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Little Island with rich tea culture: Taiwan

Tea, after water and coffee, ranks as the world’s third most popular beverage. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a staggering 7 billion metric tons of tea were produced worldwide. It’s a drink that can be seen enjoyed throughout the day in every corner of the world. For instance, in Türkiye, nine out of ten people drink tea every day, making it the leading tea-drinking nation. However, despite its popularity, this famous plant did not originate in Türkiye but rather in China, where it was discovered nearly 4000 years ago.

The History of Tea: From China to the World

Tea is an ancient beverage that has deep roots in Chinese culture. For the Chinese, tea is considered one of the basic necessities alongside fuel, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar. According to Chinese legend, tea was accidentally invented by Emperor Shen Nong, a scholar, herbalist, creative scientist, and patron of the arts, in 2737 B.C. Emperor Shen Nong believed in the health benefits of drinking boiled water and required his subjects and servants to boil their water as a hygiene precaution. One summer day, while visiting a distant region, the emperor and his entourage stopped to rest. The servants began boiling water for the ruler and his subjects when dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush fell into the pot. Intrigued by the pleasing aroma of the new brew, the emperor tasted the infusion and discovered its refreshing and delightful flavor. He declared that tea invigorates the body. While initially considered a medicinal beverage, tea gradually became a daily drink around 300 A.D.

Tea in Taiwan

Taiwan, originally discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1542 and named “Ihla Formosa,” meaning “Beautiful Island” in Portuguese, became a trading base for the Dutch East India Company in 1623. Recognizing Taiwan’s valuable resources such as sugar, rice, and deer hides, the Dutch built forts to protect their trading interests. To cultivate profitable amounts of rice and sugar cane, the Dutch East India Company employed many Chinese immigrants. It was these Chinese traders from the Fujian province who first introduced Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) to Taiwan. However, it wasn’t until 1717 that wild tea was discovered in Taiwan’s central mountain region, eventually becoming a new source of commercial trade. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, China lost to Japan, leading to Japan’s occupation of Taiwan as a result of the Shimonoseki Treaty in 1895. Afterward, the Japanese shifted from oolong to black tea production in Taiwan to compete with the British. They planted Camellia assamica (Indian tea) in the Sun Moon Lake area of Nantou County.

In modern-day Taiwan, tea has become a significant cultural and economic product. In 2020, tea consumption in Taiwan reached 1.4 kg per person. Currently, there are approximately 20,000 hectares of tea farms in Taiwan, producing around 20,000 tons of tea each year. These teas are mainly distributed in Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Nantou, Chiai, Yunlin, Kaohsiung, Taitung, Hualien, and Yilan counties. For Taiwanese people, there’s nothing better than savoring a sip of quality tea, as they firmly believe they produce the best tea in the world. In Taiwan, tea is traditionally consumed hot and without any additives. Additionally, Taiwanese have utilized tea to create other popular beverages, including the globally famous Bubble Tea, which combines milk tea with chewy tapioca balls.

International Tea Festival in Taiwan: May 27 to June 7

To further promote its tea culture, Taiwan is organizing the International Tea Festival in Nantou County in 2023. This 12-day event offers visitors a wealth of information about the local tea culture. Numerous stalls are set up, providing free tea tastings and selling various types of tea from all around Taiwan.

Mrs. Huang, a local tea grower, proudly exclaims, “Taiwanese tea is renowned for its aromatic smell and unique taste. It’s the most delicious tea you can drink. I invite everyone to come to Taiwan, especially Nantou County in the central region, to savor our tea, as we are the largest producers. I hope you enjoy our tea. Thank you.”

Another passionate tea grower, Wu Qian Zhu, aims to promote the tea from her hometown of Nantou to a wider audience. She explains, “Nantou County is located in the central part of Taiwan, characterized by its numerous high mountains. We cultivate tea at altitudes ranging from 400 to 1800 meters. We produce green tea, black tea, and oolong tea, all of which are internationally renowned.”

During the festival, you’ll have the opportunity to meet fascinating individuals like Mr. Yuan. With a warm smile, he shares his personal tea story, saying, “I’ve been involved in tea cultivation since my childhood. After completing secondary school, I found myself fully immersed in this industry. Our family name, Yuan, has become a brand. Tea cultivation is our family tradition. We grow, pick, process, and sell tea.”

Nantou County is home to many small villages, one of which is Zhushan, meaning “bamboo mountain” in English. This village is famous for its agricultural products, including tea. Mr. Zhang Sheng An, the chairman of the village, proudly showcases their tea garden and variety of tea. He explains, “We just showed you how to pick tea leaves. This is known as ‘one heart two leaves,’ and we also have ‘one heart three leaves,’ which refers to leaves that can be processed into our tea products. These are high-quality tea leaves.”

Through its International Tea Festival, Taiwan not only celebrates its rich tea culture but also invites tea enthusiasts from around the world to experience the exquisite flavors and traditions that make Taiwanese tea so special.

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