Food

History in a teacup

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In the erstwhile tea trading zone of Taipei, a 130-year-old shop takes visitors on a journey from farm to fragrant brew

Crowded around a polished wooden table, we peer closely at a teapot and tiny cups clustered by it. The young man opposite us deftly fills each cup with a pale gold brew, passing it around. It has a delicate taste, fragrant and light. Perhaps too subtle if you are used to a robust cup of Indian masala chai, but this pale brew is the popular mountain oolong tea that we are sampling at Wang Tea House in Taipei.

Set in the midst of the old tea-trading area of Dadaocheng, this part-museum, part-factory, part-shop is a veritable wonderland of tea. Originating in 1890, the family-run business has grown over the years from a manufacturer and wholesaler to a production, retail and educational venue. Visitors can learn about the history of the business, the process, and of course, sample and buy varieties of tea. We are on to our second and then third sampling, hot water being added to the same set of leaves in the teapot, each subsequent infusion being left to brew for a slightly longer duration. “Usually the second or third infusion is the best,” advises Jason Wang, whose family runs Wang Tea, “but it all depends on your personal taste, of course”.

History in a teacup

The counters and shelves are lined with pretty red and black canisters, teapots in glass and metal, and blue pottery. Framed photographs take visitors back to the times of the vibrant tea trade, while informational posters detail different machines and processes used here to make the finished product. Founded by Wang Jing-Hui in Xiamen in 1890, Wang Tea came to Taiwan almost two decades later, when the next generation of the family set up a tea refinery in Dadaocheng in 1907.

The family takes pride not only in the selection of teas on offer, but also in providing knowledge around the manufacturing process and savouring of tea. They have their own secret blending and roasting recipe, to give their tea a distinct flavour. The refinery process is carried out over various stages, and visitors can walk around the machines on display.

History in a teacup

A lady sits serenely in a corner, plucking patiently at stems of tea leaves, and some of us plop down beside her. There is a calming satisfaction in separating the stems from the greenish coiled leaves. Jason stops by a pressure dryer machine, explaining its role in reducing the water content in the leaves, and picks at a bit of residual white fluff. It’s caffeine that has calcified on the walls and ceiling! As we walk deeper into the space, the back room, filled with cylindrical bamboo containers, draws our attention. These are baking baskets, placed over charcoal in a temperature-controlled curing process, in which tea leaves are rotated to ensure even roasting. The final step involves a blowing selector, a contraption that sorts through the leaves based on weight and not quality. The heavier leaves are used for vacuum packages and lighter ones for tea bags; Jason clarifying that this does not make tea bag leaves any inferior in taste.

And then there are the finished products: from the lightly-fermented wen shan pouchong with a floral scent, to the store’s specialty chi chong oolong-pouchong; the translucent biluochun green tea to the more robust chi chong high mountain oolong that is recommended as an accompaniment with dessert.

There is an Indian connection here. Jason mentions that the Assamica tea bushes in Taiwan reportedly came in from India. It’s not as full-bodied as the Assam tea we drink at home, though: the climate and water imbue a gentler flavour to Taiwanese black tea.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 8:11:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/this-130-year-old-shop-in-taipei-takes-visitors-on-a-tea-journey/article29497618.ece

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