Getting To Know Taiwan's Tea: A Day Trip
Taiwan is famous for many things: what once used to be the tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101; their many species of beautiful butterflies; their incredibly beautiful and diverse nature; and also, tea!
But have you ever had a chance to really get to know Taiwan's tea? To see where it is grown, to understand its huge role in the Taiwanese culture and to understand the process of drying the tea?
I bet you haven't yet, but you will soon enough with this guide for a one day trip to Pinglin, an area about an hour away from Taipei, which is known for it's nature and tea.
Pinglin is a small town with about 6,000 inhabitants in Northern Taiwan. It used to be the place where everyone would stop on their journey from Taipei to Yilan or the other way around. There were tons of restaurants and convenience stores on every street, but then they built a new freeway...
Which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
After being nothing but a stop on a journey, Pinglin was more or less restored to what it used to be: a small town focused on growing and processing the best tea, and caring for nature.
It is no wonder that you can find all sorts of special animals around Pinglin. You can even spot pangolins if you're lucky!
Let me tell you a funny story about something that actually happens in Pinglin. Pinglin only has one elementary, middle and high school. This is because the town is so small. Even though there are not a lot of people living in the town, the town is rather big in size of land, so delivering the mail is a time consuming task. But, they found a solution to it. In order to deliver the mail, the mail man drives his motorcycle to the schools, and gives the mail to the kids. The kids have to take the mail home and give it to their parents.
This is something that was developed way back when we didn't have motorcycles yet, just bicycles, but this is still how they deliver the mail.
But, back to tea. Pinglin is home to over a dozen tea farms. These are places you can go to to take a look at the tea plants, and to buy tea that is dried and processed at that very farm. How local can you get?!
You can also find a beautiful, informative and aesthetically pleasing tea museum in Pinglin. And seeing that it's a small town, everything is relatively close by.
Pinglin is also home to the one and only public tea museum in Taiwan. The major different between public and private museums is the pricing of the tickets. To go to the Pinglin Tea Museum, you have to buy a ticket that's only 80NTD (less than 3 euros). The exhibitions vary from time to time, but a big part also stays the same.
In one of the museum's rooms you can get to know all about tea. There are smaller versions of machines used to process the tea and there is an explanation on how they work. In the same room you can also find a table with 20 types of tea. Each tea has their own card, which you can place on the computer. The computer screen will then turn on and open its big book of tea, in which you can read all about your favorite type of tea.
One other room of the museum is dedicated to Pinglin. Here you can find out more about Pinglin's history, the animals that live there and so much more. You can also read little facts, like that the second concrete bridge in Taiwan was built in Pinglin. Or that at one point, the city only had one midwife, who helped deliver over a 1,000 babies, a whole generation!
Right now the museum also has an exhibition called 'appreciaTEA', you can find it in the basement. In this very aesthetically pleasing exhibition, the museum tries to motivate you to appreciate the world more, in different ways. They talk about our impact on the world, climate change and tea. They give small suggestions on how we can improve our lifestyle, for example by also eating the ugly fruits, or by repairing something instead of throwing it away.
They also talk about tea and what role it plays in Taiwanese or Asian culture. How, at first it was only used as a medicine, later people started putting it in foods and finally they started drinking it.
Or how the tea ceremony before a wedding is very important and can't be messed up. It is all very interesting.
A little bit further in the exhibition there is a place where you can pick a cup of tea and place it on the sensor. A little sticker with wisdom then falls into the stone hands on the table. The wisdom is in Chinese, but if you google-translate your way out of it, you might actually find the wisdom surprisingly helpful or wise ;). On my card it read:
If the world is cold, warm it with gratitude and kindness.
Tea with a view
After we went to the museum, we were looking for a place to get lunch. So we googled for a bit and found this adorable café, right next to the parking lot of the Tea Museum. You can go here and eat grilled cheese sandwiches (so good), or pie/cake and have an amazing local tea! You can either drink your tea hot or cold. For aesthetics and vibe, I'd drink it hot, because it is served in an adorable teapot with a small cup. The reason I really like this place, is because it is right next to tea fields and so close to the museum too!
During the hot summer days, you may not want to sit outside on the terrace, but luckily there is also indoor seating space.
All about tea
I always thought every different type of tea came from a different plant, but apparently that is not the case. Taiwan only has 4 different tea plants: Cui Yu (翠玉), Chin Shin Dapan (青心大冇), Chin Shin Oolong (青心烏龍) and Shy Jin Chuen (四季春), or also called 'Four Seasons Spring' . These names probably don't mean anything to you, and they didn't to me. After listening to the tour guide's story, I realized how it works. Different tea plants can be used for making different teas. And different teas grow faster than others, and in different places. On top of that, some added flavors, like Jasmine, don't go well with every type of tea, but just with one or two specific types.
Here's a list of which tea plants are used to make what tea:
1 Cui Yu (翠玉)
This tea is grown mainly around Pinglin, Yilan, Taitung and Nantou. It is rarely seen grown in high altitude areas exceeding a thousand meters. It is most suited for producing half fermented teas like Baozhong and Oolong.
2 Chin Shin Dapan (青心大冇)
You can find this tea being grown primarily around Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Mioali. It is most suitable for producing oriental beauty tea. The most special thing about this tea is that tea cicadas bite into the leaves, giving the tea a natural honey aroma.
3 Chin Shin Oolong (青心烏龍)
If you want to talk about tea history, you should start here. Chin Shin Oolong has the longest cultivation history in Taiwan. The tea tree has small leaves and is late to maturing. You can find it across plains and mountains of Taiwan. It can be infused by aromas like orchid and Osmanthus flowers.
4 Shy Jin Chuen (四季春) or also called 'Four Seasons Spring'
This type of tea can be grown all year round and can be found everywhere in Taiwan. If the weather is good, you can harvest it 6 to 8 times a year. It can be infused with flowers such as Jasmine and Ginger Lilies.
My favorite tea is and always has been Baozhong, it is a very light and flavorful tea. What is your favorite tea? Let me know in the comments!