A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries tagged as ‘Taiwan’

Good baseline tea

August 1, 2023 · 7 Comments

I just spent a month in Taiwan doing research and other things. It was spent almost entirely in Taipei, so there wasn’t much time to go to the tea farms or anything. I did do some tea shopping, revisiting old haunts and finding new ones. A shop ran by someone who’s been there since he was 16 (now 75) is, for example, a pretty fun place to go, and a witness to all the changes to the tea industry there in the past two generations.

As food in Taiwan is invariably pretty cheap and the rental apartment kitchen subpar, I ate out a lot. Food comes with drinks in sets, and more often than not, it’s tea. One thing that got me thinking, and for once a new thought that perhaps deserves a blog post, is that there is such a thing as a good baseline tea. In Hong Kong, for example, the baseline tea one might drink is some watered down Lipton that you might have at a cha chaan teng, or some rather nasty cooked puerh with some storage notes in a big pot in a dim sum restaurant. It’s…. not good. In Taiwan, the baseline tea, at least in terms of what you normally end up drinking in a lot of situations, is iced black tea. They are often listed as “honey fragrance black tea” – bug bitten black tea, lightly roasted. The stuff actually in plastic cups may or may not be that – who knows about truth in advertising here – but the teas, in general, are pretty good, and far better than whatever junk Hong Kong places serves up.

But the profile of that baseline matters a lot, I think, and shapes tea preferences. Hong Kongers are not afraid of traditionally stored puerh, because you encounter it so often. It’s what you would expect to taste when you want some puerh. In places where bottled, bitter green tea is the norm, like in Japan, then the drinker is going to be pretty immune to those kinds of bitterness. The Brits and much of Europe has teabags with blended black tea as their baseline. It is our daily encounter with tea and often is what comes to define what “tea” is for these people.

The worst, I think, is when you have places that just don’t do much tea in daily life. This ironically includes Mainland China, where tea is not usually served with food (and when it is, the tea is similar to the cheap powdered stuff you get in American Chinese restaurants). In these cases, there is no “tea” and no baseline. In a way, I suppose, that opens doors – you go in with no preconceived notion. But I think by not having a daily encounter and a daily baseline, there’s also less ability to discern quality, to know that something is “ok” or “off.” This is something a typical Taiwanese, I think, would have a feel for, even if they can’t articulate it, because they see it so much.

Alas, I’m back in Hong Kong. So, maybe I’ll post some thoughts again in a few years time. Ciao.

Categories: Teas
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