Taiwanese Tea Heritage
Every tea has a heritage that can be traced back to ancient China. Teas from Taiwan are no exceptions. With less than one percent of the world's tea production, Taiwanese teas endured a colorful journey that dates back more than a century ago.
Taiwan, a small island off the coast of south east China, is one of the younger tea producing regions. Formerly known as Isla de Formosa (The beautiful island), named by Portuguese traders in one of the first connections between East and West.
As early as the 17th century, there had been records of wild tea trees grown in mountainous areas on the island. Though, it was not until the middle of the 19th Century when Chinese peoples from the neighboring region of Fujian began to bring tea trees to Northern Taiwan from Wuyi for commercial cultivation. Taiwan’s climate was excellent for growing teas and various people saw merit in this region.
Initially, the teas grown in Taiwan were sent back to China for processing before it's ready for sale, mostly for export. A British merchant named John Dodd saw an opportunity to streamline the tea making process in Taiwan. He convinced tea makers from Fujian to move to Taiwan to establish processing facilities closer to the farms then export the finished teas directly out of ports of Taiwan. John Dodd marketed teas cultivated and processed in Taiwan under the name Formosa tea and started to export to New York in 1869.
Taiwan and its unique geography of varying climates, fertile land, and sprawling mountains, is an ideal climate for growing teas. The teas from Taiwan were excellent and grew quickly in popularity around the world.
in 1895, the Qing China lost Taiwan to the Japanese Empire from the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese occupation of Taiwan lead to a host of effects in the years to come, including a major turning point for tea cultivation and production.
The Japanese colonization of Taiwan saw the implementation of methods vastly different from those of the Chinese. Japan saw Taiwan’s tea production as a valuable resource and invested accordingly.
Modern infrastructure and machinery was introduced into production in addition to many Japanese methods of farming and cultivation.
Arguably the most important contribution to Taiwanese tea making was the establishment of the TRES (Tea Research Extension Station) in 1903, a central government institute committed wholly to the production of Teas in Taiwan. Their purpose is to research and develop new cultivars, along with the study of efficiency in growing and processing methods. From then on, Taiwanese teas began to differentiate itself from its Chinese ancestry onto a path of its own.
Despite Japan’s loss of Taiwan after World War 2, their methods and culture still remain visible not only in tea making, but the country as a whole.
Stylistically, Taiwanese teas can be seen as a hybrid of Chinese heritage with Japanese methods. Prior to 1980's, 80% of tea cultivation in Taiwan were made for exportation. However, into the end of 20th Century, the prices of Taiwanese teas couldn't compete with the other larger tea producing regions and was forced to change.
The country shifted, marketing its teas to domestic consumers. Many Taiwanese trace their ancestry to Fujian, one of the major oolong tea producing regions in China, therefore many prefer Oolong teas. Tea producers followed suit. Currently, almost all tea production in Taiwan is of Oolongs. Today, Taiwan is known internationally as the darling tea region that produces the some of the best oolong teas in the world, though majority of it stays within the island. 80% of the tea produced in Taiwan is consumed domestically and only 20% exported.