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I’ll be covering a lot in this article, including varieties of Taiwanese tea, how to order tea from Taiwan, where to buy tea in Taipei and Taiwan, Taipei tea houses, how to brew Taiwanese tea, tea tours in Taipei, and tea-related attractions around Taiwan. Get a pencil and notepad ready!
If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan and need travel advice, I’ve got a huge amount of Taiwan content on this site. Start with my 50 favorite places in Taiwan and my 50 favorite places in Taipei! If you’re just here for tea info, then read on!
Here’s a discount code for my favorite Taiwanese tea provider, Eco-Cha: if you click this link then select any teas, a 10% discount will be applied at check-out. Eco-Cha supports small-scale farms using sustainable methods and can mail internationally.
Please note, if you represent a tea shop outside of Taiwan and are looking for connections to tea farmers or organic teas in Taiwan, I’m sorry that I don’t have any specific leads (I often receive emails about this).
Best Tea tours in Taiwan that I recommend:
– To organize a full-scale tea tour in Taiwan, please contact me and I can recommend the most suitable local operator for your needs.
– For shorter options, there are some great tea-related attractions that you can explore as day trips from Taipei, which I will cover in detail in this article. This Taipei tea tour includes a visit to Taiwan’s largest tea museum and a tea plantation with phenomenal views in New Taipei City
– This similar tea day tour also includes the Maokong tea growing area in Taipei City. Get a TWD100 discount on this or any other Klook activity by signing up with this link first.
– This night tour to Maokong only includes Maokong, which as a very different atmosphere at night.
– Learn about the different types of Taiwanese tea and how to brew them in this 1.5-hour tea tasting class (recommended for newbies), or in this slighly longer class more focused on tea ceremony.
– If you prefer being on your feet, try this customizable walking tea tour, which takes place in one of my favorite Taipei neighborhoods, Dadaocheng.
Some Tea Basics
The two main varieties of tea are Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (Chinese tea) and Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Indian tea). Caffeine levels vary in tea, but contrary to what some say, your typical cup of tea has less caffeine that a cup of coffee. Tea may be higher in caffeine by volume, but quite a bit less tea leaves are used than coffee beans to brew a single cup.
While the majority of Chinese and Taiwanese teas are unflavored, you may encounter some with flavors, which may be real or artificial. Popular ones include jasmine (茉莉) and lychee (荔枝). Herbal (花草茶), fruit (水果茶) and flower (花茶) teas are also common in China and Taiwan, but are not true teas.
A Short History of Taiwanese Tea
Taiwan actually has an indigenous tea that early settlers found growing in the mountains and being used by the aboriginals. Some believe that it may be a tea variety of its own, Camellia formosensis.
Camellia sinensis (Chinese tea) was first brought over to Taiwan in the 19th century from Fujian province in China, where the famous Wuyi tea region is located. Many of Wuyi’s teas are known as yancha (rock tea or 岩茶) after the distinctive rocky terroir they are grown in). Oolong tea was found to grow particularly well in Taiwan after it was planted in the Lugu area of Nantou and in northern Taiwan.
Following the First Opium War and Treaty of Tianjin, Taiwan was forced to open its ports to trade with the West. Tea became a major export, and around the time the capital of Taiwan was moved to the north, a thriving riverside port called Dadaocheng developed around the tea trade. The neighborhood remains one of the best places to experience Taiwan’s tea culture. See more details in my walking guide to Dadaocheng neighborhood and see some of Dadaocheng’s incredible temples in my guide to the best temples in Taipei.
After Taiwan became a Japanese colony in 1895, the Japanese shifted from oolong to black tea production in Taiwan to compete with the British. They planted Camellia assamica (Indian tea) in the Sun Moon Lake area (see my complete article on Sun Moon Lake’s incredible black teas).
The Japanese also established the Tea Research and Extension Station in 1903, which sought to develop new cultivars and improve or perfect existing ones. To this day, the institution has developed 22 or more new cultivars, some of which are internationally sought and even grown in other countries, such as Thailand. See more details on that in my guide to tea in Thailand.
