When we think of Taiwan, many of us associate the island nation with tea and especially Oolong tea. But tea was only introduced to Taiwan three centuries ago, which seems fairly recent compared to China where tea has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Then how did tea become Taiwan’s national product and what is the history behind it? Read on to learn about Taiwan's tea history.
Beginnings: Chinese Merchants Bring Tea to the Island
Tea was first introduced to Taiwan in the late 18th century when it was brought over by Chinese merchants and farmers to the area that is now Taiwan’s capital, Taipei City. Chinese traders recognized Taiwan's climate as ideal for growing tea so they brought over Oolong and Black tea to expand their burgeoning tea production.
European Imperialism: Oolong & Baozhong
During the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century, trading ports in mainland China and Taiwan were forced to open to European countries. Knowing that the British were beginning to cultivate tea in India, Scottish merchants decided to differentiate Taiwanese tea by making Oolong and Baozhong the island’s specialty teas. This established Taiwan as an important center for Oolong production.
Japanese Occupation: Black Tea
During the island’s occupation by the Japanese in the first half of the 20th century, the island’s main export became Black tea. When the Japanese left the island after WWII, production of Black tea decreased due to international competition.
Late 20th Century: Refocus on Oolong
Following the Chinese Communist Revolution and subsequent trade embargoes on the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan began producing tea staples more common to China, such as gunpowder tea, in order to appeal to an international market. When the embargoes on China were lifted in the 1970s, Taiwan began focusing again on growing Oolong tea.
Today: The world's hub for Oolong tea
Today, the best Oolong tea comes from Taiwan. Taiwanese Oolong tea accounts for over 20% of the world’s Oolong. Due to the island’s favorable climate and specialized production techniques, tea is grown all over the island, with some of the most notable locations being Nantou county and Alishan township in the center of the island. Taiwanese tea is of such high quality that it is often referred to as the ‘Champagne of Tea’. Tea is also a big part of Taiwanese culture with tea houses all over the island performing the Gong Fu tea ceremony. In Taiwan, the tea ceremony stems from a mix of both Chinese and Japanese influences, underlining the effects that history and trade had on the development of tea culture in Taiwan.
Next time you have your Us Two Tea, pay attention not only to the tea’s exquisite flavor, but how the history of Taiwan is right there in your cup. The production, taste, and aroma of Taiwanese tea are a result of its history of occupation and trade. The uniqueness of Taiwanese tea tells the story of generations of local tea farmers and the island’s complex history.