There are two traditional calendars used in Taiwan – Lunar and Solar. The Lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon, with each month starting on the new moon. The Solar calendar is derived from the summer and winter solstices, and is divided into 24 solar periods of about 15 days each.
The 24 solar terms are a useful and enduring reference for farmers, letting them know when to prepare for planting and harvesting, as well as predicting weather patterns and climate conditions.
Autumn includes the months from August to October. During this period, the following solar terms apply:
After the Start of Autumn, the heat gradually subsides, and Taiwan enters the typhoon season, warm and rainy. The names of the 24 Solar Terms describe the likely climatic conditions at that time of year. So “Limit of Heat” tell us that the hottest days of summer are over. “White Dew” describes the dew found in the early morning on tree leaves and grass blades. “Cold Dew” and “Frost Descent” tells us that the days are becoming shorter and the nights longer, and the temperature difference between day and night is more pronounced.
Oolong tea is especially popular at this time of year. In the cool autumn climate, people often forget the large temperature difference between day and night, and it is easy to catch a cold. Oolong tea keeps the body warm while warding off maladies that come with colder weather. The perfect drink for chilly days!
Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as Moon Festival) is one of the most important cultural holidays in Taiwan. It is a time for reuniting with family members to gaze at the full moon while indulging in moon cakes and other festive delicacies. Oolong tea is always brewing, and everyone is offered cup after cup of this popular beverage.
So oolong tea is a fitting symbol not only of Moon Festival, but also of the evolution of tea. And both the origins of oolong tea and Moon Festival can be traced back 1,400 years to the Tang Dynasty and the practice of Tribute Tea.
Moon Festival originated in the early Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE) and became popular in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). Tea drinking was an important part of society at that time, and the custom of “tribute tea” became formalized.
Tribute tea was the finest tea in the land, collected and presented to the Emperor and other members of the royal family. Tribute tea was compulsory, making it effectively a tax.
Tribute tea was primarily processed into pressed cakes, a practice that continues today for some teas like Pu’erh. Tea cakes are labor-intensive, adding even more to the already heavy burden of tribute tea.
During the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE), the practice of tribute tea was expanded to include loose-leaf tea. This changed the nature of the tea trade, which was now dominated by loose tea.
Loose tea allowed for innovations in tea processing, from new varieties of green tea, to white tea, yellow tea, and eventually to oolong tea.
The methods of brewing and drinking tea were also adapted to loose tea, and have continued down to this day in the practice of Gong Fu Cha, literally “making tea with skill”.
Gong Fu Cha is ideally suited to oolong tea, which can be re-brewed many times. Simple utensils – a tea pot or gaiwan, a tea server, and small tea cups – as well as fine oolong tea, are all that are needed to brew the best oolong tea.