After the Japanese left in 1945, production of black tea dwindled, but a small industry remains, with Ruby Red (TRES tea #18), which is a cross between native Camelia formosensis and Camelia assamica from Burma, pretty much universally accepted as the best black tea made in Taiwan, thanks to its very unique minty and cinnamon notes.
The Push to Go Higher
Starting in the 1980s, the TRES and Taiwanese government began encouraging local farmers to experiment with growing tea at higher altitudes. Little did these early pioneers know that they were onto something that would have a massive impact on the Taiwanese tea industry.
The oolong tea grown at higher altitudes was found to have an incredible flavor. Lower amounts of oxygen in the air meant that the tea plants grew slower, with flavor chemicals becoming more concentrated in the leaves. Damp air from the sea and misty slopes of the Central Mountain Range were found to produce teas so fine, the name High Mountain Tea was coined. The Alishan region was the first testing ground, and even today, Alishan High Mountain Tea remains the most famous. See more details in my guide to Alishan’s teas.
Teas grown at 1000 meters of higher are considered high mountain, and most of Alishan’s teas grown around 1000-2000 meters. However, farmers have tried to go even higher in other parts of Taiwan, under the assumption that the higher you go, the better the tea will test. Some of Taiwan’s most expensive teas are grown as high as 2600 meters at Dayuling.
High mountain tea farming is known to be bad for the environment, as it leads to deforestation and soil erosion, so the government is even dismantling some of its high mountain tea farms. What’s more, demand for Taiwanese teas far exceeds production, which has even led to the phenomenon of “counterfeit” Taiwanese teas, which are typically grown in Southeast Asia.
In fact, Taiwan produces such a limited amount of tea that almost none of it is exported, and the country has to import a large amount of tea to meet local demand, particularly for bottled and iced tea beverages, which are massively popular among all ages in Taiwan.
This is why you may find that tea from Taiwan is quite expensive by international standards, and export is mainly limited to small artisanal distributors like Eco-Cha. It’s just really damn good, and there isn’t much of it.
Main Varieties of Tea
The amount of oxidation, or fermentation, that tea leaves undergo after being harvested determines the variety of tea. The following are in order from least to most oxidized.
White Tea (白茶)
This is the least processed of all teas and has an extremely mild flavor and light yellow color (the name “white” comes from the tiny silvery-white hairs found on the unopened buds of the plant). White tea comes from Fujian province in China, and as far as I know it is not produced in Taiwan.
Green Tea (綠茶)
Like white tea, green tea is totally unoxidized, but has a stronger flavor. Green teas tend to be sharp and possess citrus or vegetal undertones. It is believed that by roasting or pan-firing the leaves immediately after harvesting, they retain much of their natural flavor.
China and Japan produce most green teas. Taiwan produces some green teas, but they are far less common than oolongs. A flavored green tea I’ve come across often in Taiwan is sweet osthmanthus green tea (桂花綠茶).
Oolong (Wulong) Tea (烏龍茶)
Oolongs are semi-oxidized teas, generally ranging from 10% (lighter, closer to a green tea in characteristics) to 80% (darker, more robust, closer to a black tea). As such, oolongs are highly varied. They can be steeped multiple times, and each steeping produces different flavors. Taiwan’s oolong teas are prized by tea connoisseurs around the world and can fetch astronomical prices.
Black Tea (“Red Tea” in Mandarin) (紅茶)
Black tea leaves are fully oxidized, giving them the most robust flavor. They are the most common kind of tea consumed in the West, and produced mainly in India and Sri Lanka, though China does produce some as well. Many of them are blends, and sometimes flavors are added (for example the addition of oil of bergamot to produce Earl Grey tea). Sun Moon Lake’s black teas are the best in the country, especially Ruby Red #18.
Another type of Taiwanese black tea that has become increasingly common in recent years is honey-scented black tea (蜜香紅茶). The honey scent is a natural aroma that results from the bites of little bugs on the leaves, just like the more famous Oriental Beauty (see below).
