 hybrids. These are referred to as varietals – a term borrowed from the world of wine grape cultivation.

Tea varietals are developed with an aim to producing a particular type of tea in a particular locale. Varietals suited for the production of Indian black tea, for example, do not necessarily make a good Japanese green tea.

Taiwan Varietals

Taiwan has been producing oolong tea for about 200 years. During that time tea farmers and scientists have developed varietals which are well-suited to oolong tea production in the climate and soils of Taiwan.

Some of the most common Taiwan varietals are:

Qing Xin Oolong (Green Heart) – Originates in Taiwan. At one time Qing Xin was used in 40% of Taiwan’s tea plantations. It is a small dense tea bush and the leaves have pronounced veins. It is used for Oolong tea and Bao Zhong tea. It is more prone to disease than other Taiwan varietals.

Qing Xing Da You – Another Taiwan varietal that is more popular than Qing Xin Oolong. Tea farmers favor Da You because of its greater leaf production and low maintenance. Da You is a short tea bush that is disease-resistant. The leaves are oval-shaped with a blunt tip and serrated edges. They have a large central vein with less-obvious side veins. This varietal is suited to Bao Zhong and Oolong teas.

Taiwan #12 – Also known as Jin Xuan. This varietal has light-green, oval-shaped leaves which are bigger than Qing Xin or Da You. It is resistant to a wide variety of diseases and pests, and produces a greater yield than other varietals. It has a fragrant taste profile which is suitable for both Bao Zhong and Oolong teas.

Cui Yu Tea Varietal
Cui Yu Tea Varietal (Taiwan #13)

Taiwan #13 – Also known as Cui Yu (Green Jade). Originates in Taiwan. Grows as a loosely-formed bush which is suitable for hand-harvesting. Has a slightly lower growth rate than Taiwan #12 but with a very desirable floral aroma and taste.

Oolong Tea Pronunciation Guide

With Audio

This is a rough-and-ready Mandarin pronunciation guide for Taiwanese and Chinese tea. The American English pronunciations use real words whenever possible, and hyphenated spellings are said with a continuous sound (she-ong = sheeyong). The pinyin includes tone marks which are an integral part of the pronunciation. Without the proper tones a native Mandarin speaker is not likely to understand these words.

For those who want to plunge right in, here is the list. A detailed explanation can be found at the bottom of this page.

Teas listed on this web site:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
wu1 long2 cha2 wu lung ch’a oo long cha
Oolong Tea (烏龍茶) audio pronunciation

long2 feng4 xia2 lung feng hsia long fung shee-a
Long Feng Xia (龍鳳峽) audio pronunciation

wu3 ling2 wu ling oo ling
Wu Ling (武陵) audio pronunciation

dong4 ding3 mi4 xiang1 tung ting ming xiang dong ding mee she-ong
Dong Ding Ming Xiang (凍頂蜜香) audio pronunciation

sha1 lin2 qi1 sha lin ch’i shaw lean chee
Shan Ling Xi (杉林溪) audio pronunciation

zhang1 shu4 hu2 chang shu hu jong shoe who
Zhong Shu Hu (樟樹湖) audio pronunciation

cui4 luan2 ts’ui luan tsway loo-ann
Tsuei Luan (翠巒) audio pronunciation

shi2 zhuo1 shih cho shh dz-woe
Shi Zuo (石棹) audio pronunciation

si4 ji4 szu chi sih jee
Four Season (四季) audio pronunciation

chen2 nian2 lao3 cha2 wang2 ch’en nien lao ch’a wang chen nee-ann l-how cha wong
Aged Tea (陳年老茶) audio pronunciation

bai2 hao2 pai hao buy how
Bai Hao (白毫) audio pronunciation

bao1 zhong3 pao chung b-how jong
Bao Zhong (包種) audio pronunciation

Other Taiwanese and Chinese teas:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
tie3 guan1 yin1 t’ieh kuan yin tea-ay gwan yin
long2 jing3 lung ching long jing
shui3 jin1 gui1 shui chin kui sh-way jeen g-way
rou4 gui4 jou kui row g-way
pu3 er3 p’u erh poo er
huang2 guan1 yin1 huang kuan yin hwong gwan yin
bai2 mu3 dan1 pai mu tan buy moo dan

Pinyin pronunciation table:


1 high and level
2 rising from mid-pitch to the level of tone 1
3 falling and rising
4 falling sharply
5 neutral tone


a similar to the ‘ah’ of ‘hah’ ang a Mandarin ‘a’ followed by ‘ng’
e similar to the ‘er’ of ‘her’ eng a Mandarin ‘e’ followed by ‘ng’
i similar to the ‘ee’ of ‘bee’ er a Mandarin ‘e’ with the tongue curled back
o similar to ‘or’ en similar to the ‘un’ of ‘fun’
u similar to the ‘u’ of ‘flute’ ei similar to the ‘ei’ of ‘weigh’
ai similar to the ‘ai’ of ‘aisle’ ou similar to the ‘ou’ of ‘dough’
ao similar to the ‘au’ of ‘sauerkraut’ ye/ie similar to a short ‘yeah’
an similar to the ‘an’ of ‘ban’ yu/u as in the French ‘u’ of ‘la lune’


m, f, ch, sh same as English q as in the ‘ch’ of ‘cheese’ – tongue tip is held down
b, d, n, g, s, w, y similar to English x as in the ‘sh’ of ‘ship’ – tongue tip is held down
p, t, k similar to English but with more aspiration zh as in the ‘j’ of ‘jam’ – tongue is curled back
l similar to the ‘l’ in ‘health’ r as in ‘s’ of ‘pleasure’
h similar to English but slightly guttural z as in the ‘ds’ of ‘woods’
j as in the ‘j’ of ‘jungle’ – tongue tip is held down c as in the ‘ts’ of ‘hurts’


There are several systems of Romanization for Chinese characters. The two most common are Pinyin (the official Romanization of Mainland China) and Wade-Giles. Taiwan uses a modified Wade-Giles system that does not include apostrophes. So instead of T’aipei the capital of Taiwan is written Taipei.

What difference does an apostrophe make? In the Wade-Giles system, a ‘t’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced as ‘d’, and a ‘p’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘b’, and a ‘k’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘g’.

This creates all sorts of confusion for western speakers. For many years Wade-Giles was the standard for converting Chinese characters to western spellings, so we had such spellings as Peking for Beijing, taoism for daoism and tofu for dofu.

This confusion extends to the world of tea. Neither Pinyin nor Wade-Giles reflects the popular spelling Oolong. This particular spelling is not found in any of the common Romanization systems, so is probably a simple popularization (like chow mein).

In an ideal world there would be just one system of Romanization that is applied universally. Unfortunately, Romanization has become a political issue in Taiwan because legislators are reluctant to adopt Mainland Chinese standards. It could also be argued that the use of Wade-Giles upholds tradition since it has a much longer history than Hanyu Pinyin.

Talk of traditional Romanization is trivial, however, compared with the much more important topic of maintaining the Chinese written language. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters whereas Mainland China has switched to a simplified writing system. These simplified characters have fewer strokes than their traditional counterparts and were developed to promote literacy. Many overseas Chinese have expressed concern that the rich heritage of the Chinese language is compromised with this simpler writing system.