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.
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.
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.