After a short break to recover from the book launch we are back to continue our journey around the tea world with our #60partners60days stories. Our next destination is Taiwan a small mountainous island [located just off the coast of China] with a big presence in tea. Over the next few days we will introduce you to a number of the parters we work with and have profiled in our book through our social media #60partners60days stories
Rob first visited Taiwan back in October 2013 for a whistle-stop tour of the most famous tea regions, travelling from Taipei down the east coast to, among others, Alishan mountains. "The picturesque tea gardens, welcoming, passionate people and varied topography reminded me of Sri Lanka, but with oolong instead of black tea. We were blown away by wonderful oolongs, which spanned a huge range of flavours, and the skilful farmers creating them"
Before we tell you about our most recent trip lets take a whistle stop tour of the history of this wonderful island : you can read much more in our book
Excerpt From Tales of the Tea Trade : Taiwan has a rich and varied past that didn’t have any European contact until the Portuguese travelled there in 1590, naming it Ilha Formosa (‘beautiful island’). It was, however, the Dutch [...] who were the first to develop the tea trade in the area, mostly using it as a transfer post to meet the demand for Chinese tea from Europe.
[...] A report by the governor of the Dutch East India Company in 1645 mentions that two wild tea subspecies (the so-called Taiwan Mountain Tea and Red Sprout Mountain Tea) had been found growing in the central mountain region of Taiwan. [something] backed up by a recent scientific paper that labels these plants as a separate species of the Camellia plant, naming it Camellia formosensis, significantly different in DNA structure from Camellia assamica and sinensis, which indicates that it evolved separately. Today, there are small pockets of this species around the island [...] although sadly they are in decline due to human disturbance. The plant itself has never been exploited commercially as it has thin, brittle leaves and a distinctly bitter taste, but when crossed with a Burmese assamica the result is the cultivar TTES #18 Hong Yu, which is extremely popular for making black teas today.
Fast forward to 1865 & a British merchant named John Dodd had discovered the Taiwanese tea market [...] He saw the potential and started exporting to Europe and America, developing the reputation of Taiwan’s tea. He also imported seeds from Anxi province in China and offered loans to local farmers to grow tea, in particular Formosan oolong tea [..] By the end of the nineteenth century, tea was Taiwan’s primary export.
1894 to April 1895 saw the first Sino-Japanese War [during which] Japan occupied the Penghu islands off the west coast of Taiwan, thereby cutting off Taiwan from the mainland, an act that ultimately resulted in the Japanese taking control and the start of an era that shaped the tea industry dramatically. They increased production of black tea and brought in assamica plants [as well as continuing exports of oolong] and promoted the tea industry at world fairs and internationally. In 1926 the Tea Research Institute of Taiwan was founded, with the aim of developing methods to increase yield and variety of tea crops. This included the development of cultivars especially for Taiwan, many of which are used extensively to this day.
Japanese occupation ended in 1945. Taiwan returned to China. Green tea made using Chinese methods became the main export tea along with oolong mainly being made for the domestic market. Facing a declining market in the 1970s Taiwan turned its focus to developing its domestic market, something that still forms the bedrock of the industry.
What will you find if you visit Taiwan today? : the combination of high mountains and sub-tropical lowlands create the perfect conditions for a wide variety of teas. Most famous for its oolong teas, but also producing excellent black, green and white teas, Taiwan is ranked 22nd in world tea-producing countries – not bad for a country about a seventh the size of the UK.
Rob : Excerpt From Tales of the Tea Trade : 'When I returned to Taiwan in 2017, I fell further in love on a trip that allowed me to explore more deeply an industry that was far more complex than I had realized. My first stop on this trip was Miaoli, the home of Oriental Beauty, an incredible tea that exists in this area because it’s the perfect habitat for a particular small insect. I then moved on to near Mingjian in Nantou County, to spend time with a tea producer, a tea baker and some select farmers.
Agriculture in Taiwan is performed in small lots. There are no huge gardens, like in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Africa and India. The vertically integrated system (where the farmer will grow, process and sell their own tea from their garden or estate) does exist in Taiwan, but it is not the norm. During our travels across the country we encountered a complex system in which the grower will often not process the tea, nor will they or the producer necessarily be involved in finishing the tea. Tea-making is a highly networked and collaborative effort in Taiwan and, as you can imagine, no matter where you are in the network, building a reputation based on quality and expertise is the key to success.
Intrigued by this beautiful country?
Why not visit us and explore few a cup of tea or two?