Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Taiwan 2010: Tea

While China provides a more diverse and larger quantity of tea, Taiwan has a much higher regulation, specialization, and technology for tea viticulture. The differences in quality are night and day. Although Taiwan has only been cultivating tea since mid 19th century, the industry has grown rapidly with its economy and consumer demand.  Now, Taiwan is known for its tea like French with wine. Japan is the only country that produce even higher quality tea, but the terroir is completely different.

Bubble tea is second from the right
With better regulation and quality control, consumers do not have to worry about issues such as residual pesticide and impurity on the tea leaves.  Also, it is less likely that buyers would be scammed or cheated at the retail level.

The most famous Taiwanese tea is the Oolong, grown high in the mountain.  Teas are harvested 2-3 times a year depending on the weather. Taiwan's climate varies drastically from year to year, quality of tea may differ from season to season, and good vintages are highly sought after. Although Taiwan is small, it is geographically varied, like Italy, with high, steep mountains rising quickly from low-lying coastal plains. The terroir result in differences in appearance, aroma and flavour of the tea grown around Taiwan. Premium teas have been cultivated at ever higher elevations to produce a unique sweet taste that fetches ever higher price.

Instead of sugary pop drinks often associated with diabetic epidemics in North America, Taiwanese convenience store refrigerators are filled with variations of tea based drinks in bottles, cans, and tetra packs.  Dennis's favourite is the organic rose tea 90cal per liter, cane sugar free, for $2.

Bubble Tea
Bubble Tea is sweetened tea based drink with small tapioca balls. It is invented in Taichung Taiwan - by a small tea shop on the same block as my childhood apartment building.  Lots of other Asians have attempted claiming their country have invented it, mainly South Korea and China.  Sorry dudes, I have the first hand account dating back to 1980s. I am pretty sure a significant percentage of my body is made out of bubble tea. That small tea shop is now a huge tea house chain around Taiwan and China, like Starbucks.

However, there are a lot of super refined sugar in the tea and as well as in the tapioca balls. Acquiring a taste for sugar, the popularity of this drink is beginning to be associated with health problems in the younger generation.

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