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The Art of Tea in Taiwan
Ben Hurley, The Epoch Times
Amid Taiwans intense urban environment, tea still calls to the many who long for nature and serenity.
The teahouse is a bubble of tranquility, adorned modestly with neat plants, mountain paintings, wooden furniture, and simple clay teapots, with a kettle boiling gently to the side.
To enjoy tea, the guest has to set aside the time to pour it properly. With slow, smooth movements, the host soaks the tea and warms the small cups. He fills each with the coloured, aromatic liquid, finally pouring one for himself.
All water is poured from the teapot and the leaves are kept dry until the next round, when they are again soaked for just enough time to give adequate flavour.
Taiwan offers an amazing variety of teas, with differences in the plant type, growing region, the current season and the preparation process. Similar to the Wests wine culture in the depth of mastery required to produce it, the spectrum of flavours that come from a good whole-leaf tea can be likened to all kinds of other foods.
Four Seasons Spring Oolong has an acidic lemon tang and floral overtones, while Golden Lily (sometimes called King Hsuan) is soft and gentle like a pear, with a sweet, milky aroma. Dong Ding (or Icy Summit) Oolong is slow roasted, giving it a sweet but woody taste, while Eastern Beauty Oolong is closer to what Westerners recognise as a black tea, with a distinct honey sweetness and fruity aroma. All these flavours come from the tea leaves alone, without any extra additives.
The cheapest teas are harsh and thin, with little flavour. The middle-range ones are smoother, sweeter, and more aromatic.
Interestingly, visitors to Taiwan looking for zesty new flavours often like the middle-range teas most, which are mass-produced to have striking aromas and a tang on the palate. Thats because they havent yet learned to notice and appreciate the full spectrum of feelings that come with good tea.
The best ones, like the famous Li Mountain Oolong, are more subtle in flavour, but evoke a comfortable feeling that arises in the palate. The flavour profile has nothing extravagant or over-pronounced. The liquor is thick and smooth, and a striking sweetness arises the moment it hits the throat, along with a tingling feeling, almost like the feeling of relaxation that is felt after a strong massage.
They are also the most natural teas, grown high in Taiwans misty mountains with little need for pesticides and picked by hand.
The heart and mind have to be at ease to fully appreciate these things, and the process of feeling and experiencing is also one of forgetting the days hassles. Its little wonder then that tea has long played a role in Chinese spirituality, with the philosophy of simplicity a major part of Chinese religious ceremony.
Its a philosophy engraved as poems into the teapots and cups, and infused into the ceremony, enabling the guest, on leaving the teahouse, to handle the tensions of modern life with a calmer mind.
Suppliers of Taiwanese tea in Sydney include: Ten Ren Tea, 389 Victoria Rd, Chatswood Taiwan Tea stall at Kings Cross organic market, every Saturday at Fitzroy
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