Pu Er Tea (普洱茶)
Pu Er tea is a fully fermented, aged tea that is unique to Yunnan province in southwestern China. Pu er is truly “black” tea, being extremely dark, earthy, and robust in flavor, and it often comes packed in large dense round cakes like in the picture below.
It is very easy to find in Taiwan but it is not produced here. You can even find mini one-pot sized balls of it (center of below image) in Dadaocheng tea shops.
Taiwanese Oolong Tea: Taiwan’s Best Tea
Baozhong (or Pouchong) “wrapped variety” (包種茶)
You can tour Baozhong tea-growing areas from Taipei. Baozhong tea is a personal favorite of mine.
Iron Goddess (Tieguanyin) (鐵觀音茶)
Alishan High Mountain (阿里山高山茶)
Alishan tea is usually around 40% oxidized, so it is light to medium in color. The tealeaves are usually rolled into dense little balls that unfold when you add hot water. It has a creamy mouthfeel that seems to coat the mouth, and a sweet, long-lasting aftertaste.
Oriental Beauty (東方美人 or Dongfang Meiren)
Dried oriental beauty leaves have white tips, so it is sometimes called “white tipped oolong”. In a market where high mountain oolongs reign supreme (which personally I kind of get bored of sometimes), Oriental Beauty is refreshingly different.
How to Order Tea from Taiwan
A solid choice for buying Taiwan tea online from anywhere in the world is Eco-Cha, which sells artisanal teas from producers that practice sustainable farming, and has a great tea of the month program. Use this link to browse their teas and get 10% off your Eco-Cha tea order or enter the discount code NKTEA when you check out!
Another choice for buying Taiwanese tea online is Ai Want Tea, which sells a number of interesting Southern Taiwanese varieties on their English website. They ship teas internationally from Formosa Tea, a family-run tea operation in Nantou, Taiwan.
Last but not least, Global Tea Hut, an international meditation and tea center run by an American monk and tea expert and headquartered in Miaoli, Taiwan, also has a great tea of the month + tea magazine program. The magazine is extremely information and I would highly recommend it for tea (and meditation) lovers who want to take their love of a tea to a higher level. I wrote a whole article about an inspiring visit that I had to the Global Tea Hut’s meditation center, Tea Sage Hut.
Where to Buy Tea in Taiwan
One interesting method for buying tea in Taiwan is to visit a tea producing area and buy tea directly from the growers or in local shops in that area. Easily accessible tea growing areas include Sun Moon Lake, Alishan, and Luye. Buying tea in this way creates an association in your mind between the tea and your experience in that area, making it all the more enjoyable when you brew it later. See more details about these regions below.
You can find many stores specializing in Taiwanese tea in all the major cities, many tourist centers (especially Alishan and Sun Moon Lake), and even at the airport and in most grocery stores. Just beware that with such high demand for certain Taiwanese teas, like Alishan High Mountain tea, some tea that is now sold as these varieties is actually grown outside of Taiwan, such as in Vietnam.
If you are not in Taiwan or able to travel to around the island, try ordering Taiwanese tea online from the sites I mentioned above, or see below for the best place to buy tea in Taipei. Truthfully speaking, though, I can’t imagine any teas sold in Taiwan are ever really ‘bad.’
Where to Buy Tea in Taipei
My favorite place in Taipei to buy tea in Taipei is the Lin Mao Sen Tea Co 林茂森茶行 (195-3 Chongqing N Rd, MRT Daqiaotou 重慶北路195-3號，捷運大橋頭站). The clerks speak impeccable English and can describe all the characteristics of the teas to you before you buy. There are dozens of varieties on display in large metal barrels, and the main local varieties are sorted according to quality, ranging from very cheap to very expensive.
Right next door, and owned by the brother of Lin Mao Sen, is competing Lin Hua Tai Tea (林華泰茶行). The shop isn’t as fancy looking, but the product seems to be almost identical, with a similar range of qualities and prices.
