|Taiwan-A Small Country With a Big
Devotion To Growing Quality Oolong Teas
|Lying directly across the Formosa Strait from China's Fujian Province lies the tiny
island country, Ilha Formosa or "Beautiful Island," so named in the 15th century
by the Portugese, and today called Taiwan. Like Ceylon and Sri Lanka, Taiwan
and Formosa remain interchangeable in the world of tea.
|The Chinese renamed the is-
land Taiwan in the 19th cen-
tury. Like Sri Lanka, Taiwan is small in size,
just 235 miles long and 90 miles wide, but is
a powerful producer of quality teas, with their
main concentration oolongs, although they
also grow small amounts of black and green
Taiwan's modern tea industry is relatively
new, with their first export of Formosa oolong
tea occuring during the Qing dynasty (1644-
1911) in 1869. Formosa oolong was created
in the mid 19th century by John Dodd, a
British entrepreneur who realized the tea
world market was about to undergo massive
|Up until this point most all tea came from China, but Dodd knew a
secret that the Chinese didn't, and it was that the British were
about to grow their own Indian tea on a massive scale. He knew
the only way to compete against both India and China would be to
come up with a completely different tea that could hold its own
against the two tea giants.
Working in Taiwan, Dodd came up with Formosa oolong, a lighter, fruitier tea than the heavy
black teas then on the market. The tea travelled well, and in 1869 Dodd exported the first
Taiwan made teas from the island with two fast sailing clipper ships he'd hired to transport
them to New York.
Formosa oolong became an instant hit in
both Europe and the U.S., remaining a
world favorite well into the 20th century
and growing in popularity until Japan's
occupation of Taiwan all but ended For-
Demand for Formosa oolong increased
again in Europe and the U.S. after WWII,
but after China reopened in the 1970's
demand again decreased due to the avail-
ability of other superior teas from China
and Taiwan itself.
Taiwan's tea industry began with a
massive influx of Chinese immigrants from the Fujian province of China in the 1850's. By
the end of the 19th century nearly two million Fujianese immigrants had made their way
across the Formosa Strait to the small island of Taiwan.
They didn't come empty handed, though, bringing with them
not only their skills in tea making, but seeds and tea bush
cuttings, as well as teaching the aboriginal inhabitants the
Chinese methods of tea cultivation and processing. With
the seeds and cuttings brought with them from China, they
established tea gardens in various locations throughout the
mountainous interior parts of the island.
Taiwan's aboriginal inhabitants are considered to be of a
Polynesian background belonging to the Austronesian language. Today, eleven of the
original aboriginal tribes maintain viable populations in Taiwan, and for these tribes, tea
production is their proud heritage.
Today nearly 50,000 acres of tea is under cultivation in three main growing areas
throughout the island; the north, central, and southern parts, with the heaviest concen-
tration in the central region.
During the 1970's and 1980's several Taiwan associations got
together for the express purpose of further promoting their tea
industry. Members from the Taiwan tea farmers associations, the
tea manufacturers associations, and tea scholars joined together
with the Taiwan Provincial Government's Department of Agricul-
ture and Forestry to build and develop tea houses throughout
the island to further promote the tea culture.
Taiwan's climate and geography are near perfect for growing tea,
with its subtropical climate and high mountainous terrain. Summer
rains come to the southern area of the island while winter rains
fall to the north. The higher elevations provide abundant moisture with the same "cloud
and mist" phenomena as China's cloud and mist grown teas.
With winter temperatures a very moderate 65F (18C) tea can be plucked (and sold)
nearly year round. There are five plucking seasons; spring, early summer, late summer,
fall and winter.
Taiwan oolongs tend to be greener than those from China, with much lower oxidation
levels than that of China's Fujian province oolongs, ranging from about ten to forty
Taiwan is world renowned for its fragrant, distinctive teas, grown on approximately
50,000 acres by nearly 6,000 small family owned tea farms known for producing the
highest quality teas.
|Along with Formosa oolong that started it all in 1869, there's the famous Tung Ting, Ti
Guan Yin, Tianhe and Fulu oolongs, and the least oxidized oolong, BaoZhong (or Wen-
Shan Paochong), oxidized just 10 to 15%, with a mouth- coating, creamy, rich flavor, no
astringency, and a delicate flowery aroma. Other popular oolongs include Bai Hao or
Oriental Beauty (also called White Tip oolong), and the famous High Mountain gao shan
oolong, Alishan, including Gold Lily, also called Jin Xuan.
Work is continually undergoing to develop new and better varieties of tea that is more hardy and vigorous, can
better withstand pests and disease and is tolerant to various climates.
The Taiwan Tea Research and Extension station provides farmers with new clonal
varieties of tea bushes, many brought from mainland China by immigrants and devel-
oped from the Ti Kuan Yin and Shuxian cultivars to test plant and develop for new
kinds of tea.
Taiwan offers a wider variety of leaf and oxidation levels than their Fujian neighbors,
with a greater number of delicious oolongs to explore and sample.
One thing is for certain, this is a country that doesn't stand still when it comes to tea making, providing some of the
finest teas worldwide. It's an exciting prospect, waiting to see what new teas and ideas they have in store for the
world in the years to come. Enjoy.
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No reproductions of any kind allowed without permission.
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