Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Taiwanese Tea: Union Tea Company

The weather is finally starting to turn towards winter.  In Taiwan, it’s hot from April until about the beginning of December, sometimes even longer.  But here we are in the last week of November and the weather is starting to become like winter weather.  That means it’s time to start brewing hot tea again.

Cha Li Wang the Tea of Kings
I don’t like to drink hot tea in the summer.  I want something cold and refreshing, so I usually drink Cha Li Wang brand tea.  (Cha Li Wang means Tea Inside King).  It’s not like the tea that you find in stores in the U.S.  I like to get unsweetened oolong tea, but you can hardly find that in the States.  All the bottled teas have fake lemon flavor or too much sugar or Aspartame in them.  They have a sweet after taste.  But here you can get unsweetened bottled tea that contains nothing but that delicious Oolong goodness.  I love to drink that in the summer.  Think of it; a cold sweating bottle of clear crisp Oolong Tea without the additives and sugar.  It’s delicious.

But when the weather starts to turn cooler and wetter, I want hot tea.  That’s the way I started to feel last week, so I took a trip to Union Tea Company in Bade, Taiwan.  Bade (pronounced Bah Duh) is right next to Taoyuan City and it is the location of the Home Office of Union Tea.

Taiwan grows some of the finest tea in the world.  Conditions in the mountains are perfect for growing tea.  A good oolong tea is grown above 2800 meters (9100 feet) and the air temperature must fluctuate ten degrees Celsius between afternoon and night.

Buying tea in the U.S. is nothing special.  You walk into Walmart or your local grocery store and pick up a pack right off the shelf.  The tea is usually blended and in bags.  It’s also fairly low quality.  I have never liked tea bag tea.  But in Taiwan buying tea is special.  You walk into the shop tell the shopkeeper whether you want green, black or oolong tea and they brew a number of teas for you to try so you can select the tea you prefer. A trip to the tea dealer is a fun and interesting time.

The process of tasting tea is interesting.  First the shopkeeper pours hot water over all of the evaluation cups and spoons.  An evaluation cup is a shallow white cup.  It is important to be able to see the color of the tea.  Warming the cups up allows the flavor of the tea to be quickly released. 

Front:  Black Tea leaves:  Rear: Notice the way the Green Tea is rolled
The she will pour the tea leaves to be evaluated into a brewing cup.  Green and oolong tea are usually rolled into tight balls, while black tea is in the leaf shape.  When the vacuum seal bag of tea is opened sometimes the dealer will offer it to you to smell.  Finally one hundred degree Celsius water is poured into the evaluation cup.  And the tea is allowed to brew for a short time.  While it is brewing the dealer will take a ceramic spoon and dip it into the tea and offer it to you to sniff and smell the fragrance of the brewed tea.  As it finishes brewing she will spoon some of the tea into the evaluation cup and then use the spoon to hold the leaves out and pour in the rest.  The color may be evaluated at this point.  Black tea, which is called Hong Cha, in Chinese, (red tea), should be a red color in the evaluation cup.  Green and oolong tea will be yellow in the evaluation cup but can be more of a honey color depending on the oven temperature during the curing process:  The higher the oven temperature the deeper the color. 

Notice the beautiful red color of the tea on the left.
Then you taste the tea and decide which you would like to purchase.  The process usually lasts around an hour and is very enjoyable. 

I don’t think a company like Union tea can survive just on customers like my wife and I.  They sell tea in large quantities to exporters and the like.  In fact, on our last visit we met a man who is the biggest exporter of Taiwanese tea to the nation of Brazil, as well as Malaysia and other Asian countries.  If you’re in the market for high-quality tea, Union Tea has a wide variety of types and prices.  Good quality tea sells for about $30.00 USD for six hundred grams.  High quality tea can be brewed about four times.

"The Best in the World"  $90,000 USD for 600 grams
 Union Tea does have a tea that was voted, “Best in the World” in a competition involving tea from sixty-five countries.  That tea is available to be purchased for about Three Million NTD or $90,000 USD for 600 grams.  I love to drink tea, but I think I'm going to have to pass on the $90,000 tea.  

Keep Watching the Taiwan Adventure for an exciting announcement.

Michell Lu with the tools of her trade:  Union Tea Company

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Selling and Brewing Tea
The Union Tea Company Website

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