Tea, just like most dried goods and produce in Taiwan, is sold by the jin (斤). One jin is equivalent to 600 grams. For most of the varieties mentioned above, the highest quality goes for NTD4000 (120 USD) per jin, the second goes for 2400 per jin, the third for 1600, and so forth, with the cheapest ones going for as low as NTD60 per jin.
The lowest quality ones are mostly stems and powder, while the highest ones have the largest concentration of perfect leaves. If you want even lower than the lowest quality, go to your local supermarket and buy a box of teabags. The minimum purchase at Lin Mao Sen is a quarter of a jin, or 150 grams (150 公克). They are also familiar with Western units of measurement.
It’s interesting to compare the size of a 150g bag of, say, light fluffy baozhong to the same amount of Alishan High Mountain, which is rolled into dense little balls. The bag of baozhong will be about three times as big!
Personally, I always go for the third or second highest quality. This is still VERY good tea, and I think only a true connoisseur would be able to tell the difference between the top three qualities, yet the price drops enormously between each of them. NT400 (12 USD) gets me a decent-sized 150g bag of (third quality) tea that lasts me for at least a few months, and if I get a few different bags, I’m good for a year.
Another very interesting place to buy tea in Taipei is Wang Tea (有記名茶) (#26, Lane 64, Section 2, Chongqing North Road, 大同區重慶北路二段64巷26號), which is only a few blocks away from Lin Mao Sen and Lin Hua Tai in historic Dadaocheng area. This tea shop was established over 100 years ago and specialized in Baozhong and high mountain oolongs.
But the coolest part is that they are the only remaining shop in Taipei where the tea leaves are roasted in the traditional manner over hot coals, right inside the shop!
You can visit the back room where they do this, and if you are lucky enough to visit during one of the roastings, there will be a wonderful smell. If you want to buy tea there, you can sit down to a private sampling session with an expert.
Wang Tea faces Chaoyang Tea Park (朝陽茶葉公園), around which there are several other old tea shops.
Another interesting place you can buy good tea in Taiwan is the Taipei Expo Farmer’s Market, which takes place beside Maji Square at Yuanshan MRT station every Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm. Most of them will let you taste their brews before buying. They aren’t there every time, but sometimes there is a stall that specializes in Pu Er teas imported from China.
Looking for a place to stay in town? Don’t miss my guide to the best hostels and hotels in Taipei.
Taipei Tea Houses
Maokong (see below, in Tea Tours section) is also a great place in Taipei with many traditional tea houses in rural natural surroundings overlooking Taipei.
In New Taipei City, Jiufen is a popular old mining village turned into tourist resort town, and a probably the single most popular of the many day trips from Taipei. It’s quite touristy, but also has some historic, incredibly atmospheric teahouses. Amei teahouse is the most famous one (you’ll want to pre-order your tea set online to guarantee a spot) but there are several others.
Tea Attractions around Taipei
Terraced tea fields are highly photogenic places, and there are many places in Taiwan, even as easy day trips from Taipei, where you can get up close to admire their simple beauty. Taiwan is also home to several interesting and informative tea centers and museums.
There are a few tour operators offering tea tours across Taiwan (a simple google seach will help you there, but I can’t recommend one personally). The below tea-related attractions can all be visited on your own, but I’ve mentioned organized tours where they do have them.
Taipei Tea House, Jiuzhuang (舊莊), Nangang District
Getting There: Catch small bus #5 from just in front of Funan Temple (富南宮) near exit 5 of Nangang Exhibition Center MRT. Buses are infrequent, and if I remember correct, the ride takes about 20 minutes.
Pinglin Tea Museum (坪林茶業博物館)
Getting There: Bus #923 and green #12 go to Pinglin from just outside Xindian MRT station. The ride takes about 40 minutes. Bicycles can be hired in Pinglin town.
For another place to try tea-infused foods in Taiwan, see #38 of my recommended things to do in Yilan.
Shiding Bagua Tea Plantation (石碇八卦茶園)
For absolutely stunning panoramic views over the Feicui Reservoir (翡翠水庫), one of two main reservoirs that provides water to greater Taipei, get yourself to this fantastic little spot. The reservoir is also called Qian Dao Hu or “Thousand Island Lake” (千島湖), named after a lake with similar scenery in Zhejiang province, China.
You can get here by taking the bus towards Pinglin, getting off at the nearest stop, then hiking down to find the trail. A much easier way to visit is by taking the Thousand Island Lake and Pinglin Tea Plantation tour, this tea day tour that also includes Maokong, or this hiking and tea-focused tour.
The picture-perfect terraced tea fields rolling down to the turquoise waters of the reservoir with mountains rising straight out of the reservoir form a commanding backdrop. It’s worth the trip!
There’s also a hike in the area that takes in similar views called Yong An Scenic Trail (永安景觀步道).
Maokong (貓空) Tea Houses
Maokong offers Taipei folk (and lots and lots of tourists) the chance to get up into the tea fields via glass-bottom gondola directly from the Taipei Zoo MRT station, and offers dozens of traditional teashops to choose from.
If the crowds are too long for the gondola, just hop on a bus across the street to get to the top in 15-20 minutes. If you do take the gondola, make sure to stop at Zhinan Temple stop along the way to see the impressive temple.
A word of warning: most of the teashops in Maokong are set up for groups, so you typically have to buy a whole bag of tea plus pay a “water fee” per person. It can actually get quite pricey, at least for budget travelers. However, many shops allow visitors to bring their own tea and only pay a water fee on weekdays.
There is a collection of shops and food stalls near the Maokong gondola station at the top, but for me, the main reason I go up there is for hiking. There is a network of trails, and the Silver Stream Cave and Waterfall (銀河洞和宮) makes for a great destination.
It’s a little tricky to find the first time you go, but once you know the way it only takes about 40 minutes to get there from Maokong station, taking you past a number of tea fields.
A great way to visit is on this Maokong night tea culture tour or on this full-day tea tour that also includes Pinglin. If you plan to ride the double decker bus between the sights in Taipei, you can also get this Double Decker and Maokong Gondola combined pass to save a few dollars.
Visiting Tea Areas around Taiwan
Interest in tea tourism seems to be growing in recent years (based on the number of tours offered and also emails and questions that I get from readers). However, the tea tourism industry in Taiwan is young, and it is not very easy to visit or stay on tea farms around Taiwan. I have spend a lot of time researching this and trying, and below are what I consider the best options.
Sun Moon Lake
Here you can find multiple tea-related sights and activite, most notably the Antique Assam Tea Farm. There is even a tea themed guesthouse, and if you get off the main road and drive up some mountain roads, you can find some beautiful terraced tea farms.
How to Brew Taiwanese Tea
Most locals perform a somewhat simplified execution of the traditional Chinese gongfu tea ceremony (功夫茶) or “skilled tea”. The first step, after bragging about how good your tea is, is to boil some water and add it to some leaves in the small pot to “rinse” or “wash” them, usually for 30 seconds or less.
The “liquor” from this first round is then poured into the cups and then discarded into the tea tray, which typically has drainage holes. This is done to warm the cups, and after the tea is discarded, drinkers can stick their noses into the empty cups to experience the tea’s aroma. The main purpose of rinsing the tealeaves is to get rid of the bitterness.
Next, more water is added to the pot and the leaves are steeped for about 1 minute (or up to two minutes for some darker oolongs, such as Oriental Beauty tea). Also note that the ideal temperature for brewing tea varies according to the tea. The ideal water temperatures for various teas are as follows (according to the Pinglin Team Museum; information online varies slightly):
Ideal brewing temperatures
- Iron Goddess, High Mountain Oolong: 100°C
- Black, Pu Er: 95°C
- Baozhong: 90°C
- Green Tea, Oriental Beauty: 85°C
Oolong teas can be steeped a few times, while pu er tea can be steeped ten or more times. For each subsequent brew, the leaves should be steeped longer. Supposedly, each round brings out different flavors in the tea.
Did you make it this far? Congratulations! Although it may seem like a lot, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Taiwanese teas here. If you’ve got any comments, questions, or would like to add any information about Tea in Taiwan, please do so in the comments below!